Posts Tagged ‘Regency Bath’

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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Panorama of Bath from Beechen Cliff, 1824, Harvey Wood

Inquiring Readers, Tony Grant, who lives in London, teaches, and acts as occasional tour guide, has been contributing articles to Jane Austen Today for several months. Recently, Tony and his family traveled to Bath and the West Country. This is one of many posts he has written about his journey. Tony also has his own blog, London Calling.

The Paragon from Travelpod

On Wednesday 6th May 1801 Jane wrote to Cassandra, from a house positioned on a hill half way up a road called, The Paragon, in Bath. It was her uncle and aunt’s, the Leigh Perrots, home. Her aunt was her mother’s sister. Jane and her mother and father had just arrived, just moved in and were getting settled into their rooms.

“ My dear Cassandra,

I have the pleasure of writing from my own room up two pairs of stairs, with everything very comfortable about me. Our journey here was perfectly free from accident or Event; we changed horses at the end of every stage, & paid almost at every turnpike;- we had charming weather, hardly any dust,& were exceedingly agreeable, as we did not speak above once in every three miles.- between Luggershall & Everley we made our grand meal…….”

Jane had arrived in Bath after a journey of about 50 miles from Steventon, her home.

Wood engraving of Steventon Rectory

She sounds excited and thrilled by the new experience for instance she has ,” my own room.” But perhaps she was trying to put a brave face on it, be positive and put the negatives to the back of her mind.

Claire Tomlin reminds us,

“ The decision by Mr and Mrs Austen to leave their home of over thirty years, taking their children with them, came as a complete surprise to her; in effect, a twenty fifth birthday surprise, in December 1800. Not a word had been said to anyone in advance of the decision.”

Jane had spent all her life in Steventon a quiet country village near Basingstoke in Hampshire. She knew the families who lived in the great houses and many were her friends. She knew the villagers of Steventon very well. It was the source of her imagination and she had developed her own intimate writing habits there. Her world , in a sense was turned upside down and she was being wrenched from this intimate, close world that she was comfortable in, to that of a bustling town, but not just any town.

The Bath Medley, the Pump Room, detail on a fan, 1735

Bath was the centre of Georgian ,”FUN.” Here people came for the medicinal benefits of the waters, dancing, parading in the streets in their finest clothes, drinking tea, and taking rides and walks out into the nearby countryside. It was a place to rest, to be seen and to meet new people. Many families brought their unmarried daughters here to find eligible spouses.

Dancing, Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath

Bath was a magnet for the wealthy and comfortable middle classes who came and went with the season. It was a fluctuating population. Friendships could be brief. It was a hot house for relationships. Whether The Reverend George Austen had it in mind to find suitors for his two unmarried daughters, as part of his plan, is not certain. Jane however was definitely out of her comfort zone. She was a very astute judge of characters and she would not like much of the ostentatious show of Bath. People who went to Bath for the season behaved differently. Strangers were thrown together in a mix of fun and gaiety. Moral codes were loosened. You get a very strong sense of this in the description of Catherine Morelands first experiences of Bath in Northanger Abbey.

Comforts of Bath, The Pump Room, Rowlandson

To get to Bath from Steventon over the fifty mile journey, Jane took, she passed through many picturesque and beautiful villages and towns. Those places are still there today.

Overton, Andover, Weyhill, Ludgershall, Eveleigh, where the Austens stopped to take tea and rest, Upavon, crossing the River Avon at this point, Conock and Devizes where they probably rested again before the final stretch to Bath. Devizes is a bustling town today, traffic and shoppers, many small businesses, churches and chapels and still many magnificent Georgian buildings. Take away the cars, and dress the people differently and Devizes would still be very familiar to Jane. It still has very much of its Georgian character but it is a modern 21st century town too.Like modern day England, Devizes is a layer cake of history. There are bits from every era and it has and does thrive in all of them.

Strolling through Sydney Gardens

When I went to Bath this time I came in from a slightly different direction to Janes journey there in 1801. I came the south east, travelling from Stonehenge in Wiltshire. This road comes from high up in the hills to the south of Bath and the first sight of the city is from a steep, tree lined, Beckford Road which reaches Bath stretching along next to Sydney Gardens. It was a great pleasure and very exciting to come across, almost immediately on reaching Bath, number 4 Sydney Place, which was one of the houses Jane and her family rented.

Georgian terraced houses along the London Road, Bath

Jane entered Bath by way of the London Road which sweeps in from the east and curves across the top of the bend in the River Avon which borders the southern part of the City of Bath.The London Road leads straight to The Paragon, the road in which her aunt and uncle, The Leigh Perrots, lived and where Jane and her mother and father were to live until they found their own residence. Bath has not expanded in modern times much south of the river partly because of the steep hills there.

Old - Lower - Assembly Rooms

So there is an excited tone in Janes first letter from The Paragon. The excitement doesn’t last. Her aunt and uncle being residents in Bath, they at least know people to introduce Jane to. Unlike Catherine Moreland who meets nobody and knows no one at first. But what terrible people? Or is Jane just having a bout of sour grapes? Within weeks Jane is writing to Cassandra her comments about Bath acquaintances.

Wednesday 13th may 1801 writing to Cassandra

“I cannot anyhow continue to find people agreeable; I respect Mrs Chamberlayne for doing her hair well, but cannot feel a more tender sentiment.”

Mrs Chamberlayne is picked out for more effort. Jane tries to find something in common, tries to see if a new friendship can blossom.

Friday 22nd May 1801

“The friendship between Mrs Chamberlayne & me which you predicted has already taken place, for we shake hands whenever we meet Our grand walk to Weston was again fixed for yesterday & was accomplished in a very striking manner; Everyone of the party declined it under some pretence or other except our two selves, & we therefore had a tete a tete, but that we should equally have had after the first two yards, had half the inhabitants of Bath set off with us.- It would have amused you to see our progress;-we went up by Sion Hill, and returned across the fields,- in climbing a hill Mrs Chamberlayne is very capital; I could with diffuculty keep pace with her- yet would not flinch for the world.- On plain ground I was quite her equal- and so we posted away under a fine hot sun, She without any parasol or any shade to her hat, stopping for nothing ,& crossing the churchyard at Weston with as much expedition as if we were afraid of being buried alive.-After seeing what she is equal to, I cannot help feeling a regard for her.-As to agreeableness, she is much like other people.”

There is something final about this relationship as though it’s not going far, in two phrases, “The friendship between Mrs Chamberlayne & me which you predicted has already taken place,…..” and , “As to agreeableness, she is much like other people.”

Regency Bath

Jane uses the past tense already about the relationship with Mrs Chamberlayne and she finally concludes that she is much like other people. Nothing is going to happen here. Jane was a very guarded person, certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly, gave people a chance and discarded them for their mediocrity. Jane obviously needed something else in a relationship. Already she wasn’t in the mood for Bath.

Candle Snuffer, image Tony Grant

In the same letter she mentions house hunting. They have been looking at houses amongst Green Park Buildings. Green Park Buildings are situated near the river at the bottom of the town. They were obviously prone to flooding.

“ our views on GP building seem all at an end; the observations of the damps still remaining the offices of an house which has only been vacated a week, with reports of discontented families& putrid fevers have given the coup de grace.”

Nowadays the river near Green Park Buildings has high banks to prevent flooding and has been canalised. One of the main car parks, where we actually parked is near there. Also Bath Railway Station and The University of Bath is situated nearby these days.

For all this dire and damning report the Austens did move into Green Park Buildings. It could not have been very pleasant. Perhaps they thought their stay in The Paragon was prolonged enough and anything had to be taken.

Much of Jane’s remaining letters from Bath have some discussion about finding accommodation. The contracts on these houses seem to have been short term. Maybe this was because Bath was a seasonal place. People generally came for short periods of time. If you really wanted to live there permanently you would have to buy. Perhaps the Austens could not afford to do that. It begs the question, did Mr and Mrs Austen really think through their move to Bath carefully enough?

25 Gay Street, image Tony Grant

After Green Park Buildings the next set of letters come from number 25 Gay Street, just a few houses up the hill from The Jane Austen Centre. It is a dental practioners office today. The letters from Gay Street are the last from an address in Bath. However we also know that Jane lived at number 4 Sydney Street, a new house at the time overlooking a grand house which is now the Holburn Museum and its grounds, Sydney Park. This is by far one of the more pleasant situations Jane lived in.

Jane’s father died in a house in Trim Street not far from Queen Square and Gay Street. So another move had had to take place. In five years Jane had lived in at least five different house all providing differing qualities of living.

Side Street, Bath, image by Tony Grant

You can find this reflected in the two novels that concern themselves most with Bath, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. In Persuasion Anne Elliot finds an old school friend, Mrs Smith, living in poor circumstances.

“Her accommodations were limited to a noisy parlour , and a dark bedroom behind, with no possibility of moving from one to the otherwithiout assistancewhich there was only one servant in the house to affordand she never quitted the house but to be conveyed into the warm bath.”

Mrs Smith’s accommodation was in Westgate Buildings not far from the Pump Room. Mrs Smith’s husband had died leaving her almost penniless but because of her health the warm bath treatment was seen as a cure. Her life was certainly not one of fun and frivolity. It seems, like in any city and town today, in the 18th century, the poor and destitute and the wealthy are not far from each other. Anne Elliot seems to prefer the company of Mrs Smith rather than the fripperies that Bath had to offer. She knows the right people and could have fun if she wanted to. Anne Elliot can see the two sides of Bath.

Side view of Bath Abbey, image Tony Grant

Jane Austen knew Bath extremely well. Throughout Persuasion and Northanger Abbey she houses her characters in real streets and in real buildings, although she does avoid giving us the number of the house in such and such a street. The real owners and occupants might not have liked the notoriety. And today they might not like the notoriety as well. Was there such a thing as litigation in the 18th century? I’m sure there was.

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Cheap Street with hills in the distance, image from Tony Grant

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In 1798, the famous caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson drew The Comforts of Bath, a series of satiric drawings. The cartoons were used to illustrate the 1858 edition of the New Bath Guide, written by Christopher Anstey and first published in 1766.* Rowlandson depicted both the social and medical scene in Bath just before the period described by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and by Georgette Heyer in her Regency romances.

The Portrait, Comforts of Bath, 1798, Thomas Rowlandson

In this post I combined Rowlandson’s images with excerpts from an 1811 guidebook, A new guide through Bath and its environs By Richard Warner. The scenes depict the use of mineral water therapy for the invalids who flocked to Bath, a city whose fashionable post-Nash reputation was already well past its prime and whose medical men were generally regarded as quacks or, worse, “potential murderers”. The rotund gentleman in front and center of all these scenes (who undoubtedly suffered from gout, a painful rich man’s disease), was conjectured to be based after Tobias Smollet’s Mr. Bramble. In the pictorial’s subtext, notice how “Mr. Bramble’s” young wife (companion or daughter) flirts with the young officer who boldly woos her (Image above). Even while satirizing them, Rowlandson gets the social details just right. Underneath each image sits a quote from the guidebook.

King Bladud's Bath, Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson

It is fit for the patient when he goeth into the bath to defend those parts which are apt to be offended by the bath, as to have his head well covered from the air and wind and from the vapours arising from the bath, also his kidneys if they be subject to the stone, anointed with some cooling unguents as rosatum comitiffs infrigidans Galeni Santo linum &c. Also, to begin gently with the bath till his body be inured to it, and to be quiet from swimming or much motion which may offend the head by sending up vapours thither at his coming forth, to have his body well dryed and to rest in his bed an hour and sweat, etc.” – A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

The Pump Room, The Comforts of Bath, 1798, Rowlandson

The new Pump Room supplied water from a covered pump. Before the room was built, the populace drank the waters in the open air. But the new rooms allowed them to

…  take the exercise prescribed to them sheltered from the inclemency of the weather. The work was accordingly begun in 1704, finished two years afterwards, and opened for the reception of the company under the auspices of Mr Nash, who had just then become the Arbiter Elegantiarum of Bath…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Black and White detail of above print

In the year 1751 [The Pump] Room was enlarged. Accommodated with a beautiful Portico stretching from it in a northern direction in 1786, and adorned with superb Western Frontispiece in 1791, The Corporation further beautified the city in 1796 by taking down the old Pump Room entirely and building on its site the much larger and more magnificent edifice known at present by that name…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Public Breakfast, The Comforts of Bath, 1798, Rowlandson

Pertaining to the construction of  the Harrison rooms and the Assembly Rooms:

Temporary booths had hitherto been the only places in which the company could drink their tea and divert themselves with cards, but Mr Harrison, a man of spirit and speculation, perceiving that a building of this nature was much wanted and would probably make him a very suitable return, undertook at the suggestion of Mr Nash to erect a large and commodious room for the purpose of receiving the company.  The succes of this attempt induced a similar one in the year 1728, when another large room was built by Mr Thayer.  A regular system of pleasurable amusements commenced from this period, and the gay routine of public breakfasts, morning concerts, noon card parties, evening promenades, and nocturnal balls rolled on in an endless and diversified succession. – A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Company at Play, The Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson

Rules card games:

That no persons be permitted to play with cards left by another party;  That no hazard or unlawful game of any sort be allowed in these Rooms on any account whatever nor any cards on Sundays...A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

The Concert, Bath Chambers, Rowlandson

For music sweet music has charms to controul; And tune up each passion that ruffles the soul; What things have I read and what stories been told; Of feats that were done by musicians of old – The New Bath Guide, 1779

Dinner, Comforts of Bath, 1798

Bath has little trade and no manufactures; the higher clafles of people and their dependents conftitute the chief part of the population, and the number of the lower clafles being but fmall…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Bath Races, Rowlandson

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After many parts of Bath disappeared overnight during a German bombing raid in World War II, efforts to restore the city began – efforts to reconstruct the major landmarks like the Assembly Rooms and The Circus, that is.  Smaller Georgian houses were scheduled for demolition.  In 1970, a horrified James Lees-Milne wrote to the Times:
Your readers may be interested to learn that we are getting on quite nicely with the demolition of the centre of Bath. This year alone we have swept away several acres between Lansdown Road and the Circus. The whole southern end of Walcot Street (including the 19th century burial ground and tombstones) has entirely gone. We are just beginning on Northgate Street and have only knocked down two or three houses in Broad Street this month. But New Bond Street’s turn is imminent. All the houses are (or were) Georgian, every one.
Lees-Milne, who joined the National Trust, “played an active part in the campaign to save Bath.” Click here to read the review of Michael Bloch’s book, James Lees-Milne, The Life: Saving what was left to a Georgian city, which goes on to describe the rest of this fascinating story.

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Inquiring readers, This Georgette Heyer novel, written in her mature years and recently reissued by Sourcebooks, will help you wile away the winter doldrums. Her scintillating dialogue is at its best in Black Sheep, as this snippet of conversation between Abigail Wendover and Miles Caverleigh reveals:

“Yes, that’s it. I’m his Uncle Miles.”

” Oh!” she uttered, staring at him in the liveliest astonishment. “You can’t mean that you are the one who …” She broke off in some confusion, and added hurriedly. “The one who went to India!”

He laughed. “Yes, I’m the black sheep of the family!”

She blushed, but said,”I wasn’t going to say that!”

“Weren’t you? Why not? You won’t hurt my feelings!”

“I wouldn’t be so uncivil! And if it comes to black sheep … !”

“Once you become entangled with Calverleighs, it’s bound to,” he said. “We came to England with the Conqueror, you know. It’s my belief that our ancestor was one of the thatch-gallows he brought with him.”

My thoughts about this novel are: Run, don’t walk to your nearest Sourcebooks online bookstore to purchase Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer. I’ve been raving about this book to friends who are interested in reading their first GH regency novel, and we have selected it for our next book club meeting (along with Lady of Quality). While GH uses all the usual convoluted plot elements and character types in this book that we have come to associate with her, there is a mature quality to the hero and heroine that I found especially attractive. At this point you might be muttering: Vic’s liked every Georgette Heyer novel she’s reviewed, so why should I believe her? To be fair there are GH novels that I don’t like as much as others, such as Friday’s Child, which was GH’s personal favorite, or The Convenient Marriage in which a 17 year old’s marriage to her 34 year-old husband is fraught with misunderstandings of her own naïve making.

In this book, Miles Caverleigh – the Black Sheep – returns from his exile to India several decades older and wiser, and, much, much richer. He feels so comfortable in his skin that the reader cannot help but admire his indifference to those for whom surface appearance matters. Miles dresses quite plainly and carelessly for a GH hero, and his social graces leave something to be desired, but his humor brings a warm twinkle to his eyes that Abigail, our heroine, cannot ignore. At the most inconvenient times, and much to her chagrin, he induces her to giggle. Even more, he appeals to Abby’s intellectual and practical side. Instead of wooing her with a flurry of pretty but empty compliments, he courts her with honest and well thought-out observations.

At 28, Abigail is a bit long in the tooth, but she is not without admirers. Pretty, stylish, and comfortably off, she feels no pressing need to marry. She lives with her older spinster sister in Bath, where the two are regarded as fixtures of Bath society. When Abigail is away on an extended family visit, a Fortune Hunter in the form of Miles’s nephew steps in to woo Abby’s 17 year old niece, Fanny. Rich, innocent, and not yet OUT, young Fanny is completely swept off her silly innocent feet by the debonair and handsome ne’er do well, Stacy Caverleigh. This cad is just days away from losing his ancestral lands and MUST marry an heiress to forestall foreclosure. An engagement announcement would keep him solvent until he gets his finely manicured hands on Fanny’s fortune. Abby returns to Bath to find this villain well entrenched in Fanny’s affections. Knowing she must tread carefully with her infatuated niece, she implores Miles to help her get rid of his nephew, but Miles refuses to interfere in an affair that is none of his business. Besides, he’s never met this nephew, who sounds like just the sort of person Miles despises.

Barbosa cover of Black Sheep

Barbosa cover of Black Sheep

The plot sways between Mile’s disinterest in his nephew’s actions and Abby’s determination to separate Fanny from the blackguard. Black Sheep’s characters are richly drawn and exhibit more depth than the usual GH regency romance. Even Fanny, young and immature as she is, operates in more than one dimension. Her first foray into romance is believable for one so young, and one feels that she will learn much from her puppy love experience to grow into a wiser, more mature woman. Like Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, Fanny falls ill, causing her suitor to react in a most ungentlemanlike manner. His actions cause Fanny’s eyes to open to the WAYS of fortune hunters.

Georgette worked hard on perfecting her plots and it shows in this novel. Oh, there are some missteps. I found Abby’s sister Selina more irritating than interesting, even though her fashion sense is impeccable. Still, such a degree of silliness at her advanced age is a bit unbelievable. The older brother James is as self-important, selfish, and self-obsessed a prig as Robert Ferrars ever was, but given my overall enjoyment of this masterful book, my quibbles with these characters are minor.

The book’s ending provides a perfect solution to a choice Abigail is forced to make: She is so accustomed to assuming responsibility for those around her, that she’s forgotten what it’s like to have someone take a major decision out of her hands. Frankly, I never saw those last few pages of plot coming!

19th-century-fansOut of three regency fans, I give this book four. You may order it at Sourcebooks, a publishing company that features the Georgette Heyer books reviewed below. In addition, click on this link to look for new Georgette Heyer novels coming out in spring 2009.
My Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below

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Interested readers, my association with Austenprose’s month-long and comprehensive coverage of Northanger Abbey continues as I visit Beechen Cliff this week. The setting of this site includes some of Catherine Morland’s and Henry Tilney’s most interesting conversations. Here is where Catherine exhibits her wide-eyed naivete towards travel, and her lack of knowledge about art and the picturesque, and where Mr. Tilney’s wit shines:

Henry Tilney, however, is a genuinely witty character. But Jane Austen allows him to flirt with being defined by convention too. When he takes his sister and Catherine for a walk to Beechen Cliff above Bath, he expresses, if he does not actually hold, conventional attitudes toward women, suggesting that they have so much brain power that they seldom use half of it and showing why the narrator cautions a woman in a man’s society, “especially if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing,” to “conceal it as well as she can. – The Invention of Civility in Northanger Abbey, Joseph Wiesenfarth

To illustrate Jane Austen’s words, I will quote only a partial scene from Northanger Abbey, but you can find the entire conversation on The Republic of Pemberley.

Beechen Cliff Above Queen Square, photo by Rob Hardy

Beechen Cliff Above Queen Square, photo by Rob Hardy

They determined on walking round Beechen Cliff, that noble hill whose beautiful verdure and hanging coppice render it so striking an object from almost every opening in Bath.

“I never look at it,” said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, “without thinking of the south of France.”

“You have been abroad then?” said Henry, a little surprised.

“Oh! No, I only mean what I have read about. It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho. – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen, a hardy walker, would have had no hesitation in writing a scene that had her heroine and hero walk from Bath’s center, follow a path along the eastern bank of the Avon River, and take a steep sloped path and a flight of steps (known as Jacob’s Ladder) up to Beechen Cliff, which sits 127 meters above sea level. As Ellen Moody writes on her blog: “Northanger Abbey had not conveyed how steep this hill really was. I had attributed Catherine Morland’s satisfaction on Beechen Cliff almost wholly to the lingering memory of a hard-won battle: to go on this country walk with her real friends she had had to fend off the pressure and deceits practised upon her by a brother and two false friends”

Beechen Cliff in relation to the old center of Bath

Beechen Cliff in relation to the old center of Bath

Click on the images for a clearer view. The area is still mostly an open public space and almost without development. The flat top of the hill is now known as Alexandra Park, a formal park opened in 1902, and the only extant building on the site is Beechen Cliff School.

Beechen Cliff is still wild today

Beechen Cliff is still wild today

Once Henry, Eleanor, and Catherine had attained the Cliff’s heights, they would have been rewarded with a breathtaking view.

It was on Beechen Cliff that Catherine Morland was walking with the Tilneys when Henry discoursed upon the picturesque in Nature – talking of “foregrounds, distances, second distances, side-screens and perspective, lights and shades, and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar, that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape.”- Constance Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, page 120

The slopes to the south and west are much shallower than the north face. One aspect that makes the view from Beechen Cliff so distinctive is the large expanse of uninterrupted sky. This is due to the hill being so high and quite separate from its neighbors.

(Click here to see a spectacular interactive panoramic view of Bath from Beechen Cliff.)

Panoramic view from Beechen Cliff

Panoramic view from Beechen Cliff

“The steep wooded slope of Beechen Cliff includes a number of well used walkways which are one of the main ways of experiencing the area and accessing the viewpoints.” (Land Use and Buildings, Beechen Cliff and Alexandra Park.) A series of wooden steps leads hikers up the wooded, wild garlic scented hill to the breathtaking views on top. One can see from this series of prints how rapidly Bath grew from 1735 (image below) to the early 19th century (2nd image). There are concerns about modern architectural projects that may mar the view in the future, and about the wild, unclipped bushes and trees that are obscuring the panorama today.

Beechen Cliff, 1734

Beechen Cliff, Harvey Wood, 1824

Beechen Cliff, Harvey Wood, 1824

View from Beechen Cliff, 1876

View from Beechen Cliff, 1876

Bath Abbey from Beechen Cliff today

Bath Abbey from Beechen Cliff today

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Lower Assembly Rooms, Bath

Lower Assembly Rooms, Bath

Dear reader, If you will recall in last week’s post about the Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath, poor Catherine Morland had to sit out the dance, having made no acquaintance with any gentleman. Luck was on her side later in the week when she and Mrs. Allen visited the Lower Rooms:

They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck. There was little leisure for speaking while they danced; but when they were seated at tea, she found him as agreeable as she had already given him credit for being. He talked with fluency and spirit – and there was an archness and pleasantry in his manner which interested, though it was hardly understood by her. After chatting some time on such matters as naturally arose from the objects around them, he suddenly addressed her with – “I have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether. I have been very negligent – but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly.” – Chapter 3, Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

South Parade, Thomas malton, 1775

South Parade, Thomas Malton, 1775

The lower rooms, built in 1708, were Located on Terrace Walk near beautiful South Parade off the banks of the Avon River. James King, the Master of Ceremonies who introduced Henry Tilney to Catherine Morland, was an historic figure who actually performed as Master of Ceremonies in the lower rooms from 1785 to 1805. He then became M.C. of the upper rooms, which had recently been built in the newer more fashionable neighborhood uptown near The Circus. The Lower Assembly rooms sat in the older city center lower down, hence the distinction between upper and lower rooms.

The lower rooms were used during the day for promenading and visiting and at night for dancing. Beautiful stone walks and terraces surrounded the building, which encouraged people to gather to see and be seen, and dawdle away a few pleasant hours.

Lower Assembly Rooms at Terrace Walk, Benjamin Morris

Lower Assembly Rooms (right) at Terrace Walk (With Bath Abbey in the distance), Benjamin Morris, late 18th century.

As with my previous posts about Bath in conjuntion with Austenprose’s celebration of Northanger Abbey, I shall feature a series of quotes from original sources that will help to illuminate what Bath, its people, and the Lower Rooms were like during the latter part of the 18th century.

The role of Master of Ceremonies was narrowly defined. He presided over social functions, welcomed newcomers, and enforced an official code of regulations designed to preserve decorum and promote social interaction. For this treason, the Master of Ceremonies was often referred to as the “King,” because his social authority within the city of Bath was regarded as absolute.” Psychosocial Spaces: Verbal and Visual Readings of British Culture, 1750-1820, Steven J. Gores, p 71

Walks and Old Assembly Room, 19th c. copy of an 18th c. painting

Walks and Old Assembly Room, 19th c. copy of a painting

The above image from the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath shows the beautiful Terrace Walk made of bath stone around the lower rooms and the shops that faced the walk. Wiltshire’s Assembly Rooms, the building on the left with the three arched windows, did not survive competition with the Upper Assembly and was demolished.

Constance Hill, Jane Austen’s 19th Century biographer, provides a vivid description of the Lower Rooms in this passage:

Beau Nash in Bath

Beau Nash in Bath

It was at a ball in the Lower Rooms, we remember, that Henry Tilney was first introduced to Catherine Morland, and that when he was “treating his partner to tea,” he laughingly accused her of keeping a journal in which he feared he should make but a poor figure. “Shall I tell you,” he asks, “what you ought to say? I danced with a very agreeable young man introduced by Mr. King; had a great deal of conversation with him; seems a most extraordinary genius.” This Mr. King was, it seems, a real personage. He was Master of the Ceremonies at the Lower Rooms, from the year 1785 to 1805, when he became Master of the Ceremonies for the Upper Rooms. A code of rules compiled by him was used for about thirty years. One of these rules, originally laid down by Beau Nash, forbade gentlemen to wear boots in the rooms of an evening. It is said that when a country squire once attempted to defy [Page 114] this rule, in the days of the King of Bath, Beau Nash asked him why he had not brought his horse into the ball-room, “since the four-footed beast was as well shod as his master.”

The ball-room was used during the daytime as a promenade, for which it was well suited from its size and pleasant situation; its windows commanding extensive views of the Avon winding amidst green meadows and flanked by wooded hills. The accompanying reproduction of an old print taken from a design for a fan, shows the ball-room when used for this purpose. It was the fashion also for the company to invite each other to partake of breakfast at the Lower Rooms after taking their early baths or first glass of water.

It was in the year 1820 that these old Assembly Rooms were burnt to the ground. They had been founded by the great Beau Nash himself, and had flourished for more than a hundred years. Jane Austen:Her Homes and Her Friends, Constance Hill

The Lower Rooms, Bath, from an old print of a fan design

The Lower Rooms, Bath, from an old print of a fan design

The dances called out by the Master of Ceremonies would have been those that were popular during the period, such as the one shown in this YouTube Clip of a dance scene with Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney in the 2007 ITV NA adaptation. Dress balls were offered every Friday in the Lower Rooms, when the Upper Rooms were closed; Fancy balls were scheduled every Tuesday. One of Nash’s edicts, which was still enforced during Jane Austen’s day, was that dancing was to “begin as soon as possible after six o’clock, and finish precisely at eleven, even in the middle of a dance.” (Lane, p 77.)

The dances that were popular at the beginning of the 19th century were those that had been popular at the end of the 18th century; the Minuet, Cotillions, and Country Dances. With the arrival of the waltz in the teens, we see the beginning of the modern ballroom era. Until this time social dances done by couples were done with limited physical contact; the gentleman and lady barely touched hands. The waltz however was done with a couple in a close embrace, the gentleman’s hand around the lady’s waist as they continually spun around the ballroom together. This intimate “waltz position” was initially shocking to a society where close physical contact with a member of the opposite sex, especially in public, was nothing short of scandalous. – From “Elements of the Art of Dancing”, Alexander Strathy, 1822

Bath’s glittering social whirl changed rapidly towards the end of the 18th Century at a time when the cost of the war ground Bath’s expansion to a halt. This Georgian guidebookdescribes Bath at the height of its glory:

No place in England, in a full season, affords so brilliant a circle of polite company as Bath. The young, the old, the grave, the gay, the infirm, and the healthy, all resort to this place of amusement. Ceremony beyond the essential rules of politeness is totally exploded; every one mixes in the Rooms upon an equality; and the entertainments are so widely regulated, that although there is never a cessation of them, neither is there a lassitude from bad hours, or from an excess of dissipation. The constant rambling about of the younger part of the company is very enlivening and cheerful. In the morning the rendezvous is at the Pump-Room;–from that time ’till noon in walking on the Parades, or in the different quarters of the town, visiting the shops, etc;–thence to the Pump-Room again, and after a fresh strole, to dinner; and from dinner to the Theatre (which is celebrated for an excellent company of comedians) or the Rooms, where dancing, or the card-table, concludes the evening. – (Christopher Anstey, The New Bath Guide, or, Useful Pocket Companion, 1799)

Detail of a map of Bath, c. 1800

Detail of a map of Bath, c. 1800

In the above map detail, you can see the position of the lower rooms in relation to the upper rooms. As the new century progressed, the middle classes, invalids, and people seeking to retire began to replace the aristocrats who had lent such glitter to the social whirl. Sir Walter Elliot, if you recall, chose to remove his household to Bath where he could still lord it over others as a man of consequence. As an impoverished and lesser peer in London, he would have led a life of relative obscurity, which his enormous ego could not abide. The social changes in Bath, along with new anti-gambling laws and the death of Beau Nash, led to the city’s decline in social caché.

Physical expansion came to an abrupt halt in 1793 with the financial crisis brought on by the war with France. This led directly to several schemes going unfinished, most notably perhaps Great Pulteney Street, the suburbs of which were never built, leaving the main street in relative isolation. When stability returned in the 1820s, building energy was channelled into the newly popular semi-detached villas. The population continued to grow quickly and Bath’s reputation became that of a quiet refined resort, in architecturally excellent surroundings. City of Bath World Heritage Management Plan

Due to Beau Nash’s edicts as social arbiter, Bath was known for its egalitarianism, where classes from the various social orders could mix and mingle. The ambitious Thorpes were particularly aware of this fact, and Isabella and John kept their eyes out for the most likely prospects. Not everyone thought that gentry rubbing shoulders with tradesmen was such a good idea. Matthew Bramble, a late 19th century poet, wrote archly:

Distinction of rank, in a moment is gone,
And all eager for tea, in one mass, now move on;
And Mistress O’Darby the dealer in butter,
Now sweats by the side of the sweet lady Flutter,
Who would certainly faint, but her senses so nice,
Are supported by smelling fat Alderman Spice.”

Miles Breen as James King, Master of Ceremonies in 2007 Northanger Abbey

Miles Breen as James King, Master of Ceremonies in 2007 Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen mentioned James King as Master of Ceremonies in the Lower Assembly Rooms, which forcibly reminds us that Northanger Abbey , while written in 1798 or 1799 (according to Cassandra), was not published until after her death. For full details, read my post: The Long Publishing Journey of Northanger Abbey. In the passage below, noted Jane Austen scholar Deirdre Le Faye points out the changes in Bath between the time when the novel was written and when it was eventually published:

Apart from these two additions, it is clear from the tone of the text that it still dates to the turn of the century. By 1816 ladies had ceased to pile their hair up into huge powdered ‘heads’, muslins were no longer a novelty fabric worthy of discussion, and the Bath assembly rooms were no longer quite so smart – the city had become less of a fashionable holiday resort and marriage-mart, and more of a residential retreat for invalids, elderly spinsters and widows, bachelors and widowers, the atmosphere which Austen creates in Persuasion. James King had retired as Master of Ceremonies in the Lower Rooms in 1805, and it would have been easy enough for Austen to change this name if she were attempting to update the story. Likewise, she mentions ‘Union-passage’ in the centre of Bath, but does not mention the larger Union Street, which opened in 1807. In any case, the novel’s structure could not easily have accommodated any large-scale revisions; Austen pins both her plot and her characters so tightly to parodies of the conduct novel and the gothic romance that to change any of this would require substantial rewriting. It can therefore be assumed that the text as we now have it is substantially as it was in 1803. Northanger Abbey the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen, Jane Austen, Deirdre le Faye, excerpt

During the 18th Century, both the Lower and Upper Assembly rooms were able to attract enough visitors to keep profits healthy for each establishment, but the Lower Assembly rooms were small in comparison to the larger more modern Upper Rooms and situated in an inconvenient part of town. With time they fell into disuse. The competition between the two assembly rooms was not as harmonious as one first supposes. When the Upper Rooms were built, there was an attempt by the Master of Ceremonies who replaced Beau Nash, Captain William Wade, to preserve the order of things and to divide the competing markets. However, the builders of the new assembly rooms saw no need to adhere to an arbitrary set of rules, and they placed the following notice in the Bath Chronicle:

Captain William Wade, Gainsborough

Captain William Wade by Thomas Gainsborough, 1771

They (the Proprietors) beg leave to declare, that as they cannot think it reasonable that they should submit the management of their property and servants to any set of men, much less can they be willing to submit the control of them to an individual. They always have been, and still are willing to allow, to a Master of Ceremonies, every power and authority requisite to preserve and promote order, decorum and regularity at the public amusements held at their rooms; but they must ever think it necessary to determine for themselves, what use shall be made of their property, and what servants shall take care of it. (Bath, 1680-1850, p. 222)

The proprietors of the new assembly rooms then declared that their rooms would be open every evening except Fridays and alternate Sundays. They also announced that a ball would be held every Monday and a concert every Thursday. The small old-fashioned lower rooms simply could not compete. When they burned to the ground in 1820 they were not replaced, and today only a remnant of their former glory remains.

Remains of the lower rooms

Remains of the lower rooms

The Old Assembly Rooms, the scene of Beau Nash’s glory, erected in the half of the last century, were destroyed by fire in 1820, excepting the portico and exterior walls, which now form a part of the Literary Institution. Nash was master of the nearly 50 years from 1710 to 1760. Handbook for Travellers in Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, and Somersetshire, By Edmund Venables, John Murray (Firm), W E Flaherty, 1869.

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