Now for Bath…
Jane Austen to Cassandra
September 13, 1815
Searching For Captain Wentworth, my newest book, was inspired by Jane Austen’s novel, Persuasion. In it, my heroine Sophie is invited by her aunt to spend some time in the family townhouse. As she is at a loose end with a broken heart, she thinks it might be a brilliant idea. After all, she’s wanted to visit Bath since she firstt read her favourite novel, Persuasion, and longs to walk in Jane Austen’s footsteps.
On arrival, she finds she’s actually living next door to Jane Austen’s own house, but far from being the Regency fantasy she’s imagined, her flat turns out to be a rather neglected place and she only has access to the upper floors. The lower part of the house is occupied by the mysterious Josh Strafford who works at the Holburne Museum over the road in Sydney Gardens.
It’s not long, however, before Sophie learns that she’s not alone. A ghostly presence and the discovery of an ancestor’s journal fascinate her. When she sees Josh drop something out on the pavement outside she follows him and picks up the wet object which unfurls in her hand. It looks like Captain Wentworth’s glove. Running after him into the gardens she loses sight of him and when she steps through a cast-iron gate down to the canal that’s where her timeslip adventure begins.
I had such fun with this book because I love Bath and am very lucky to be able to spend a lot of time there. It’s my idea of Fairyland and has totally inspired this book. Writing about the time that Jane lived there involved lots of lovely research and I enjoyed weaving fact and fiction together.
There are three romantic story lines which run through the book, but it’s not all rosy – I very much wanted to show how difficult it was for women in Jane Austen’s era, and to have the different viewpoints of those in the past as well as the present. Jane Austen’s story unravels alongside Sophie’s and I enjoyed including many of the Austen family – especially Charles Austen, one of my handsome heroes.
I visit all my favourite places in Bath. The action takes place at the Holburne Museum, Sydney Gardens, the Assembly Rooms, the Pump Room and up on Beechen Cliff. My hero and heroine even take tea at the Jane Austen Centre in the lovely tearoom!
Taking a turn into Quiet Street and rounding the corner onto Gay Street, we climbed ever higher, unable to pass the Jane Austen Centre without visiting the giftshop where Josh treated me to a book. I chose Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, a sumptuous volume, which had my mouth watering at the fantastic recipes. Josh suggested we break our fast by sampling the hot buttered ‘Crawford’s Crumpets’, washed down with a cup of Peking tea in the Regency tearoom upstairs, and in such surroundings we felt we’d escaped from the hustle and bustle of town life below.
-Searching For Captain Wentworth
I’m delighted to have been invited to talk at the Jane Austen Festival this year – I’m so looking forward to meeting those of you who are coming. Look for me at the costume promenade – I shall be there with my camera so I can send pictures round the world to show Janeites who cannot be there what a wonderful spectacle there is to be seen. This is one of the highlights for me – some of the costumes are amazing. Hand-sewn and beautifully stitched, many professional costumiers and re-enactors delight in showing off their skills. Equally endearing are the homemade outfits and the children are especially adorable dressed in costumes and dresses crafted from clothes they already possess. There’s a lovely carnival atmosphere and such a buzz of conversation that you might think you really had travelled back in time!
There are so many lovely talks, demonstrations and theatre performances during the whole festival that you’re really spoiled for choice. Not to mention the dancing! And there are lessons too – so you can’t go wrong. Well, not unless you’re like me – I love dancing but sometimes I forget the steps, but then it’s all part of the fun. I promise, you will spend a lot of time laughing. The Festival Fayre is a favourite of mine – if you need a new reticule, a parasol or a new book, you’re sure to find it.
When you’re not busy with the Festival, there are some must-see places to visit. Top of my list because it is so central is The Pump Room. You don’t have to take tea here though that is a lovely treat. You can sample the waters for a small charge and have a look at the wonderful surroundings!
Just walking through the revolving door under the Pump Rooms sign was as good as stepping back in time, and it did look as wonderful as I’d hoped. A sea of tables dressed in crisp white linen stretched the length of the room, each decorated with arrangements of white lilies scenting the air along with the evocative aromas of Earl Grey tea, pungent morning coffee, the fragrant smells of cake and toasted Bath buns. From the lofty ceiling, a dazzling chandelier glittered above the throngs of tourists. Spangled with strings of crystals like sprinkles on winter cobwebs, every pendalogue dripped prisms of rainbow light to illuminate the glossy hair of a young girl, or to wink in a clinking, silver teaspoon.
-Searching For Captain Wentworth
Don’t forget to visit the Assembly Rooms if you can. Not only will you find the ballroom, the tearoom and the octagon room that Jane Austen talks of in her novels but the Fashion Museum is housed here. They have a fabulous collection including many Georgian dresses – there’s always something new to see.
Last, but by no means least, pop into the Jane Austen Centre for an entertaining talk and exhibitions as well as the gorgeous shop. I don’t think I’ve ever left without buying something so be prepared!
I shall be talking about my writing, and reading from Searching For Captain Wentworth on Wednesday 19th September at the Duncan Room, BRLSI 16-18 Queen Square BA1 2HN at 10.30 – it would be wonderful to see you there or at any of the Festival events!
Jane Odiwe is an author and an artist. She is completely obsessed with all things Austen and is the author of is the author of Mr Darcy’s Secret, Lydia Bennet’s Story, Willoughby’s Return and the newly published Searching For Captain Wentwort. She lives with her husband and three children in North London and Bath, England.