In Depth

Girl about town: Winchester celebrates Jane Austen

The Hampshire city commemorates one of the UK’s greatest literary figures, with a year-long programme of events

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of the most important and influential figures in British literature. The Hampshire-born author created a blueprint for modern-day fiction and her inimitable flair for witty prose, memorable characters and wry reflections on social conventions remains timeless.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Austen's death and to celebrate her legacy, the Hampshire Cultural Trust has put together a year-long series of commemorative events, including guided walks, talks, writing competitions and performances. All showcase the author's boundless talent – both retrospectively and in a contemporary context – and how life in rural Hampshire proved integral to her writing.

In March, award-winning comedy duo Lip Service will put a typically farcical spin on Austen's romantic bestseller Pride and Prejudice. Mr Darcy Loses the Plot, at the Theatre Royal for two nights only, will see our brooding anti-hero take a more hands-on role in this much-loved classic.

Another highlight is The Mysterious Miss Austen, a travelling exhibition opening at The Gallery in Winchester Discovery Centre on 13 May. It features many of Austen's personal correspondence and first-edition novels, as well as a collection of five portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery and private collectors – among them an artwork previously unseen in public for more than 40 years. By stark contrast, a ceramic vase by Turner-prize winning artist Grayson Perry, which features images of Austen superimposed over scenes of modern day Walthamstow, will also be part of the display. Jane Austen in E17 is truly a reflection of her enduring cultural appeal.

Austen was born in the rural village of Steventon in December 1775. She spent the majority of her life in Hampshire and the local people and bucolic landscape provided abundant inspiration for her work. The British countryside has long provided artists and writers with creative stimulation, despite its famously temperamental nature. Another new initiative, which celebrates England's famously erratic weather, is the Rain Jane Trail, specially commissioned for the bicentenary by Winchester City Council. It consists of 12 famous Austen quotes appearing in 36 locations across Winchester, where she spent the last weeks of her life - Austen is buried in the city cathedral. The quotes have been written using a special weather-adaptive paint designed to only appear during rainfall. The transient quality of the installation is a poignant nod to the writer's short but exceptional life.

"We are proud to be a Winchester business and are always looking for innovative ways to invest back in the city," said installation creator Andy Ramus, of Winchester-based AR Design Studio. "Hopefully local people will experience a sense of delight and surprise as they unexpectedly come across Jane Austen’s words and wit."

For more information see janeausten200.co.uk

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