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Archive for September, 2012

Inguiring readers, I literally SWOONED when I received a review copy of Emma: An Annotated Edition edited by Bharat Tandon. Readers of this blog know how much I have cherished this annotated series of Jane Austen’s novels by Harvard University Press. Click here for my review about the Annotated Pride and Prejudice and here for the Annotated Persuasion.

Lushly Illustrated Jane Austen Annotated Edition

Foremost, the books are lushly illustrated, beautifully produced, and well-researched by known Jane Austen scholars. Jane Austen Emma: An Annotated Edition is no exception. Considering the beautiful package, the book is very reasonably priced at $35 U.S., a perfect gift for the Janeite or historian in your family. Jane Austen Emma: Annotated Edition begins with a comprehensive introduction by Bharat Tandon, an academic, writer, and reviewer, who has lectured at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford and specializes in teaching British literature after 1700 and American literature after 1900.

Emma is the only novel Jane Austen named after her heroine. Although she was fond of this eponymous character, she did not foresee Emma becoming a general favorite with the reading public, saying, ‘I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.’ Truth be told, I’ve never quite warmed up to Emma Woodhouse, but in relation to 99% of the novels I’ve read my dislike is minor.

Annotated and Scholarly Insights on Emma

Her father, Mr. Woodhouse, on the other hand, has completely won me over with his odd, endearing hypochondriac ways, encouraging Mrs. Bates to eat a soft boiled egg and a very little bit of apple-tart, and a small half glass of wine put into a tumbler of water, for instance. Later in the novel, Mr. Woodhouse engages in a discussion with Frank Churchill about the room at the Crown, in which Frank tries to reassure the older man that the room reserved for the ball will be so large that there would be no occasion to open the windows and let in cold air upon heated bodies. Mr. Woodhouse nearly goes apoplectic at the thought, for both men are convinced that sweaty bodies should not be exposed to fresh air, a concept wonderfully explained by Tandon, who quotes The Code of Health and Longevity by John Sinclair (1807) as an explanation. Then there is this quote:

They were stopping, however, in the first place at Mrs. Bates’s; whose house was a little nearer Tandalls than Ford’s; and had all but knocked, when Emma caught their eye. – Immediately they crossed the road and came forward to her;”

I was delighted to discover that Jane Austen’s use of ‘catching an eye’ was one of the earliest citations of that particular use of that phrase in the OED, which cited Pride and Prejudice in the instance when Darcy catches Elizabeth’s eye and withdrew his own.

“The Linen Draper” from The Book of English Trades; and Library of the Useful Arts (London: Richard Phillips, 1818). (Image in the book)

Tandon discusses the meaning of making an entrance, the etiquette of dinner seating, square pianos, the plight of governesses, and so forth, and while I have seen some of the illustrations quite a few times before, such as the two that sit in this post, the author chose many that are new to me and add to my visual repertoire. Annotated books are such treasures for the serious reader of Jane Austen’s novels, explaining her words and old-fashioned idioms and making long dead customs come alive. This generously illustrated annotation from Harvard University Press both instructs and entertains with its running commentary along the margins, enhancing our enjoyment of one of Jane Austen’s most perfectly realized novels.

An Assembly Ball, plate 10 from the series “The Comforts of Bath”
1798, Colored aquatint. Image @Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wesley College. (Image in the book)

Jane Austen Emma: An Annotated Edition is well worth the purchase.

I give this new addition to the Harvard University Press annotated Jane Austen novels five out of five regency teacups.

Purchase information: Harvard University Press

HARDCOVER

$35.00 • £24.95 • €31.50

ISBN 9780674048843

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The Industrial Revolution is not mentioned specifically, but implied in Jane Austen’s novels, the more rapid means of transportation being one of them. Life was hard for the working poor, and many died premature deaths. But miracles did occur. Take the tale of John Evans, a miner in a coal pit at Pentre’r Fram Colliery, Minera, Wrexham, Wales. On the 27th of September in 1819, almost 200 years ago, the pit flooded and two men lost their lives and a third went missing.

John Evans in 1819. Image from the National Museum Wales

The miner was trapped by the flood 120 yards below the surface with 18 other men. Fifteen were rescued, but not Evans and two other miners. During the 7 days that it took to pump the water out, three coffins were made to bury the presumed dead men. On day 8, two bodies were recovered, but John Evans was nowhere to be found. His wife begged for the rescuers to continue so that she could give her husband a proper burial.

He was found alive on the 13th day. His daughter reported that he had managed to survive by eating tallow candles and drinking water droplets from the roof of the mine. After his rescue, John took the coffin home with him and used it as a cupboard for many years. He died in April, 1865 at the advanced age of 73. The colliery closed during the Depression after 124 years of continuous work. - Callaghan Family Archives

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Lady writing at her desk, 1813, Ackermann fashion plate, morning dress.

It is a truth universally known that during her lifetime, Jane Austen published her novels as “a lady.”  While some in the family knew about her writing success – her brother Henry and sister Cassandra swiftly come to mind – many did not, including the cousins. When a genteel woman like Jane was described as being at “work”, the phrase meant needlework and sewing clothes for the poor basket. A lady simply did not sully her hands by toiling at a trade. Jane did not want it bandied about that she was the author of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, but her proud siblings, Henry in particular, couldn’t restrain themselves and bragged about their talented sister.  The word got out and the least well-kept secret was the name of the lady who wrote those delightful novels.

James Edward Austen, the son of Jane’s eldest brother James, and a favorite nephew of hers, discovered at school in 1813 that his favorite aunt was the author of two novels he had enjoyed immensely. The 11-12 year-old was so delighted with the news that he penned an enthusiastic poem about his discovery and sent it to her:

To Miss J. Austen

No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise
Or make you conceive how I opened my eyes,
Like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife,
When I heard for the very first time in my life
That I had the honour to have a relation
Whose works were dispersed throughout the whole of the nation.

I assure you, however, I’m terribly glad;
Oh dear! just to think (and the thought drives me mad)
That you made the Middletons, Dashwoods, and all,
And that you (not young Ferrars) found out that a ball
May be given in cottages never so small.
And though Mr. Collins, so grateful for all,
Will Lady de Bourgh his dear Patroness call,
‘Tis to your ingenuity he really owed
His living, his wife, and his humble abode.

James Edward Austen as a young man.

When Edward Austen-Leigh, as he became later known in life, was 72, he penned his now famous Memoirs of Jane Austen,  leaving a legacy of the memories that he and his cousins retained a half century after her death. Had Edward not embarked on this quest, his memories (he was 16 when Jane died), and those of Caroline Austen and Fanny Knatchbull, might not have been captured in print. While his book preserved those fading memories, they also “sanitized” his aunt Jane’s reputation, erasing much of her sharp tongue and wit and replacing it with sweetness of character:

The grave closed over my aunt fifty-two years ago; and during that long period no idea of writing her life had been entertained by any of her family. Her nearest relatives, far from making provision for such a purpose, had actually destroyed many of the letters and papers by which it might have been facilitated. They were influenced, I believe, partly by an extreme dislike to publishing private details, and partly by never having assumed that the world would take so strong and abiding an interest in her works as to claim her name as public property. It was therefore necessary for me to draw upon recollections rather than on written documents for my materials; while the subject itself supplied me with nothing striking or prominent with which to arrest the attention of the reader…

Edward Austen-Leigh at the time he wrote Memoirs of Jane Austen

The motive which at last induced me to make the attempt [to write this memoir] is exactly expressed in the passage prefixed to these pages. I thought that I saw something to be done: knew of no one who could do it but myself, and so was driven to the enterprise. I am glad that I have been able to finish my work. As a family record it can scarcely fail to be interesting to those relatives who must ever set a high value on their connection with Jane Austen, and to them I especially dedicate it; but as I have been asked to do so, I also submit it to the censure of the public, with all its faults both of deficiency and redundancy. I know that its value in their eyes must depend, not on any merits of its own, but on the degree of estimation in which my aunt’s works may still be held; and indeed I shall esteem it one of the strongest testimonies ever borne to her talents, if for her sake an interest can be taken in so poor a sketch as I have been able to draw.

Bray Vicarage:
Sept. 7, 1869.

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Before Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, and mother moved into Chawton Cottage, they lived in a “commodious oldfashioned house in a corner of Castle Square” in Southampton. In his Memoir of his aunt, James Edward Austen-Leigh writes this charming, although bittersweet description:

John Petty, 2nd Marquess of Lansdowne

At that time Castle Square was occupied by a fantastic edifice, too large for the space in which it stood, though too small to accord well with its castellated style, erected by the second Marquis of Lansdowne, half-brother to the well-known statesman, who succeeded him in the title. The Marchioness had a light phaeton, drawn by six, and sometimes by eight little ponies, each pair decreasing in size, and becoming lighter in colour, through all the grades of dark brown, light brown, bay, and chestnut, as it was placed farther away from the carriage. The two leading pairs were managed by two boyish postilions, the two pairs nearest to the carriage were driven in hand. It was a delight to me to look down from the window and see this fairy equipage put together; for the premises of this castle were so contracted that the whole process went on in the little space that remained of the open square. Like other fairy works, however, it all proved evanescent. Not only carriage and ponies, but castle itself, soon vanished away, ‘like the baseless fabric of a vision’. On the death of the Marquis in 1809, the castle was pulled down. Few probably remember its existence; and anyone who might visit the place now would wonder how it ever could have stood there. - A Memoir of Jane Austen

George IV’s spider phaeton (1790) Click on image to view a larger version.

Postillion by Thomas Rowlandson (18th century – 19th century)

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A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters went to the Ball, Susannah Fullterton

“Ah”, I said, when I saw Susannah Fullerton’s book in my mail box. “Here’s just the book I need.” Some of the biggest gaps in my Austen reference library concern dance and music. Whenever I wanted to find out more about the social customs of balls and dancing, how ladies and gentleman conducted themselves, the food served at supper balls, the etiquette of a gentleman’s introduction to a lady before he could dance with her, precisely when the waltz became acceptable not only among the racy upper crust but with villagers in the hinterlands as well, and the difference between private balls and public balls, I had to consult a variety of books. This was time-consuming, and a bit frustrating, for there were variations in details that each source offered.

And now Susannah Fullerton has come to my rescue! Readers who have visited the Jane Austen Society of Australia (an excellent site) know that Ms. Fullerton is its president, and that she has written a previous book, Jane Austen and Crime. A Dance With Jane Austen is a compact illustrated book crammed with information, but written in a relaxed and accessible style. Topics include: Learning to dance, Dressing for the dance, Getting to and from a ball, Assembly balls, Private balls, Etiquette of the ballroom, Men in the ballroom, Dancing and music, ‘They sat down to supper’, Conversation and courtship, The shade of a departed ball, and Dance in Jane Austen films.

Ms. Fullerton culls information from Austen’s letters, novels, and historic texts, such as The Complete System of English Country Dancing, by Mr. Wilson, a dancing master of some renown and decided opinions. She also describes how Beau Nash, the influential master of ceremonies and taste maker in Bath, laid down a set of rules for Society to follow. Nash single-handedly changed a small, sleepy city into THE playground for the smart set with his dictums and innovations, which lasted well beyond his death.

The Five Positions of Dancing, Wilson, 1811

Jane Austen was no stranger to Bath’s public assemblies, or to dancing in private settings. She loved to dance and rarely said no when a man approached her for a set. Jane danced as often as she could, wryly observing to her sister when she was in her thirties and when partners became scarcer: “You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance, but I was.”

Getting to a ball might be problematic for those who had no means to keep horses or carriages. It made little sense to walk miles in fancy garb over dirt roads to a social event, and so arrangements needed to be made for those who were going to a dance to piggy-back with individuals who were willing to take them. This meant arriving and leaving a dance on someone else’s schedule. Catherine Morland did not walk to the Assembly Rooms, but took a sedan chair, for private carriages were seldom used within Bath proper. Her journey from “Great Pulteney Street to the Upper Rooms would have cost her between one shilling and six pence and two shillings (one way) – an expensive luxury at the time.”

A Modern Belle Going to the Rooms at Bath, Gillray caricature

The dancing ritual was one of courtship, and Jane Austen took full advantage of a ball to set the stage for character development. In each novel she takes a different approach. Lizzie and Darcy tense relationship began at the Meryton Assembly Ball, a situation that was not helped at the private ball at the Lucas’s house nor at the Netherfield Ball, where Lizzie’s family behaved abominably. The dances in Mansfield Park serve to show how selfish the characters are, and to point out Fanny’s isolation from the neighbors. Dancing masters taught children to dance properly, and they received further practice at children’s balls, but Fanny had few opportunities for practice, and she felt tense when she was prominently displayed at her birthday ball. Jane Austen masterfully used the dances in Emma to show how Emma never quite loses sight of Mr. Knightley even as she dances with Frank Churchill, and one gets a good sense of the frustration Catherine Morland feels at not being able to dance at her very first ball in Bath, for there was no one to introduce her and Mrs. Allen properly, or the utter irritation she feels when John Thorpe ruins her well-laid plans to dance with Mr. Tilney at a later assembly ball. Austen also uses balls to demonstrate how outrageous Marianne Dashwood’s behavior is towards Willoughby, breaking many rules of etiquette and decorum.

A Broad Hint of Not Meaning to Dance, James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphreys

Ms. Fullerton sets aside a few pages to discuss dances in films. These elaborately staged scenes are highly popular with film buffs. The costumes are beautiful, as is the music, and the settings are often quite lavish. But be aware that most of the dances and music are often inaccurate and chosen for cinematic effect. (As an aside, I was glad to note that Susannah’s take on Pride and Prejudice 1940 was similar to mine.)

Susannah Fullerton

Insights such as these make this book a sheer pleasure to read. A Dance with Jane Austen will be a valuable addition on the book shelves of any Regency author, Janeite, and history buff. As Susannah Fullterton says about her book:

Dances in the Regency era were almost the only opportunity young men and women had to be on their own without a chaperone right next to them, and dancing provided the exciting chance of physical touch. ..Dances were long – one often spent 30 minutes with the same partner – so there was plenty of opportunity for flirtation, amorous glances, and pressing of hands. After the dance was over, there was all the pleasure of gossip about everything that had happened.”

A Dance with Jane Austen will be available in October. Readers who are lucky enough to go to the Jane Austen Society Annual General Meeting in New York in a few weeks will have the opportunity to meet Ms. Fullerton! I give this book 5 out of 5 Regency tea cups.

Preorder the book at this Amazon.com link or at Frances Lincoln Publishers
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Frances Lincoln (October 16, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0711232458
ISBN-13: 978-0711232457

Please note: The blue links are mine; other links are supplied by WordPress. I do not make money from my blog. I do, however, receive books from publishers to review.

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Gentle readers, My dear friend Lady Anne has reviewed Tracy Kiely’s latest mystery, Murder Most Austen. As always, you will enjoy her take on a new book. I make my politest curtsy to her and thank her kindly for her services and for her elegant writing style. (Please note: the blue links are mine; other links are WordPress Ads I do not make money from this blog, but I do receive books from publishers for review.)

Murder Most Austen is the fourth book in Tracy Kiely’s series featuring Elizabeth Parker, a twenty-something Janeite who channels Kiely’s love and knowledge of Jane Austen’s books.  Elizabeth and her Aunt Winnie, who was featured in the first of the series, often converse by trading quotes from Jane’s books.  Readers with a good knowledge of Jane’s output will enjoy this indulgence in Austenology.

In this outing, Aunt Winnie, a former financier turned innkeeper, treats Elizabeth to a trip to England for the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath.  Elizabeth, who had been underemployed as a fact checker for a weekly newspaper, has quit her demeaning job, is considering and reconsidering moving in with her boyfriend Peter, and seems to have matured some from the preceding books.  While on the plane to Heathrow, she and Aunt Winnie, who is an outspoken and flamboyant contrast to her niece, meet two other travelers bound for the Festival, Richard Baines, a professor with some perverted views on Austen and his newest graduate student protégé, Lindsay.  The odious Baines has taken the slenderest details of what he considers evidence and what most Austen readers call satire, and decided that Jane is anti-clerical, a non-believer, and further, that she was sexually profligate, early Communist and died from syphilis.  Needless to say, most of the Janeites who hear him expound are upset, none more so that Aunt Winnie’s old friend Cora, one of those tiresome women who cannot leave an argument alone.  So when Baines is found stabbed outside the ballroom where one of the Festival balls is taking place, Cora, who had argued too loudly and drunk too much, is the prime suspect in his death.  Thus  Elizabeth, along with Aunt Winnie, try to discover who really killed the arrogant Baines.   There is no shortage of suspects:  the ex-wife, son and daughter-in-law of Baines have strong motives, as do his current wife, his assistant, and that adoring graduate student.

Kiely is an engaging writer, who draws the reader in quickly, and keeps her pace brisk.  She has a good ear for dialogue, which serves her well in establishing her characters and keeping her readers’ interest.  Unfortunately, she is not as strong in setting her scenes.  While she minutely describes the lobby and hotel room at Claridge’s, the iconic hotel in London, she has Aunt Winnie make reservations for high tea for the afternoon.  Mistake!  High tea, which sounds more elegant than tea, is not.  It usually consists of baked beans on toast, perhaps an egg and fish paste sandwiches; it is a working class or nursery supper.  Tea involves crumpets, scones, clotted cream, strawberries and other delights.  That is presumably what the ladies had at Claridge’s, but we don’t get to join them.

               Elizabeth and Winnie take a quick tourist turn through London and then proceed to Bath, but we do not get a good view of either place, which is disappointing to those of us who enjoy local color in our mysteries, or who have been there and look forward to experiencing those places through the characters’ eyes.   This story could have equally well taken place at any of the regional Jane Austen celebrations in the U.S.,  for all the good Kiely made of being in Bath and London.      

Mysteries turn on details; when well-done, they provide a clear picture of the lives of the characters: where they live, where they eat, what they do.  These must be accurate and consistent.  In Murder Most Austen, everyone uses cell phones throughout the book; in fact, the plot turns on the use of phones, and the cover illustration features a character in period dress talking on her cell.  But as everyone who has traveled knows, American cell phones do not work abroad.  The tourist needs to purchase a new phone and also get the appropriate sim card to hook into the networks in Europe.  World-traveler Winnie would know this; Elizabeth would find it out.  While they were out seeing the usual sights, they should have taken care of that necessary detail.  Kiely could simply have included a little conversation among the cell phone users about getting their international phones.   She does do a good job on the arrogant professor who tries to turn Jane 180 degrees from her usual perception by his mischaracterized “evidence.”  It’s a nice poke at those academic furors that can rage for years, but it would have been another good skewer at him to associate him with an outlandishly named University.  His unnamed school is another missing detail.

There is a certain amount of piling-on with the bad guys in Murder Most Austen, but Elizabeth solves the mystery with some good insight, and acquits herself nicely in a bit of swordplay as well.  It is nice to see that she is not as flustered and unsure of herself as she appeared in previous books in the series; a smart and capable woman makes a good detective and is fun to continue to read.  Readers who enjoyed Elizabeth’s earlier successes at crime-solving will like this one as well.  Someone not previously acquainted with Elizabeth and her problem-solving skills – she does have an excellent memory for tiny details – will enjoy getting to know her.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250007429
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250007421

Order Murder Most Austen at Amazon or at MacMillan. (Vic adds her extreme disappointment at the cost of the Kindle edition. $12.00 is a steep price, when so many other Kindle books are listed for around $7-8. )

My blog’s reviews of all of Tracy’s murder mysteries: Click here

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The period between 1811 and 1820 is known in British history as the Regency. In 1811 King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince Regent, ruled in his place. On his father’s death in 1820, the Prince was crowned King George IV. Coincidentally, Jane Austen’s novels were published between 1811 and 1818 and her writing has come to define how we imagine life was lived in the Regency era.

Miniature of the Prince Regent, Courtesy of the library archives of Canada

Yet so successful has Jane Austen been in implanting images in her readers’ minds that there is a danger that we begin to accept fiction as fact, to confuse the lives of her heroines with her own life, to interpret the lives of the few as being the lives of the many. And in that process there is also the risk that we lose sight of her skill and imagination as a writer. She was without doubt a keen observer, but the settings and people she describes, come as much from her imagination as from what she saw or experienced.

Company at play, the Comforts of Bath, Thomas Rowlandson

Jane chose to set two of her novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) in Bath. She lived in the city between 1801 and 1806 and it’s still possible to retrace her footsteps, to see some of what she saw. The pattern of roads is largely unchanged in the older part of the city. Many of the places she would have frequented are still there; The Royal Crescent, The Circus, Queen Square, Milsom Street, Pulteney Bridge, the Upper Assembly Rooms, the Pump Rooms, the Guildhall, and Sydney Gardens, to name but a few.

South Parade, Bath, Thomas malton, 1775 (the year of Jane Austen’s birth).

It is easy to imagine these places as she depicts them in her novels, yet it is almost impossible to separate fact from fiction. For example, in “Northanger Abbey” we read;

They arrived in Bath. Catherine was all eager delight; – her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.”

Yet Jane also records on moving to Bath, her own “first impression” of the city, in a letter to her sister, Cassandra, on May 5th 1801;

The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see more distinctly through rain. The sun was got behind everything, and the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion.”

Panoramic view of Bath from Beechen Cliff, 1824

Again in “Northanger Abbey” she describes a formal ball held in the Upper Assembly Rooms;

The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. As for Mr Allen, he repaired directly to the card-room, and left them to enjoy a mob by themselves. With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protégé, Mrs Allen made her way through the throng of men by the door, as swiftly as the necessary caution would allow; Catherine, however, kept close at her side, and linked her arm too firmly within her friend’s to be torn asunder by any common effort of a struggling assembly.”

Fancy Ball at the Upper Rooms, Bath, Thomas Rowlandson

Yet her own experience was somewhat different, as she reports in letter to her sister on May 12th 1801;

By nine o’clock my uncle, aunt, and I entered the rooms, and linked Miss Winstone on to us. Before tea it was rather a dull affair; but then the before tea did not last long, for there was only one dance, danced by four couple. Think of four couple, surrounded by about an hundred people, dancing in the Upper Rooms at Bath.

After tea we cheered up; the breaking up of private parties sent some scores more to the ball, and though it was shockingly and inhumanly thin for this place, there were people enough, I suppose, to have made five or six very pretty Basingstoke assemblies.”

They say you should write about what you know and Jane Austen certainly knew about people, but was her life really comparable to those of her heroines? She attended dinner parties, suppers, formal balls and had some insight into high-society. Yet that society was very stratified with rigid conventions and social etiquette. Those rules defined who was on a level with whom, and Jane was certainly not part of its upper echelons. She was part of that “society” but in truth she was fairly low down in the “pecking order.” Her Uncle and Aunt were wealthy and lived in the Paragon. They might have provided her with opportunities to glimpse their way of life, but they do not seem to have been over-generous to Jane or her family.

Number 1, Paragon, where the Leigh-Perrots lived. Image @Austenised

When Jane’s family moved to Bath they leased a house at 4, Sydney Place. It was a fine house in a good area, near the popular Sydney Gardens, but it was not a prestigious address in comparison with other parts of the city. And when the lease ended they moved to a house in Green Park Buildings. This was an area the family had dismissed when they first moved to the city and it’s easy to see why from Jane’s description;

Our views on G. P. (Green Park) Buildings seem all at an end; the observation of the damps still remaining in the offices of an house which has been only vacated a week, with reports of discontented families and putrid fevers, has given the coup de grace. We have now nothing in view. When you arrive, we will at least have the pleasure of examining some of these putrefying houses again; they are so very desirable in size and situation, that there is some satisfaction in spending ten minutes within them.”

Before leaving Bath the family also lived for a while in 25, Gay Street. (The Jane Austen Centre is nearby at 40 Gay Street). It was a “good address” but by then, after the death of Jane’s father, they were reduced to “taking rooms” as boarders rather than occupying a house as tenants. By then the family were largely dependent on the charity of relatives.

Old Houses. Westgate Street , Bath, Thomas Elliot Rosenberg, 1820. Image @Victoria Art Gallery, Bath

It’s obvious too that Jane was well aware of the plight of the genteel poor. In “Persuasion” Sir Walter Elliot refers to Westgate Buildings as, “Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations.” Westgate Buildings was by no means the worst of streets but it was situated on the border of the Avon Street slum area. My own novel “Avon Street” has an opening scene in Westgate Buildings and explores the darker aspects of the City.

Brock illustration of Captain Wentworth entreating Anne Elliot to read his letter, Persuasion.

Opinion is divided on whether or not Jane Austen actually liked Bath, but she certainly knew how to use it as a setting. Jane Austen created an image of Regency life which still survives today. That is a testament to her imagination and skill as a writer. She chose to depict a way of life in her novels that did not always reflect her own everyday experience. Indeed it was not representative of the lives of most, yet it pleased her readers then and still pleases them today.

Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street (click here to view the book and order it), has contributed a post for this blog before about the City of Bath as a Character and Law & Order and Jane Austen’s Aunt, and Food – To Die For: Food Preparation in the Georgian EraHe has graciously sent in an article about crime and an incident involving Jane Austen’s aunt, Mrs James Leigh-Perrot. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The History Press (March 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752465546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

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