Southampton and Hampshire have many links to internationally celebrated writers and poets, those who created the foundation for literature through their classic novels and emotive poetry. Some writers used Hampshire as inspiration for writing and others were born and lived in the county.
Perhaps one of the most famous authors to come out of the Victorian Era, and the bane of English students from GCSE to A level and beyond, Charles Dickens is perhaps more associated with London’s East End. Most of his novels detail the plight of the poorer class and he himself was known to walk around Whitechapel and mingle with the lives of those he wrote about in his works.
But Dickens was born in Portsmouth, the second child of eight, and his time in the city was well-remembered later in life when his experiences were moulded into his writing. His father worked upon the docklands, but the family wealth fluctuated resulting in debt. When they recalled to London as his Father’s work took them there, the family ended up in a Debtor’s Prison in 1824.
Nowadays, Dickens’ childhood home is one of the most well-known museums in the city, and the books are known around the world.
When discussing the literary heritage of Hampshire there is one author who is impossible not to mention, Jane Austen. Born in Steventon, Hampshire in 1775, Austen spent the majority of her life living in and around Hampshire, eventually passing away in Winchester aged 41. In her lifetime Jane Austen wrote and published four novels, with two additional novels being published posthumously.
Austen is renowned for the use of realism of her narratives, but for me her use of humour and wit makes her stories stand. Despite her novels being focussed around the marriage plot, Austen is a feminist and an intellect in her own right; through the manipulation of the marriage plot Austen allows herself the space necessary to comment on and critique the role of women in society. Visiting Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, is an experience in itself; being able to immerse yourself in the place where Austen published four major novels is enough to inspire the majority of visitors. Although Jane Austen is a clear representative of Hampshire’s literary heritage, she is also a national literary icon famed for her engaging, heartfelt and witty narratives.
Although born in Moorgate, London, and spending most of his life around the city, beloved Romantic poet John Keats had strong ties to Hampshire, with a lot of his more renown works either being written in the county or passing through. He was said to have written his last Great Ode, ‘To Autumn’, whilst in Winchester, specifically using the location as inspiration for his delicate poem.
Only a 15 minute train journey away is Winchester, and there you can find Keats’ Walk, a path dedicated to the poet and his poem ‘To Autumn’ – a lasting remembrance of Keats’ stay there. ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, another of his most acclaimed poems was said to have been started in Chichester, 40 minutes down the road from Southampton where you can visit the house he stayed in during his trip. Some of Keats’ other works include, The Great Ode’s, ‘Ode on a Greccain Urn’, ‘On Insolence’, ‘On Melancholy’, ‘To a Nightingale’ and ‘To Psyche’, as well as other notable lyric poems such as ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ and ‘Bright Star’ all of which explore Keats’ ideas on transiency, life and death as well as longing, love and loneliness. Keats poems are certainly worth checking out, and his ties and admiration to some beautiful locations in Hampshire give you all the more reason to do so.