Jane Austen’s home in Chawton was our first stop on our third day traveling England. It was the day that stayed with me the most out of our seven day excursion through the southern countryside of the beautiful country and our three day stay in the fascinating city of London. Chawton, a quaint village of maybe 500 people, was the most beautiful place I had ever been. As we rolled into the small town in our large charter bus, I could not decide if I felt out-of-place or right at home. The scenery made me nostalgic in the most mysterious way. I had read several poems and novels set in the rolling green hills of England, but this was my first trip there, and nostalgia seemed to me an odd feeling to have upon visiting a place for the first time.
Nevertheless, as I stepped off the bus onto the cobblestone sidewalks, I felt more content than I had in a while (this was an academic trip that took place at the stressful peak that was mid-semester of my Junior year of college, after all). We began a tour of Jane Austen’s home, a small brick building with a beautiful thatch roof, and I wanted to ask how soon I could move in. It was easy for me to see myself living the life Jane Austen did: writing, reading, taking long walks around the village. In fact, it was too easy for me to imagine. My feelings of happiness, nostalgia, and content quickly subsided and were replaced with envy, jealousy, and even rage.
Watching the video of “Jane Austen” walking through gardens, writing at her desk, and reading by a fire made me feel jealous in a way I never thought I’d feel. Women spent a long time fighting for rights to live a life outside of one like Austen’s, and we are still fighting for rights today, but I think a good number of men and women alike would fight to be able to afford living a life like hers now. I walked through Jane Austen’s simple little house and took a walk through her simple little village, and all the while I felt pure envy. I am a girl that thrives in simplicity and the beauty of nature. I grew up with 52 acres of land, and I spent every hour of daylight and sometimes a few hours of moonlight exploring the land. We had hills, pastures, trees, a pond, a creek, and other beautiful places to explore. I spent the majority of my childhood outside, but that changed as soon as I got my first job. I spent all of my time dedicated to working and studying. Even in the summers, I rarely feel that I have the opportunity to spend time outdoors or to do other hobbies that I love, like reading and writing. There is always something “more important” that I could be doing. I suppose it really got to me that Jane Austen had all the time in the world to do the activities she loved. Yes, she lacked the right to even publish her writings under her own name, and, no, I don’t wish to live in a more conservative society with expectations for women based solely on gender, but I wonder if we could have fought in another way. The freedoms I have as a woman today don’t feel free to me. I not only have the right to an education and a career, I have a need for it. I never felt that getting a job at 15 was a right, but it was a necessity. My single mother of four daughters simply could not afford to do it alone. A strong work ethic was something I’d always valued. My mother taught me to be independent and to work hard to provide for myself. But what if I’m only working hard just to work some more?
Today, when we long for more free time and less overtime, we try to satisfy those cravings by getting a job that makes us feel good. That’s the whole reason I became a teacher, after all. To help other students get out of the low-income system, to get an education, and to go after a career they loved. I want all of my students to work hard, to live a better life like I did. Yet, as I strolled down the cobblestone sidewalk from Jane Austen’s house to the little cathedral down the hill, breathing in the refreshing air of morning dew and springtime blooms, I argued with myself about whether I was truly living a life that made me feel happy, a life that made me feel free. Yes, teaching gives me holidays and summers off, and that’s more than most people could ever ask for. But do I spend time outdoors now? Do I read for pleasure, or write poetry for fun? Rarely. Very, very rarely. I always feel that I could be working on lesson plans, creating classroom decor, planning for the next unit, grading more papers, coming up with better ways to stay in contact with parents, helping kids who have fallen behind. My job as a teacher is rewarding, but it is only a small part of who I am. Will this job, like my previous jobs, eventually swallow my free time and eat away at my happiness? Can I live a balanced lifestyle this way? Or will I always envy Austen, her small writing desk by the fire, her collection of books that she had read time and time again, her small brick house on the cobblestone streets along the most beautiful pastures in England?
Truthfully, I got on the bus that day and did not know what to make of my life decisions. I did not know how these seemingly anti-feminist thoughts would affect my views of society or of my own lifestyle. I just knew that I had been working hard. I was a college student taking 21 credit hours with 4 part time jobs totally over 30 hours a week. I was exhausted. I was angry. I was nostalgic for the simple times in my own childhood, when I’d run along the creek and stop to read a book in the pasture. I think of Jane Austen’s village often, whenever I find myself working hard and not enjoying life. I make small steps to make my life simpler in any way possible. To rid myself of some stress, to re-prioritize my to-do lists, to spend more time for myself despite the nagging feeling that I am not important enough. I can’t work myself to death hoping I’ll hang on long enough to retire and live like Austen did then. I may not be here that long, and, though I’ll always fight for women’s equality, I will also fight for everyone’s right to love themselves, to make time for their passions, and to enjoy the small things in life.
Welcome to Learn-Grow-Teach-Go! I’m Rachel. Join me as I explore what it means to be a life-long learner and begin to live out a more full, balanced, and simplistic lifestyle. I am currently a high school English teacher, and I enjoy traveling the world and adventuring in my spare time. Whether you’re looking for advice on living minimally and simplistically, teaching ideas and lessons, or travel tips and trips, you’ve found the right place. Glad to have you here!