Jane Austen visited Bath frequently during her lifetime. Though she did not at all like the society, it gave her a chance to observe their characteristics as an outsider. Both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey are set here. Northanger Abbey was written from 1798 onwards, soon after Jane’s visit to Bath in 1797 and so calls on some of her first memories and impressions.
Many of the places Catherine Morland (the heroine of Northanger Abbey) visited are still around today. The Pump Room, one of her favorite spots, was a place to meet people (or watch them!) Here she met Isabella Thorpe and Eleanor Tilney. It was in the Pump Room that men and woman would spend an afternoon discussing whatever they thought important and taking the famous spa waters for their health. Of course, Isabella also found it an ideal place for flirtation!
Visiting the Pump Rooms was not the only social activity, though on Sunday, the only other thing to be done was to take a stroll along the Royal Crescent. Here Catherine enjoyed a walk amongst the highest society. ‘After staying long enough in the Pump Rooms to discover the crowd was insupportable they hastened away to the Crescent to breathe the fresh air of better company.’
Catherine was delighted by the number of balls and concerts there were to attend in Bath. These events were staged the Upper and Lower Rooms. It was in the Lower Rooms that the Master of Ceremonies, James King, introduced Catherine to the book’s hero, Henry Tilney. James King was the actual Master of Ceremonies at the time of Jane’s visit in 1797. Amazingly the Upper Rooms still stand, but sadly the Lower Rooms have since been pulled down.
Shopping was also a favourite past time of Catherine and Mrs Allen’s. This is not surprising since the shops were second only to those in London. The main shopping street was, and still is, Milsom Street. Isabella Thorpe once commented- ‘I saw the prettiest hat in a shop window in Milsom Street. Even Jane wrote to Cassandra regularly about the latest fashions in Bath. It was also here that General Tilney and his family have their lodgings.
In film versions of Northanger Abbey, Catherine and the other characters enjoy a recreational dip in the hot springs at the Roman Baths. The water here, like that served in the Pump Room was thought to be salubrious. Today, these baths still stand as monuments to the past, but bathing is no longer allowed as it is thought to be a health hazard!
Catherine and the Allen’s had lodgings in Pulteney Street. Here stand some of the largest houses in Bath and so near town as to be ideal for an enthusiastic Catherine who states, ‘I really do believe that I shall always be talking of Bath’. Yet when she finally arrives home, she never speaks of her time there. It is not that she has unhappy memories of Bath, but rather that Jane Austen is trying to show how Bath is something a young lady should experience but then move on from, as Catherine does. Bath, to her, is just a happy memory. Yet to Jane Austen this could not be further from the truth. It was there that she had suffered the tremendous loss of her father and so it was with no regret that in 1807 the Austen family left Bath forever.
Eve Roberts is a Year 10 student from Hayesfield School in Bath. After doing a week’s work experience here at the Jane Austen Centre, she was ready to write an article on the city of Bath and the books that were set there! You can e-mail her with comments at: email@example.com
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