Thursday, February 13, 2014

what I did on my holidays (part the first)

Pulteney Bridge

I did a lot of things on my holidays.  They were six weeks long and I visited Europe, in fact.  But one of my favourite things of all was my Jane Austen pilgrimage.

Part 1 of the pilgrimage was in Bath, England, where Jane Austen spent some years of her life and where parts of her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are set.  It happens to be somewhere she hated to live - it is said that she fainted when she learned that her parents were leaving the family parsonage in Steventon, Hampshire, and taking Jane and her sister Cassandra to live in Bath.  When she wrote Northanger Abbey as a younger woman the bright lights were still an exciting prospect for her, but by the time she wrote Persuasion as an older woman she had well and truly tired of Bath and what I understand she considered to be its shallowness.  While she lived there, she found herself unable to write successfully at all.  It was not until she left Bath and moved to the small village of Chawton, onto her brother's estate, that her most productive era began.

There is a bit of a Jane Austen industry in Bath - it is home to the Jane Austen Centre, and its heyday was Georgian, so it really does look the part.  I even found a free audio tour online, with a complementary map, to take you around "Jane Austen's Bath".  In fact, it's a collection of places that are directly relevant to Jane Austen and her novels, and then a bundle of other places that just look like Regency fiction (or may have been scenes in different movie adaptations).

Having said that, despite all the Georgian England overtones, I wandered into a random café at one point, sat down and realised I was sitting next to a Rolling Stone (Ronnie Wood, to be precise, looking slightly out of place).  Luckily, at 27 years old, I'm not young enough to interest him, but for those out there who may not be fans of Jane Austen, there are other reasons to visit Bath.

Anyway - back to the tour - I will take you through a few of its moments.

The Pump Room
First up, the Pump Room.  I have to admit I only popped my head in here because it was a particularly beautiful tearoom/café (maitre d', live pianist, crisp linen and all that) and I didn't feel like paying to eat more food and having to mind my manners instead of pulling my book out and leaning on my elbows on the table.  But while I hovered at the entrance, I took a deep breath, assessed the room, blotted out all the modern-day tourists and elderly couples drinking tea and eating scones - and imagined women in Empire-waisted dresses - circulating.  It was a successful imagining.

Laura Place
I got quite excited when I arrived at Laura Place - a square which was very desirable in early 19th century England - and which I imagine is probably still pretty desirable today.  "Our cousins the Dalrymples" lived there: that is, the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and the Honourable Miss Carteret of Persuasion, the noble, rich but meaningless cousins courted by Anne Elliot's father and sister.

Jane Austen's noble residence
Soon after walking a little further down Great Pulteney Street, I turned onto Sydney Place, which is a little more plebeian than Laura Place and Great Pulteney Street, and happens to be where Jane Austen resided while in Bath - until her father sadly died, and her family could no longer afford to live there.

Like any great site in Europe, it was covered in scaffolding.  (I can only assume it is due to its greatness and to my tendency for bad luck?)
Royal Crescent
Royal Crescent bears no real connection with Jane Austen except that it is a very lovely and reasonably regal-looking street which appears in a number of Austen adaptations for the screen.  I'm okay with that - it was definitely worth seeing.

Shortly before arriving at Royal Crescent, I walked down:

Gravel Walk
'Gravel Walk.'  As I walked I listened to the audioguide, and this is where I really felt the audio was a great idea.  It was quite an experience to listen to the following as I walked - the happy reconciliation  of two loved, deserving characters in my favourite book:

Soon words enough had passed between them to decide their direction towards the comparatively quiet and retired gravel walk, where the power of conversation would make the present hour a blessing indeed, and prepare for it all the immortality which the happiest recollections of their own future lives could bestow. There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their reunion, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting. And there, as they slowly paced the gradual ascent, heedless of every group around them, seeing neither sauntering politicians, bustling house-keepers, flirting girls, nor nurserymaids and children, they could indulge in those retrospections and acknowledgments, and especially in those explanations of what had directly preceded the present moment, which were so poignant and so ceaseless in interest. All the little variations of the last week were gone through; and of yesterday and to-day there could scarcely be an end.

Gravel Walk must be a very different place than it was then, but it's still there, and it was a lovely feeling to me to know that Jane Austen had wandered along the same walk, and sent her own characters there for such a moment in their lives.

  • The Jane Austen Centre - It's really set up for people who just looooove Mr Darcy and his wet shirt.  I'm not knocking the shirt.  I just wanted to learn something.  I did, however, buy a cool graphic novel version of Pride and Prejudice in the shop.
  • The Assembly Rooms - They were closed for a function.  Whaaaat?!  I had been really looking forward to wandering around pretending to be Catherine Morland.

1 comment:

  1. Some of my ancestors are from Bath, I've always wanted to go. And that crescent!? It's the stuff that swoony dreams are made of!

    Glad you had so many positives with Ms. Austen, but boo for the negatives.