Camilla tours Jane Austen’s home and sees Mr Darcy’s famous white shirt

The Duchess of Cornwall toured the Hampshire home where Austen lived from 1809 to 1817.

Tony Jones
Wednesday 06 April 2022 17:13 BST
(Finnbarr Webster/PA)
(Finnbarr Webster/PA)

The Duchess of Cornwall was left disappointed when a tour of Jane Austen’s former home featured Mr Darcy’s famous shirt – but no Colin Firth.

Firth’s brooding depiction of the aloof romantic hero, in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, inspired a new generation of Austen readers.

Camilla is clearly among the fans who remember the scene where Mr Darcy emerged from a swim in a lake with his shirt dripping wet.

Camilla inspects the famous white shirt (Finnbarr Webster/PA)

The duchess, an avid Austen reader, was taken on a tour of the author’s former home in the village of Chawton, near Winchester in Hampshire, and was shown clothing from recent television and film adaptations of the 19th century author’s work, including Mr Darcy’s shirt.

“But he’s not in it, that’s a bit sad,” Camilla joked after being shown the shirt by Lizzie Dunford, director of Jane Austen’s House, who replied: “I know, that’s sad, and it’s not quite as damp as it was.”

The duchess quipped: “You could give it a good spray.”

Austen lived at the home from 1809 until the year of her death, 1817, with her mother and sister, both called Cassandra, and friend Martha Lloyd.

Lizzie Dunford shows Camilla a first edition of Pride And Prejudice (Finnbarr Webster/PA)

During this settled period in her life she wrote, revised and published her six celebrated novels.

Speaking about Mr Darcy’s shirt, Ms Dunford told Camilla: “It’s a wonderful artefact, one of the reasons we wanted to show it was that 1995 production was so transformative for people loving Pride And Prejudice.

“That scene, we all watched it, everyone, and this production brought so many people to Jane Austen, which is why it’s quite a significant artefact.”

The duchess began her tour of the house in the drawing room, where she was shown a first edition of Pride And Prejudice published in three volumes.

Alongside the work was a letter written by Austen, who talked about receiving a copy of her “darling child”, a reference to Pride And Prejudice.

The Duchess of Cornwall is a fan of Jane Austen’s novels (Finbarr Webster/PA)

Camilla was told it is believed the author read the book out loud in the room, and a few feet away was the dining room where she wrote at a tiny desk with a view on to a quiet country road, but in the writer’s day it was a busy thoroughfare with horses and carriages passing.

Before leaving, the duchess met key staff who run the house, and Jeremy Knight, a relative of Jane Austen.

She asked him “do you write?”, and he sheepishly replied “no” with a smile.

Mr Knight, who is the great-great-great-great-grandnephew of the 19th century writer, later joked: “I write my name occasionally. It’s a question I get asked a lot.”

Later Camilla visited the new Southampton centre of Maggie’s, a charity which supports cancer patients and their families.

She chatted to Sophie Lane, 27, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May last year, her husband Cameron Hewson and their six-year-old daughter Isabelle Hewson.

The Duchess of Cornwall helps plant a tree with Isabelle Hewson during a visit to the charity Maggie’s Southampton in the grounds of University Hospital Southampton (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Camilla, who has been president of Maggie’s since 2008, opened the centre and invited the six-year-old to help her plant a tree to mark her visit.

Ms Lane, who is also mother to three-year-old Theia, said: “It is such an honour to meet Her Royal Highness today and be able to have such a lovely chat.

“She was so warm and kind and wanted to know how we all are and how we have been supported by Maggie’s – and Isabelle was delighted to be invited to plant the tree with the duchess. It was so lovely.”

The centre, based in the grounds of University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, has been supporting people with cancer since February 2021, face-to-face when possible but also by phone, email and online when lockdown restrictions were in place.

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