When I visited Stoneleigh Abbey about five years ago I discovered a story just waiting to be written. So many people think Jane Austen was middle-class but in fact she was only a generation away from a Baronetcy and her ancestors had been very wealthy.
So the story I discovered was that in June 1816 Jane moved from a property in Trim St, Bath, the poorest residence she lived in, which she never mentioned again, to then stay in the dramatically ornate, vast, residence of her ancestors, where she came face to face with their portraits and no longer needed to imagine the way they had lived.
Jane actually describes aspects of the area around Stoneleigh Abbey and rooms within Stoneleigh Abbey in Pride and Prejudice and in Mansfield Park.
When I stood in the entrance hall in Stoneleigh Abbey five years ago it did not take much to picture Jane Austen standing in that room, looking everywhere, and from that to imagine her character Fanny’s voice coming from such a visit. And then I learnt about the portrait of one of Jane’s relations whose real story was ridiculously close to that of Persuasion, and her surname is Wentworth.
I visit lots of historical properties, it’s how I generate ideas for my historical books - to learn true stories and scenes and then apply them to my fiction to make my fiction feel more realistic. So it became very obvious to me that Jane Austen had used fact to help create her fiction…