Jane Austen’s Writing Desk

Jane Austen’s Writing Desk

I thought for a long time about what I should say in this month’s post.  After a few hours of race-watching (it was a postponed race, so I was watching on Monday instead of Sunday) and bouncing several ideas around in my mind, I decided to go with something writing-related. Suddenly, I thought about our favorite authoress’ desk.

When I went to look for a picture, I found that she had an actual writing desk and the famous little table near the window at Chawton Cottage. I was surprised, though I don’t think I should have been. It only makes sense that she had both. After all, she had not lived at Chawton her entire life. She had moved a few times between her father’s retirement and her death; she probably did not always have room for a table to write on.

Photo courtesy of https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/jane-austens-writing-desk

Jane’s portable writing desk, when folded up, looks like a box. It opens so that it forms a slanted, flat space on which to lay paper and write. It has drawers and things to hold extra paper, quills/pens, ink, and other valuables. According to the British Library, it was given to Jane by her father and was used to write the first drafts of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey. When she died, her sister, Cassandra, inherited the desk, and from there it was passed down through the generations, until the late 1990’s, when one of the family gave it to the library for their collection.

I can’t imagine using either the writing desk or the small table, but then, I can’t imagine writing complete drafts by hand, either. Though I generally dislike the disruptions that our modern technology has caused, I greatly appreciate that which makes my life easier. Things like electricity, running hot water, and indoor plumbing, as well as portable computing devices. 😀

To compare the differences, I will include photos of my relatively large desk and my comfy office chair. There’s not an inkpot in sight, though I do have ink pens handy. 😀


We all know what great works were written and edited by Jane Austen. I’m not sure I can aspire to such greatness, but who knows? Maybe someday, there will be Zoe Burton Fan Fiction, and people will be writing about my desk! 😀





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September 25, 2018 7:39 AM

I am grateful for how much easier it is to write using computers. When I was younger, I remember being impressed by how much easier a typewriter made things.

Jennifer Redlarczyk
Jennifer Redlarczyk
September 17, 2018 9:26 PM

I love that little table by the window and wish I could go and see it in person. As for the museum, I went to an instrument museum in Phoenix and they had a JA corner with film of Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle hanging above a replica of JA’s pianoforte. Needless to say I LOVED it. Then at one of the Smithsonian Museums in DC, they had similar period instruments and at various time they had a musician come and give demonstrations. It was also very fun.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
September 17, 2018 3:06 PM

It doesn’t look like a big space to write but I think Jane Austen made good use of the space! I imagine you Austen Authors appreciate modern conveniences though! lol

Gianna Thomas
September 17, 2018 11:34 AM

Like you, Zoe, I appreciate the modern conveniences for writing as well. Jane Austen was probably happy with what she had as she didn’t know of any other. However, I am most appreciative of what we have including my ergonomic keyboard also. Good writing, Zoe!

September 17, 2018 12:45 AM

Well, today we have laptops and desktops and make use of both interchangeably – so it only makes sense that Jane whether home-based or on the road would have used both. Joan Austen-Leigh was the last owner of the portable desk and it was she that bequeathed it to the British Library where I saw it displayed. However, Joan lived in Victoria BC and came many times to our Vancouver JASNA meetings bringing the desk with her – I had seen it and touched it several times before it was given to the Library. I was in awe – how lucky were we in Vancouver to have seen it so intimately.

September 17, 2018 12:42 AM

Loved your post Zoe. (Comparing the two). I can’t also imagine before what kind of lighting she uses and how many papers she had to use when she made mistakes. I wonder how long she made each story??? I guess in those days, there might not be a lot of distractions that will steer her away from her story-writing.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a museum of Jane Austen here and with all those writers/producers who promoted her work (not only the original) but all the variation stories done.

Thank you for this post.

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