Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Searching for Jane Austen Pt. 1

Jane Austen was not happy in Bath. While it was the center of fashion and entertainment for the vacationing set of Regency England, Miss Austen felt stifled and out of place between the gossips and convention. When her father gave up the rectory in her beloved Steventon, it was with a heavy heart that she was uprooted to the more equitable climate of Bath.

The Austens spent a very little time in happy circumstances. Her father died, leaving the Austen women bereft much like Ann Elliot prejudiced against the city after her mother's death in Persuasion. Bath is a shockingly small community and the relationship between rank and street address was keenly felt. The farther away from the Crescent a person lived, the farther they had fallen in life. During Regency England, the center of the town with the Pump Rooms, the Crescent, the Cathedral and theater was splendid. It was therefore, quite astonishing to most how degraded the living quarters became the closer one moved towards the river. Jane had to watch her family of nearly destitute women move closer and closer to the river and therefore, ruin. She was powerless to stop it.

She did not write for 10 years.

However, it is nearly impossible to believe these solemn facts when you visit. My mother (having hired a car and nearly losing our lives on several ocassions) literally gasped when we turned off the highway and started down the narrow road leading into the Greater Bath area. The city sprawls out over the most glorious hillsides and it is true, the stone is golden and catches the light whatever time of day it is. Bath is not a bustling city, all noise and movement (although Miss Austen typically spoke of it as such). You stroll in Bath, you take the double decker bus and they linger. The shops are glorious (special mention to Waterstones: the most FABULOUS book shop in the universe) and everything is an easy walk.

More importantly, everything is Jane Austen. It is ironic that her least favorite place is so indelibly stamped by her having lived there. I'm sure many things have happened in Bath (the Romans for Heaven's sake) but no one cares about that. In Bath there is the overwhelming certainty that the city is what it is today because Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were written by a young lady who hated the city but immortalized it through her heroines.

My mother and I stayed at a bed and breakfast that should be a MUST for all Jane Austen fans. Grosvenor Lodge is a true Georgian building, completely refurbished and absolutely the most lovely rooms we have ever stayed in. It was the closest to Jane Austen living as we were going to get.

Collin is the owner and quite possibly the funniest human to have ever walked God's earth.

The Roman Baths are extensive and yes, the water is still bubbling. Sad to say, but it is no longer possible to dip into them for their healing purposes :)

A little further walk away from the Pump Rooms and the splendor of Roman ruins is the Jane Austen Center. They do a wonderful overview of Jane's life and especially how colorful her brothers were. There is very little authentic memorabilia and none of it directly related to Austen, however, upstairs is a DELIGHTFUL tea room where every menu choice is related to an Austen character. I had the Darcy tea and ate the entire piece of chocolate cake myself.

This is a picture of Gay Street where the Jane Austen Center is situated (look closely and see the man dressed in Regency just visible). One of Austen's houses is two doors up but is currently a dentist's office. You can't help but laugh at that -- A very appropriate progression considering how she felt about Bath in general.

Check out this movie I made after I came home: Austen's greatest hits! I was so inspired. But then... how can we not be?


  1. K, I have a confession...I did not read your whole post. I skimmed it. But I watched the whole video and loved it. Great job! And I, too, enjoy your layout. So cool!

  2. I love your blog! I haven't talked to you in forever!!!! I am a HUGE Jane Austen fan and am in love with this post. I bet you had so much fun!!


  3. Excellent layout! This designer has great ideas and execution.

    It always amazes me that Austen detested Bath so much and now it is super famous. She must be rolling in her grave :)
    I am very jealous of your travels, keep it up. And thanks for sharing ;)

  4. wow! love your travel pics. thanks for sharing them. and yes, how funny how we all are interested in Bath while Jane was sooo not.

  5. Ooh, I did a similar trip through BAth a couple years back and really want to go again and spend more time with Jane's ghosts. NIce to find your blog!