They paved Pemberley and put up a parking lot.

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The Dolphin Hotel, a former hitching post for Jane Austen herself, is set to be converted into student dorms. The 500 year old space is believed to be the oldest inn in Southampton. Ms. Austen made several appearances there, and notably celebrated her eighteenth birthday at a ball on the premises. In its spiffier heyday, The Dolphin also hosted big-time celebs like Admiral Lord Nelson and Queen Victoria.

As there are few remaining physical structures that tie Mother (sorry—Ms. Austen) to the region she once called home, her fan base is in something of an uproar about the revamp plans. The Jane Austen Society’s Hampshire branch, as well as members of the Sarah Siddons Society, have voiced dissent. And Jennifer Weinbrecht, who owns the Jane Austen Books store in Ohio, recently shared a sternly-worded objection to the powers-that-be with The Guardian. 

Though the “mid-terraced, four-storey building with a basement” has been closed to the public since 2021, the Home Office did enlist the space to house asylum-seekers in 2022. But it would seem there was some uproar about that, too, from the less hospitable Southampton constituents. No word yet on if this plan will continue under new management, but one doubts.

Many locals had high hopes that The Dolphin, which is protected as a Grade-II historical structure by the National Trust, would eventually be restored to its former glory and left open to the public.

But the plan the city council approved yesterday does not protect the structure from meaningful renovations.

Nevertheless, the proposed developers at Dolphin Hotel Property Limited insist that the hotel’s integrity will be maintained. A plaque in the lobby seems likely. And the dining hall and ground floor will allegedly be available to the public “by appointment.”

But you know how it goes in dorms.

Jane referred to The Dolphin in several letters. Here’s her description of a ball she enjoyed there, sent to her sister Cassandra in December 1808:

Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected. Martha liked it very much, and I did not gape till the last quarter of an hour. It was past nine before we were sent for, and not twelve when we returned. The room was tolerably full, and there were, perhaps, thirty couple of dancers. The melancholy part was, to see so many dozen young women standing by without partners, and each of them with two ugly naked shoulders.

If my college living quarters are any kind of rubric, I fear ‘Naked shoulders,’ will be the least of the great ghost’s worries.

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