In a review of Women’s Writing, 1660-1830: Feminisms and Futures, Paula Backscheider draws attention to “the miracle that is Chawton House, whose conferences nurtured these essays” in the collection. This essay will examine the legacy of this unique institution and explore the futures for the organization both as heritage site and as home to a substantial collection of women’s writing of the long eighteenth century. The community encouraged and nurtured by Chawton House since it opened to the public in 2003, as is so often the case with all things related to Jane Austen, complicates divisions between the academic and the popular, bringing together people of different backgrounds from all over the world. For diverse audiences, Chawton House—the Visiting Fellowship program, the reading group, the reading rooms, the collections, and, increasingly, the gardens and parkland—have provided the time, space, and material to explore, share, and delight in women’s contributions. This essay will celebrate work already done to maintain and shape the legacy of Jane Austen, her contemporaries, and her predecessors—the legacy of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary world. It considers some of the challenges faced by heritage organizations like Chawton House in recovering and representing the work of early British women writers and shaping their legacy, exploring the ways in which issues of canonicity, value and reputation play out in both academic research and public engagement. It outlines some of the strategies used by Chawton House over the last two decades to meet these challenges, including public programming that introduces women writers little-known outside academic circles, but that also asks audiences to consider the conditions that rendered them obscure in the first place. It goes on to consider the ways in which the current moment – both the culture wars and the pandemic—has revitalized these questions of legacy by demanding new perspectives and providing new audiences for heritage organizations.
heritage, library, women's writing, long eighteenth century, Jane Austen, recovery project, public engagement, coronavirus, culture wars
"Chawton House and its Library: Legacies and Futures,"
ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830: Vol.13: Iss.1, Article 7.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/abo/vol13/iss1/7