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August in Regency Bath

Regency Bath

August in Regency Bath

August is upon us in Bath, a month of limp leaves and in Jane’s day at least, empty streets. It’s hot and humid, keeping one “in a perpetual state of inelegance” as Jane would say. Will it keep bright as well? Mrs Allen, we have “no doubt at all of its being a fine day, if only the rain would hold off and the sun keep out”

Let the Mrs Allens of this world crave the sun, but Jane is already feeling cranky. “The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations I think I see more distinctly through the rain,” she comments enigmatically.

So what was Jane Austen doing to get through the fine weather vacuum of August ? “The prospect of spending future summers by the sea is very delightful” she had said, trying to put a brave face on things when the move to Bath was announced. But excursions to Sidmouth apparently had to wait until the autumn months. So much of Jane’s life seems to be held in suspension until its autumn until she was well into her thirties. The trivial details of her years from 1801 and 1804 the choosing of a sponge cake, the chat about the cut of the gown – are lost to us forever, alas. Why did Cassandra destroy those letters?

But before the speaking silence descends, we still have a handful of brittle, chatty missives to her sister. Cassandra, for the record, was lingering and who could blame her?- with the Lloyds, in rural Hampshire, putting off the parting with old friends and neighbours.

Already, Jane evidently has a restless mind and – what would be praised in her heroine Catherine – an “elastic step”. Like a fly in a china teacup, she feels trapped in all the “white glare” of Bath’s bowl. She is all too eager to walk up to the point where the long elegant terraces give way abruptly to the villages of Charlcombe, say, or Widcombe or Weston . Up there is an altogether more natural mix of straggling cottages, grey churches and the folding countryside, with fields ripening for the harvest.

Just such a quiet walk is the route to the church of St Mary the Virgin, Charlcombe’s tiny, unworldly church. Did she smile ironically to discover that Henry Fielding, whose “Tom Jones” she could not help but admire and deplore, had been married here? What a “Henry” – the Austen family shorthand for a mercurial charmer, based on her favourite brother’s name – was Fielding. And what glorious unexpected twists there are in human nature! In more ways than the obvious, a wander down Charlcombe Lane refreshes the soul. But Jane Austen seems to need to go further, seek the wildness of the remoter areas. Starting with Lansdown to the north, Weston, Beechen Cliff and Claverton Down mark the four points of the compass from Aunt Leigh-Perrot’s house at No 1 the Paragon. The Bath Guide of 1800 would have assured her that the access to the hills “is now safe, easy and pleasant” and the air breathed from the summits “is as beneficial to health as the prospects are picturesque.” Armed with such recommendation, Jane’s only difficulty is deciding which climb to take first.

At this point, in 1801, Jane’s sedate admirer, a certain Mr Evelyn, offers to take her for an airing in his “bewitching phaeton and four“. Surely, even by the standards set at No 1 the Paragon, there can be nothing wrong in accepting? Is not this Evelyn middle-aged and a friend of Jane’s brother Edward? Besides, writes Jane blithely, “he collects groundsel for his pet birds, and all that“. Unfortunately, however, the breath of scandal has tarnished Mr Evelyn’s reputation. His name has been linked with an adulterous affair. Aunt Leigh-Perrot is, as ever, “particularly scrupulous on such matters,” such as the impropriety of “men and women driving about the country in open carriages.” Jane was soon to put a few desultory finishing touches to her story of “Susan” later to be named “Northanger Abbey” before buying into hope by submitting it to a publisher called Crosby. She makes the conventional Mr Allen drone on to the naïve young heroine that such delicious freedoms as airings in phaetons are “not at all the thing.” So no more rides on the tops of the hills with male companions, however outwardly respectable.

That leaves only one possible mode of transport. Luckily, Jane was already acquiring a reputation amongst her friends and family as a “desperate walker”. In the next letter of this summer, we find that Cassandra has been angling for Jane to find a suitable female companion for her rambles. A certain Mrs Chamberlayne is suddenly, momentarily caught in the biographers’ searchlight. Jane calls her a ” capital” walker, and admits she has met her match for speed and fitness. Despite their ankle-length narrow gowns, the two ladies “posted away under a fine hot sun” up Sion Hill to Weston, each trying to outpace the other. Mrs C. crossed the churchyard at Weston “with as much expedition as if we were afraid of being buried alive.” It’s a telling slip that Jane says “we” rather than “she”.

Thank goodness one could still wriggle out of a sense of premature burial through a fictional world. At times like this, Jane Austen’s imagination hankers uncharacteristically after the wild, the grand, the sublime the settings for the Gothic novels she was to mock with her rational self. The young people in “Northanger Abbey” seem to share their creator’s physical restlessness. Catherine Morland who at ten years old had been noisy and wild hating confinement and cleanliness, at seventeen enjoys a brisk walk and a strenuous climb with her new friends Henry and Eleanor Tilney. They take the picturesque route along the winding eastern bank of the River Avon, with before them the prospect rearing up of Beechen Cliff, “That noble hill whose beautiful verdure and hanging coppice render it so striking an object from almost every opening in Bath“. Despite the weir and the gentrification of the opposite banks with their gardens and stately hotels, the landscape has in fact changed very little. There are still the steep steps up the lane – reeking of wild garlic – to the glorious panorama of the city from the bald crown of the hill. Catherine, who blindly imitates Henry Tilney’s artistic jargon – surely delivered tongue in cheek – dismissed the view as unpicturesque? Today we might find our charming hero’s talk of “foregrounds, distances and second distances sidescreens and perspectives” irrelevant in the face of random modern buildings and the looping railway line, but even so, we can’t fail to be impressed. As long as height in itself is wild, then Beechen Cliff remains as wild as ever.

Sue Le Blond has been a teacher since 1973. She loves to teach and enjoys enthusing about JA and literature in general. While now working a few days each week at the Jane Austen Centre, she spends the rest of the week at Chippenham College teaching English. At present she is studying Creative Writing for therapeutic purposes at University of Bristol. Sue lives in Bradford-on -Avon with her husband, two teenage children, and lovely cats.

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July in Regency Bath

 

“Westgate Buildings! And whom, pray, is Miss Anne Elliot to be visiting in Westgate Buildings? A mere Mrs Smith, an everyday Mrs Smith? Upon my word, you have the most extraordinary taste!”

Westgate Buildings

 

Well, yes, perhaps we have got strange taste. This month we begin our walk by slumming it down in the unfashionable end of town, so no wonder Sir Walter is appalled. On a hot and humid Saturday morning in July 2001, the mean lodgings of Anne Elliot’s invalid friend, with their dingy lace curtains over the café, do not look prepossessing. Hereabouts, then, down near the Avon with its “putrid fevers”, the widowed Mrs Smith lived, as she still does, for the fictional world of a well-loved classic bestows its own immortality. After the painful bout of rheumatic fever, Anne’s old school friend is confined to a noisy parlour and dark back bedroom, only quitting the house to be carried down by the bath attendants to the Hot Bath over the street.

The Hot BathsWe have only to negotiate that same urban street to find ourselves in a dark, incohate muddle of Palladian courts and construction engineering. The Cross Bath and Hot Bath bring us to the very edge of the city itself. Suddenly, beyond the wire fence, there is a gaping hole in the ground where warm, copper-coloured water gushed out of a pipe into a culvert. This is where Bath all began long, long ago, and this is where the future starts. For here, over the site of the old Hot Bath, where Jane Austen’s fictional poor widow found ease for her rheumatic pain, soon there will soar a vast pleasure dome celebrating the hot springs, a multilevel spa with pools and steam baths,Construction jacuzzis and hydrotherapy suites is planned to carry bathers into the twenty-first century. Look at this display in the window – look at the drawings of the architects’ dreams, tinted with rich shades of honey and aqua blue, and it’s all going to be completed in two years’ time – or maybe three.

“No, it isn’t going to be FREE”, mutters an elderly Bath resident, catching the fag end of conversation as he shuffles along the pavement on his way through to the shops in Marchant’s Passage.

Bath has never been a levellers’ city. The high and the low are as much a social fact of life here as the hills and springs are to its geography. Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot would have looked up at the distant lofty heights of her home on Camden Crescent with a gentle but heartfelt sigh at the unfathomable workings of Providence. And what had her former schoolmate, the fair-minded and fine-looking Miss Hamilton, done to deserve her present lowly situation? What had she, Anne Elliot, done to deserve that infinitely superior perch in the fresh, pure air of Camden, up to which she must now make her unwilling ascent?

The climb from river to heights begins up Sawclose, past the imposing faccade on the left. Jane first knew this as the house of Mr Beau Nash, a celebrated past Master of Ceremonies. But in the year of Trafalgar, the year of Nelson-fever, her fourth as Bath resident,Heiling Court it was to open as Bath’s new Theatre Royal. The seats were expensive, probably beyond Jane’s means. But then was not the whole of life – or at least of Bath her theatre? Fine, as long as she could keep on the critics’ side of the footlights.

She would have avoided the crowded scenes of Milsom Street. At this time on a summer Saturday, when shadows and tempers are at their shortest, the eagerness for retail therapy will be rising to a fever pitch. We can sense Jane Austen’s spirit more in the leafy corners of Queen’s Square, and in the graceful upward curve of Gay Street, and round into George Street, along the raised pavement by Edgar’s Buildings. At last, dusty and hot, Jane and her creation Anne stand at the foot of the fearsome hill of Lansdown.

They are both young women still – only twenty-seven years old – but how quickly in this heat one is fatigued. For once it is Jane, the flesh and blood woman, whose voice we can hear: “What dreadful hot weather we have had ! It keeps me in a perpetual state of inelegance!”

“There, take my arm, that’s right! I do not feel comfortable if I have not a woman there!”

 

Up the HillAdmiral Croft is here – in Jane’s imagination, at least – to accompany her up beyond Belmont, where the raised pavement seems to want trip one up ahead.In real life, however, no such aid was at hand. In 1805, the men were still all at sea, chasing the French across the Mediterranean. “You men have difficulties and privations and dangers enough to struggle with”. Jane’s sailor brothers sent money and topaze crosses, but all through the tense summer of 1805 she would be kept hovering over the newspaper for the whereabouts of Frank’s ship, the Canopus. Her heart turned over every time she thought of her brothers’ danger. How could she complain about merely walking uphill in all the white glare of July in Bath?

Excelsior! Anne Elliot would never murmur complaints. Ah, but Anne Elliot is fiction. Her creator, who says in fact that “pictures of perfection make me feel sick and wicked,” sometimes feels like complaining. The last leg of the climb above Guinea Lane will seem endless, even to one who has been outstriding a certain energetic Mrs Chamberlayne up Sion Hill a couple of summers before. Life to all of us – and Jane Austen was emphatically one of us – can be at times like climbing the Hill of Difficulty – to get to a Heaven one would never deserve anyway.

Camdem Crescent Rounding the corner, the gleaming perfection of Camden Crescent is reached at last. The big frontage with its Doric columns is as white and regular as an Elliot smile. Shall we follow Anne inside to the marble-floored interior, where her sister and Mrs Clay are sneering at all creation below them, over a cold collation? Anne creeps in, noticed only by the footman, and disappears from the glare of noon. After all, “She was only Anne”

The View Jane has plans for Anne’s future happiness, even if this story has to wait five, ten years like the grit in the oyster shell that produces a pearl in the end. What is the point of being a writer of fiction if she can’t, like her favourite Cowper’s view of God, move in mysterious ways her wonders to perform? And while she works out reward and rescue for her sensitive solitary heroine, she’ll sit and muse on this seat by the railings and look back over the terrace, over the march of chimneys and the tops of the trees.

On a clear day like this, it’s worth the climb, after all – not to feel superior, but to see the whole pattern.

Sue Le Blond has been a teacher since 1973. She loves to teach and enjoys enthusing about JA and literature in general. While now working a few days each week at the Jane Austen Centre, she spends the rest of the week at Chippenham College teaching English. At present she is studying Creative Writing for therapeutic purposes at University of Bristol. Sue lives in Bradford-on -Avon with her husband, two teenage children, and lovely cats.

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May in Regency Bath

We are now fairly into springtime – the only pretty ring-a-ding time, as Shakespeare said, or as Jane Austen put it- Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.

This month, let’s whirl with Catherine Morland through the regular pleasures of a Bath day. It may well be a progress more natural than heroic, more breathless than elegant – but at all costs, my dearest creature, let us avoid being affected or insipid!

It’s broad, bright day. The Pump Room clock says it’s just gone one – and the weather’s as fresh and changeable as youth itself. Outside, on the Abbey’s west face, the stone angels climb and fall on their ladders, as flesh and blood angels climb and fall in each others’ regard in the world of friendships below. Isabella Thorpe has been waiting these ten ages at least – in other words, about five minutes – when our heroine, all eager delight and animation, scampers in to meet her friend.

The morning’s studies have been literary – a systematic reading scheme, provided by Miss Thorpe, to cover ten or twelve monstrous horrid novels. “Oh, my dear Isabella, do not tell me what is behind the black veil! I am sure it is Laurentina’s skeleton!”. She needn’t worry, for her dear Isabella is eager to exchange talk of “The Mysteries of Udolpho” for the book of life, or at least the visitors’ book in the Pump Room, which is merely a cover for her sly perusal of certain odious young men. They have been ogling her this half hour, and have put her quite out of countenance. Ah! Now they have just quitted the Pump Room, and can be seen swaggering across the crowded Abbey Churchyard in a perfectly insufferable manner. The only way to teach them a lesson, she tells her dear Catherine, can be to show them supreme indifference – by hurrying after them directly.

And so the two young ladies, with their white muslin gowns and orange bonnet ribbons flapping in the breeze, thread their way through the mid-day throng to the archway that leads out of the churchyard into Union Passage. They are moving with the crowds in the general upward direction of Milsom Street, to Edgar’s Buildings – the Thorpe ladies’ lodgings. Isabella links arms with her friend, but still follows with her roving eye the backs of the two young idlers, way up ahead.

She rattles on breathily. Her dearest Catherine must see her sweet new hat or is it that her sweetest Catherine simply must see Isabella’s dear new hat? Amazingly dearer – more expensive certainly – and sweeter than her mother’s new hat, which makes her look such a quiz! Why, Mamma looks like an old witch in it, but she and her sisters would not, for all the world, be the first to tell her so.

The code is clear, then as now. Among females, when purchases have been made, they must be displayed, and a friend’s opinion must be sought. It is useless to tell Isabella, or any other fashion victim, that woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. And Bath – Milsom Street in particular – has a multitude of stylish shops. Why, here one may step out of doors and get a thing in five minutes. It is a tempting square mile for those with limited funds in a small net purse.

But first, the ardent shopper must negotiate the traffic of Cheap Street – a thoroughfare of such impertinent a nature, that in crossing it one gambles with life itself. And here, drawing up on a bad pavement with all the vehemence that could most fitly endanger the lives of himself, his companion and his horse, comes Isabella’s brother John, in one of these odious gigs! Seat, trunk, sword-case, splashing-board, lamps, silver moulding all complete. Here comes the bore, talking endlessly, relentlessly, of all the smart feats and features of his wretched equipage. Even Catherine, so ready to be pleased with the world and all in it, begins to doubt by the end of the second sentence if he is completely agreeable. In vain does she try to remind herself that to a gentleman, a gig is as nice a point as the debate between the spotted and the tamboured muslin. But whereas young ladies are subjected, loud and often, to all the idle assertions and impudent falsehoods of excess vanity, what man will gladly talk of muslins among the ladies?

 

What man, indeed! Conversations from Catherine’s happy dance through the last few days still linger in her memory. “Do you understand muslins sir? You must be a great comfort to your sister”. Oh, where is the bewitching Mr Tilney on this fine May day? But our Catherine, despite her reading diet, has too much common sense to pine away for a young man she may never see again, especially when the present is so full of people and bustle.

“Good heavens, ‘tis James!” she cries, greeting her brother with the liveliest pleasure, as he jumps down from the passenger seat of Thorpe’s gig. Soon the quartet are planning a jaunt to Blaize Castle, “the finest old castle in the kingdom” – well, to the young, everything over thirty years old is ancient- “worth going fifty miles to see“. Nothing ruins horses so much as rest, as John Thorpe says, so let us not waste a minute of a precious day of a six weeks’ stay in Bath.

A brisk walk up Milsom Street will take us up past Mollands’ the pastrycook’s, and on to triumph at the Assembly Rooms at the top of the town. Tonight there will be a Cotillion Ball until past midnight, and Catherine will be dancing in her sedan chair all the way home.

Oh, who can ever be tired of Bath? To echo Dr Johnson’s remark on London, “She who is tired of Bath is tired of life.”

Sue Le Blond has been a teacher since 1973. She loves to teach and enjoys enthusing about JA and literature in general. While now working a few days each week at the Jane Austen Centre, she spends the rest of the week at Chippenham College teaching English. At present she is studying Creative Writing for therapeutic purposes at University of Bristol. Sue lives in Bradford-on -Avon with her husband, two teenage children, and lovely cats.
Sue is always happy to receive email feedback and comments.

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April in Regency Bath

It’s official British Summer Time has begun, but I’m afraid the only sign of it so far is the lingering twilight. On this chilly April evening, we start our pilgrimage, appropriately enough, on the crossroads. Behind us, the Broad Street to Destruction slopes away: before us looms the Hill of Difficulty up to Lansdown. The fleshpots of George Street’s diners and jazz club beckon us to the left, tempting with us with food, wine, music and people. But first we will mark Holy Week by going east. We’ll follow Jane’s route to church along the London Road, in search of a Paragon.

Ah, but what exactly is a paragon? The dictionary definition is “a model of perfection.” Pictures of perfection make me feel sick and wicked. It’s that voice that we have heard before on our walks, clear as the evening and as crisp as the weather. And I don’t think her temper is improved by this part of town. Ah, this appears to be the Paragon, this severe and stately rank immediately above us, all steep stairs and cold stares, though graceful and imposing in its way. Can this be the planners’ model of architectural perfection? Strange how Jane’s difficult Aunt Leigh-Perrot still seems to dominate this corner with her starchy stinginess. Here’s the niece’s pert voice once more: It’s really very kind of my aunt to ask us to Bath again a kindness that deserves a better return than to profit by it. Whatever does Jane mean – if one can use the word mean without being suspected of a pun. Paragon Wine BarIt’s clear she has no intention of putting herself for a second time under the Leigh-Perrots’ roof, remembering how her digestion was ruined with surreptitious Bath buns ordered to supplement their frugal aunt’s hospitality.

I think we’d better sweep or maybe scuttle on our way past the Paragon, then, hoping to escape detection from any irritating members of the Austen clan.

What’s this? A sudden gap, like a huge cavity in a row of perfect teeth has opened to our right. Just by the Paragon Wine Bar, the ground falls steeply away to Walcot Street, down a flight of perilous dark steps. One thinks of rash actions elopement, flights of passion, abandoned behavior. Lydia and Wickham, Mrs. Maria Rushworth and Henry Crawford poor Eliza Williams, left pregnant by Willoughby. Why is it that the men are merely fallible charmers, while the women stay down there, irretrievably fallen, lost?

Chapel of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon Is all passion dangerous in this world of Jane’s? Surely some forms of enthusiasm fail to carry the same risk of social ostracism. How would our guide react to the Gothic edifice a little further along on the opposite raised pavement? A wry smile, no doubt, for this is the chapel founded in 1765 – of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, a Wesleyan supporter of pious memory. But I do not like the Evangelicals. Oh dear. Jane is not easily pleased tonight. But then, who can blame her, hedged in as she was by irritating enthusiasts. Cousin Edward Cooper, for example, sending letters of cruel comfort on a death the family, and turning well-regulated conversation into hectoring discourse on Regeneration and Conversion.

Does not each one of us like to make our own way, to choose their own time and manner of devotion? Do we all have to kneel and gape, starched up to seeming piety?

Come on now, Miss Mary Crawford or is it a thinly-disguised Miss Austen? Don’t pretend to us that your lively mind can hardly be serious even on serious subjects.

Residence of Sarah Siddons

Here’s a famous resident of the city to put her into a better humour. The house of Mrs Siddons, the famous actress, can be found at Axford Buildings. Jane’s favorite brother the witty, mercurial Henry, will be interested in this piece of gossip.Does Jane remember the barn at long ago at Steventon, and Henry organizing the Christmas theatricals, and her own spirits dancing at the chance to watch the drama on stage and off it? Henry was considerably the best actor of them all. But.. Henry Crawford or Henry Austen? Doesn’t an indulgence in drama lead to moral danger? Does her own charming brother scholar, soldier, banker and clergyman by turns, know who he really is?

The C. of E. We’ll carry on walking with Jane down the broad middle path to the good old C of E. The raised pavement narrows and the opposite row, shaped and colored like a wedge of cheddar cheese peters out with the old Star Inn and, with a fine Bath touch – the Tattoo Centre. The steep bank of Hedgemead Park, dotted with daffodils, comes to an abrupt halt by the railings. As the April evening begins to close in, the elegant church front with its thin spire glimmers bone-white in the gloom. There’s something restful about the ordered mahogany pews within, the balance of the square interior. But what’s this? The voice of Jane seems to remain on the outside of the church, by the railings.

The Rev. George Austen’s headstone has only been in its present prominent spot since autumn 2000. With so many pilgrims to the crypt, the Jane Austen Society moved it here, where you can see it from the pavement. He died here in Bath, early in the year 1805. One of his favorite texts is from Isaiah: In stillness and in staying quiet there lies your strength. It has been very sudden! The serenity of the corpse is most delightful. It preserves the sweet, benevolent smile which always distinguished him. With this event like a raw wound is it any wonder that Jane has persisted in a very silent disinclination to like Bath?

But we have found our paragon impossible as it might be for his restless, ironic daughter or any of us, come to that, to live up to.

Sue Le Blond has been a teacher since 1973. She loves to teach and enjoys enthusing about JA and literature in general. While now working a few days each week at the Jane Austen Centre, she spends the rest of the week at Chippenham College teaching English. At present she is studying Creative Writing for therapeutic purposes at University of Bristol. Sue lives in Bradford-on -Avon with her husband, two teenage children, and lovely cats.
Sue is always happy to receive email feedback and comments.

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January in Regency Bath

In Jane’s day, of course, the winter was the time to gather for the Bath season. Rather than wallowing in the moist heat of July and August in the city’s south-facing bowl, they preferred Bath at a time of year when the buildings can be seen through the bare branches, and when the post-Christmas grey skies bring out the honey-yellow of the Bath stone.

A January Day in Bath. Photo by Neil Maneer. On this iron-grey winter morning, we’re slipping and sliding from Marlborough-Buildings to 40, Gay Street, and wishing we had more leisure to enjoy the beauties of Bath – architectural as opposed to human. For a cruel frost has followed fast on the heels of yesterday’s sprinkling of snow, and the air is sharp – as sharp as the younger Miss Austen’s quill. Hardly one woman in a thousand could stand the test of such a frost. We’re afraid our noses are becoming as red as Mary Musgrove’s, but, like Sir Walter Elliot, “I hope that may not happen every day.” In fact, we hope to avoid the critical scrutiny of such men as Sir Walter, for he will be sure to scold us for neglecting to use Gowland’s lotion each night. “I advise the constant use of Gowland’s, nothing but Gowland’s, during the winter months.” At least as modern women, we don t have to set out to capture a rich husband as a sole route to financial security. My face is my fortune, sir, she said.

Poor Jane. Thank goodness we don t live like that now.

We suddenly find ourselves in the centre of the Circus. It s very quiet and very cold, with only the sliding notes of starlings and the croak of crows breaking the hush. It’s hard not to shiver at the sensation of being suddenly embraced by the cold, elegant geometry of the eighteenth century. Let’s struggle across the snow to the exit at the top of Gay-Street.

Pause here and think. When we look down this tiered Georgian terrace, it has the appearance of a sort of eighteenth-century Cresta Run. It suggests all the exhilaration and insecurity of another year. Jane Austen had several years like this in her outwardly uneventful life. She looked down this street from number 25, where she was staying after her father’s death in the slippery year of 1805. Yes, despite the name, Gay Street is a disciplined, difficult street, with stark black railings, against which one might well slip and fall.

Yes, it is cold, isn’t it? Let’s pop round to Milsom Street. It’s just round the corner on the left , below Edgar’s Buildings, where Isabella Thorpe had the sweetest lodgings in the world – or was it the treat from Molland’s the pastry cooks which was so sweet? And so, no doubt was the bonnet with the coquelicot ribbons in the shop window down the road. All in Bath is so conveniently situated – then as now – for retail therapy. “Why, here one may step out of doors and get a thing in five minutes!” Providing, of course one has money in one’s net purse – more money than Jane Austen’s own meagre annual allowance of £50.

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath: 40 Gay Street. Turning back to the view from the top of Gay Street, we feel poised, like one of Jane’s heroines, at the beginning of the swoop down into the new year, full of its quiet dilemmas and internal choices. Somewhere between here and Beechen Cliff is the gap between appearance and reality, between passion and prudence, between having money or having none – and maybe having no happiness either, the worst of all worlds. It is the area of Bath inhabited by the wry, cautious, inwardly passionate Miss Austen. Let’s walk carefully down to number 40, open the large blue street door, and let ourselves in.

Sue Le Blond has been a teacher since 1973. While now working a few days each week at the Jane Austen Centre, she spends the rest of the week at Chippenham College teaching English. She loves to teach and enjoys enthusing about JA and literature in general. At present she is studying Creative Writing for therapeutic purposes at University of Bristol, and is the author of “Down To Sunless Sea”, a novel on the life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which is currently awaiting publication. Sue lives in Bradford-on-Avon with her husband, two teenage children, and lovely cats.

Images supplied by and available from Neill Menneer. Contact him at fotoman@acks.demon.co.uk.

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