CHAWTON, ENGLAND — MEN have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands.''
Jane Austen's words from her novel ``Persuasion'' have inspired an American fan to spend millions on a crumbling, leaky 51-room Jacobean pile in rural Hampshire.
Sandy Lerner plans to turn Chawton House, with its Austen connections, into a study center for early women writers.
Ms. Lerner and her husband, Leonard Bosack, made millions when they sold California-based Cisco Systems Inc. About $1.5 million will be spent buying a long lease on Chawton House and its 300 acres of pastures and farmland 45 miles south of London.
Millions more will be needed to fix up the early 17th-century house where floors sag, walls fuzz with mold, and rats prowl the cellar. Weeds have grown over a walled garden, designed by Sir Edward Landseer Lutyens, the British architect who died in 1944 and is best known for creating imperial New Delhi.
Jane Austen never lived in Chawton House. It belonged to her brother, Edward Knight, who changed his name after he was adopted by a distant, rich relative. Jane Austen lived down the road in a pretty brick house, now a private museum, for six years. But she walked in Chawton House's vast grounds, and it is said to be the model for Donwell Abbey in ``Emma.''
The cornerstone of the study center will be Lerner's 1,500-volume library. An aggressive acquisition policy will save books and plays by women writers such as Aphra Behn, Fanny Burney, and Sarah Fielding on computer.