All Austen, All The Time: Exploring Jane Austen’s Bath
Jane Austen is a literary icon. She’s funny, witty, well-mannered, well-read, and the epitome of moral goodness. In tough situations, modern women around the world have often paused and asked themselves: WWJD? And by this I mean: What would Jane do? It’s easy to see why she’s perhaps the best known and certainly the best loved of Bath’s residents and visitors.
Upon discovering I would be visiting Bath, I was absolutely delighted to immerse myself in everything Austen. I downloaded all her books onto my iPad, rented all the movie renditions, and even took an online quiz to see which Austen character I most resembled (Elinor Dashwood, the true “sense” of Sense & Sensibility…no surprise there). As my good friend Joanne put it, I was living in a state of all Austen, all the time.
Rightfully so, for upon getting to Bath I was armed with a wealth of knowledge concerning our dear Jane, and ready to hit the ground running! The first stop was The Jane Austen Centre. We were greeted by the delightful “man on the door”, Martin, decked out in full Regency attire and ready for a photoshoot.
After entering the Centre, you are given an oral history of Jane’s life from a very knowledgable (and dressed up) guide. You then weave your way through the museum, taking in the story of Jane’s experience in Bath, where she was a resident from 1801-1806.
Once you’ve explored the museum, enjoy a walking tour of the city, and rest assured that the Bath you are seeing now is not much different at all than what our beloved Jane saw. I quite loved the book, “Bath As Jane Austen Knew It: A Walking Tour Of The City” by Terry Old, available for purchase in the Centre’s giftshop. Or, if you prefer an auditory experience, you can download the free Jane Austen Walking Tour to your iPod. The tour will wind you through town, where you will see important landmarks in Jane’s life, such as the houses Jane lived in, Great Pulteney Street (the famous street that was featured in her novels), and The Assembly Rooms, where everyone who was anyone in Bath would go to dance, socialize, and drink buckets of tea.
Jane’s two books that were set in Bath are Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. I adore the darling character from Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland. Her enthusiasm towards life is contagious, particularly the scene when she expresses: “Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?”
I was surprised to find out that there is, indeed, one resident who could grow tired of Bath: Ms. Jane Austen herself. As our guide so eloquently put it, “Bath was a bleak time for her. Jane felt too unsettled and insecure in Bath to be able to focus on her writing”. Anne Elliot of Persuasion also finds Bath oppressive, noisy, and gloomy. Coming from New York City, I would describe Bath completely the opposite: calm, quiet, and uplifting. Guess that makes me more of a Catherine than an Anne…and more of a Jess than a Jane.
Regardless of Jane’s distaste for the city of Bath, I, for one, think some of her best work came out of this period. Writers need a bit of disenchantment in their lives to shake things up a bit…and in the case of Jane Austen, the fabulous city of Bath can take full credit for that.
WHERE: The Jane Austen Centre 40 Gay Street Queen Square, Bath, BA1 2NT UK By: Jessica Tiare Bowen A very special thank you to the wonderful folks at Visit Bath!