Wednesday, 27 March 2013

JANE AUSTEN'S BATH

The vast majority of visitors to Bath find themselves entranced by the city's elegant architecture and its charming setting, nestling among the hills of the southern edge of the Cotswolds.  Not so Jane Austen, who allegedly hated the city, and had to be dragged there against her will in 1801 when her father moved the family to Bath upon his retirement.  Jane's antipathy towards the city almost undoubtedly provided the inspiration for the main character of her novel Persuasion, Anne Elliott, who was forced to move to Bath after her father had been compelled by circumstance to give up the family home at Kellynch in the Somerset countryside, and who was "dreading the possible heats of September in all the white glare of Bath".  Looking at it from the point of view of Jane/Anne, one could well imagine that the city of Bath, while presenting such a genteel image to the modern-day traveller, might have had the air of a steaming, malevolent metropolis for a young girl brought up in the pleasant English countryside in the Georgian era, and that the buildings, which today are a pleasant honey colour, would have been newer and therefore brighter in the early 19th century.

The Bath inhabited by the Austen family was a magnet for fashionable society, and life there was a social whirl, which was one of the things that disagreed with Jane, who once wrote to her sister  "Another stupid party last night".  In Northanger Abbey, another work by Austen partly set in the city, the main character Catherine Morland is whisked off to Bath by family friends Mr. and Mrs. Allen, where she becomes embroiled in the city's heady social scene, as well as finding romance there. There was no shortage of elegant venues for the smart set to show themselves off, such as the sweeping Royal Crescent, the small but perfectly formed Circus and the Paragon and broad Pulteney Street, just beyond the beautiful Pulteney Bridge.



Pulteney Bridge

Not a lot has changed.  The city's architecture is still serious eye-candy, and it is still very much an up-market city, with many well-to-do residents, a fact which is reflected in the large number of fine restaurants and expensive shops.  Visitors to the city can still sample the waters at the Pump Room, just as Jane's uncle did shortly after her arrival, for medicinal purposes, while the nearby Abbey holds regular concerts.  However, there have been major changes to the city in the last few years, particularly in the vicinity of the railway station.  A brand new shopping area has been introduced, along with a range of food and drink outlets, however the look and feel of this development is in keeping with the city's Georgian architecture, so that it is not too much of a blot on the landscape.



Bath Abbey

Fans of Jane Austen are well catered for in the city.  They can seek out the addresses where the Austen family lived, which include 25 Gay Street,  No. 1 The Paragon and No. 4 Sydney Place.  In fact the latter is available as a holiday rental, through Bath Boutique Stays.  They can also visit the Jane Austen Centre at 40 Gay Street, which has displays on the writer and her life in the city.  There is even a Jane Austen Festival each year in September, which generally includes such delights as a Grand Regency Costumed Promenade and a Masked Ball among its range of events - a chance for Jane Austen fans to really immerse themselves in her world.  See under Festivals for the link to this and to the Bath Literature Festival.



No. 4 Sydney Place, one of the homes inhabited by the Austen family in Bath

Map of the city.


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