In Her Shoes

Tour Bath and be­yond in the foot­steps of Jane Austen.

Australian House & Garden - - Contents -

The great Jane Austen took tea in this room. It’s a won­der­ful, if a lit­tle un­nerv­ing, thought as I drift off to sleep in a Re­gency-era lime­stone ter­race in Syd­ney Place, Bath. Her home be­tween 1801 and 1804, Jane Austen’s Apart­ments now caters for Austen­philes on a pil­grim­age to dis­cover more about the elu­sive nov­el­ist, her char­ac­ters and her set­tings. And plenty will want to visit this year, the bi­cen­te­nary of her death.

On the ground floor, my apart­ment was the fam­ily’s par­lour and din­ing room when Austen’s fa­ther re­tired as a coun­try cler­gy­man and up­rooted the fam­ily from Steven­ton in Hamp­shire to the city. But Austen had a love-hate re­la­tion­ship with Bath. My walk­ing guide, An­drew But­ter­worth, re­veals she re­put­edly had a faint­ing fit when she learnt of the move. “Bath was los­ing its ku­dos as a re­sort for movers and shak­ers, and be­com­ing a re­tire­ment town,” he ex­plains. “In her five years here, she hardly wrote a thing. She was dis­abled as a writer by be­ing here and was not in the right state of mind.”

How­ever, Bath of­fered fer­tile ma­te­rial for her later nov­els, even pro­vid­ing the plots for Per­sua­sion and

Northanger Abbey. Af­ter all, its so­ci­ety of­fered a ready tar­get. “She dis­liked its snob­bery, which she was so good at ridi­cul­ing. She pricks that pom­pos­ity,” says An­drew.

The Jane Austen Cen­tre, Bath

Tourists flock­ing to The Jane Austen Cen­tre in Gay Street are ush­ered in by a jolly gen­tle­man in 18th-cen­tury re­galia and given a glimpse into the writer’s time in the town. She didn’t live here, but the Ge­or­gian town­house cer­tainly evokes the era and the woman. The ad­di­tion of a wax­work of Austen her­self – con­structed with the help of foren­sic artist Melissa Dring, who trawled through myr­iad di­aries and let­ters – is a rare in­sight into how she looked; the only orig­i­nal por­trait of her was a sober draw­ing by her sis­ter, Cas­san­dra. The 170cm-tall wax­work sports curly brown hair, a long nose, brown eyes and a mis­chievous look that cap­tures Austen’s sense of ad­ven­ture.

The Pump Room Restau­rant, Bath

At the el­e­gant Pump Room Restau­rant, at­tached to the Ro­man Baths, I take tea with all the trim­mings: del­i­cate china, a cake stand brim­ming with cu­cum­ber sand­wiches and fine cakes, and a string trio in the back­ground. But it was dif­fer­ent in Austen’s time. “They came to the Pump Room as a so­cial oc­ca­sion,” says An­drew. “They just prom­e­naded around the room with friends, drink­ing the wa­ter – they didn’t sit down for tea.” De­spite con­ver­sa­tion be­ing its only at­trac­tion, the Pump Room was the hottest place to be in Austen’s Bath. Royal Cres­cent, Bath “Af­ter stay­ing long enough in the Pump Room to dis­cover that the crowd was in­sup­port­able … they has­tened away to the Cres­cent, to breathe the fresh air of bet­ter com­pany.” And, says An­drew, Northanger Abbey’s Cather­ine and Is­abella would have walked up the hill, along the el­e­gant Gravel Walk, to get there. The fa­mous Royal Cres­cent, the first cres­cent built in Eng­land, con­sists of 30 stately Ge­or­gian ter­races in honey-hued stone. It fea­tures in the fi­nal scenes of the TV adap­ta­tion of Per­sua­sion, when Anne El­liot and Cap­tain Went­worth fi­nally kiss.

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