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Jane Austen News – Issue 164

What’s the Jane Austen News this week? 

On Beating Writer’s Block

Boxed Calligraphy SetIf you long to be a writer like Jane Austen, then the phrase ‘writer’s block’ is one to be feared. However, we came across a fantastic article this week with great tips on how to beat writer’s block should it hit you.

Tip One: Put on a blindfold

Try training your mind by dressing with a blindfold. Doing so will require you to use all of your other senses, actively engaging your imagination as you feel your way through the clothing, using tactile clues to decode your surroundings. After all, the best books don’t just focus on what characters can see, but also on sounds, smells, tastes, and emotions.

Tip Two: People watch

Look outside your window to see the people in the street. Look at how people dress and at their expressions. Try to imagine what has happened in their lives in the moments before you saw them or what might happen to them later that day.

Tip Three: Visit an art gallery

Head to your local art gallery (or search online for art collections). Look at the pieces and each time you hear yourself think “I don’t like that,” or “I like that one,” ask yourself why or why not. Art is an interpretation of the world each person sees, and as well as spurring new ideas, it can be insight into your own mind and that of the artist.

Tip Four: Try free writing

Free writing is where you pick a topic and let your imagination run wild. Try not to stop to think. Keep your pen moving. You can write to a prompt, or write as a character. The faster you go, the closer to your natural voice your free writing will get, and it’s sure to take you in unexpected directions.

(Also, why not try getting yourself an inspiring set of stationery to write with…? As it’s stationery week this week, this is the prime time to do it!)

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Jane Austen News – Issue 147

The Jane Austen News looks forward to Sanditon

What’s the Jane Austen News this week? 

Happy Public Domain Day! 

On January the 1st 2019, hundreds of works of art entered the U.S. public domain following a delay of two decades!

Thanks to a bill which extended copyright terms in 1998, one which was urged in by the Walt Disney Company (in a bid to protect Mickey Mouse) this huge release of early twentieth century works into the public domain hasn’t happened for 21 years. This created a “bizarre 20-year hiatus between the release of works from 1922 and 1923.”

At the Jane Austen News, we really enjoy seeing how out-of-copyright works (such as Pride and Prejudice) can be used to be the basis of, and the inspiration for, new works of art – both literary and visual. Thanks to public domain laws we’ve been able to see stage productions of Jane’s books, new films, and new fiction (What Kitty Did Next and Death Comes to Pemberley for example). We’re therefore highly keen to see what the new release of work may lead to.

Some of the works which are now in the public domain include:

  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  • Two of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Murder on the Links
  • A Son At The Front by Edith Wharton
  • Poetry by Robert Frost
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Sydney Gardens, Bath

Sydney Gardens

I join with you in wishing for the environs of Laura Place, but do not venture to expect it. My mother hankers after the Square dreadfully, and it is but natural to suppose that my uncle will take her part. It would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens; we might go into the labyrinth every day.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Wednesday, January 21, 1801

Sydney Gardens is the oldest park in the City of Bath. Planned and laid out by the architect Harcourt Masters in 1795, it quickly became a popular place to see and be seen by the ever arriving crowds of fashionable people freqenting the city. In 1909 the gardens were purchased by the city and in the same year a replica of the Temple of Minerva was built to commemorate the Bath Historical Pageant.

The Gardens were reached via the Sydney Hotel, in Sydney Place, at the end of Great Pultney Street. In 1801, the Austens, newly arrived in Bath, took lodgings at Number 4, Sydney Place, directly opposite the gardens. In describing their location to her sister, Jane Austen jokingly wrote, ‘There is a public breakfast in Sydney Gardens every morning, so we shall not be wholly starved.’ The public breakfast was only one of the many attractions the Gardens had to offer. Small orchestras performed on the balcony overlooking the grounds, and dining boxes, “a series of little shelters where private groups could take refreshments throughout the day” extended on either side of the main building.

In 1800 the Kennet and Avon Canal was dug through the gardens, depsite strong opposition. Built between 1796 and 1810, it connected the Avon at Bath with the Kennet at Newbury, as part of the major waterway connecting Bristol with London. In a sad twist of fate, this canal system was finished only years before steam engines, a faster and more efficient mode of transportation, made their way across the landscape, making the canals obsolete, except for lay travellers and sightseers.

The engineer of the canals, John Rennie, designed most of the elegant iron bridges seen in the park. Fortunatley, the canal only enhanced the charm of the gardens, being ” sunk low between stone embankments, so invisible from the gardens until the visitor passed over a bridge or came upon a balustrade, when they would be surprised by the winding expanse of water with its overhanging trees and pretty bridges. The foremost bridge in this view was built in the Chinese style. The two iron bridges carried the two footpaths, while the sturdier stone bridges carried the ride round the perimeter of the gardens.”

There is to be a grand gala on Tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens, a concert, with illuminations and fireworks. To the latter Elizabeth and I look forward with pleasure, and even the concert will have more than its usual charm for me, as the gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Sunday, June 2, 1799 (Find “Jane Austen Selected Letters” here

The Austens moved from Sydney Place to lodgings in Green Park Buildings in 1804. Shortly after that the Rev. Austen, Jane Austen’s father, died and the family left Bath forever in 1806. Still, the city would feature prominently in two of Austen’s six novels. Her time there was no doubt spent absorbing the sights, sounds and feel of the city, leaving a permanent record for generations to come.

In 1819, Pierce Egan published his Walks through Bath which included the following description of the gardens and walks Jane Austen would have been so familiar with.

Sydney Gardens – from Walks Through Bath

The Entrance to Sydney Tavern and Gardens has to boast of much respectability; and the tavern is a capacious and elegant erection. Sydney-Gardens is one of the most prominent, pleasing, and elegant features attached to the City of Bath.

The hand of taste is visible in every direction of it; and the plants and trees exhibit the most beautiful luxuriance. Upon gala-nights, the music, singing, cascades, transparencies, fire-works, and superb illuminations, render these gardens very similar to Vauxhall. The Orchestra is close to the back of the Tavern, neatly arranged and elevated, with a large open space before it, well gravelled. The gradual ascent of the principal walk, that leads to the top of the gardens up to a half-circular stone pavillion, which is paved and covered in, with a seat round it, and supported by several stone pillars, upon a gala-night has a most brilliant effect, from the numerous variegated lamps with which it is ornamented. The walks are all well rolled and gravelled; and seats and places for refreshment are to be met with in various parts of the gardens. The view, when seated in the above pavillion down to the orchestra, across the arches covered with lamps, gives it a very captivating appearance. Upon those nights set apart for promenading only, a military band attends; and music also enlivens the scene, when public breakfasts are given. There are also several swings, adapted for the ladies; and others for gentlemen. Numerous covered-in boxes; and several alcoves formed with much botanical taste, grottos, &c. render this promenade highly attractive during the summer evenings. In the most retired parts of the gardens one of these grottos, it appears, was once the happy meeting-place, and dedicated to the tender passion, with a sincerity and animation unrivalled, by one of the greatest geniuses that ever adorned this or any other country, but who is gone to that “bourne from whence no traveller returns,” following the superior, amiable, and affectionate object of his heart, who had also long been previously consigned to the icy tomb of death. The remembrance of the late Richard Brinsley Sheriden, Esq. and his wife, Miss Linley, (termed the syren and angel of the concerts at Bath,) must render this grotto a most interesting feature to every lover of talent, elegance, and virtue, and in which the following copy of verses were written by the above patriotic senator, and left for that lady’s perusal:

— Uncouth is this moss-covered grotto of stone,
And damp is the shade of this dew-dripping tree;
Yet I this rude grotto with rapture will own;
And willow, thy damps are refreshing to me.
In this is the grotto where Delia reclin’d,
As late I in secret her confidence sought;
And this is the tree kept her safe from the wind
As blushing she heard the grave lesson I taught.
Then tell me, thou grotto of moss-covered stone,
And tell me, thou willow with leaves dripping dew,
Did DELIA seem vex’d when Horatio was gone?
And did she confess her resentment to you?*

Upon the whole, Sydney-Gardens must be viewed not only as a great ornament to Bath, but is another, among the numerous proofs of the great anxiety of the inhabitants to render the amusements of this elegant City, without a parallel in the kingdom! The Kennet and Avon Canal runs through the gardens, with two elegant cast-iron bridges thrown over it, after the manner of the Chinese; and the romantic and picturesque scenery, by which they are surrounded, is fascinating beyond measure.

Great opposition, it seems, was originally made to the canal running through these gardens by the proprietor; but it gives such a variety to the walks, that its introduction is now viewed as a great addition. It would be a matter of some difficulty to point out a spot of ground so tastefully laid out as Sydney-Gardens. Vauxhall, it is true, may boast of its superiority for brilliancy, and number of lamps, and vocal performers; but, in other respects, viewed as a garden, the competition would be perfectly ridiculous. The Labyrinth, shown here at three-pence each person, is an object of curiosity. The inducement to enter it is one of Merlin’s swings, which appears not only very prominent, but easy of access. However, it might puzzle any cunning person, if left to himself and without a clue, for six hours, to acquire the much wished for spot; and it is rather a difficult task when the explorer of the Labyrinth has the direction pointed out to him from a man stationed in the swing. The inns and outs necessary to be made, it is said, measure half a mile. When the swing is made, and the secret unravelled, the guardian of this sort of Fair Rosamond’s bower conveys the visitor once more into the public walks; the variety of which, that continually meet the eye of the promenader are truly attractive. A most delightful piece of ground, like a bowling green, enveloped with trees, and a small natural cascade from a spring, cannot be passed with indifference. The company, generally, are of the most respectable description; and upon some of the gala-nights, upwards of 4000 persons have paid for admission, which is 2s. 6d. each. In fact, the most fastidious observer cannot find fault with Sydney-Gardens, which have also another advantage to recommend them to the visitors of Bath, namely, in having a surrounding ride, for the accommodation of ladies and gentlemen on horseback, that commands beautiful and romantic views, and of being free from dust in the summer, and dirt in the winter. The terms of subscription for walking are for one month, each person, 4s.; for 3 months, 7s. 6d.; and the season, 10s. If two in one family, each 7s 6d; if three or more, each 6s. Non-subscribers, for walking, 6d. each time. Nursery-maids with children in arms, one subscription. Gentlemen and families may be accommodated with elegant apartments at Sydney-House. The terms of subscription to the ride, one month, 2s. 6d. each person. Three months, 6s. Six months, 10s. The year, 15s. Non-subscribers, 6d. each time.

The majority of historical information is from The Holburne Museum of Art, Bath. The Holburne Museum owns the orignal prints of Sydney Gardens by J. G. Nattes, painted in 1806 and reproduced in this article.

*This poem continues on for about 10 more verses!

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June in Regency Bath

It would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens. We might go into the labyrinth every day!”


This month, Jane Austen intends to give us the slip. We’ll have to be both nimble-footed and nimble-witted if we are not to lose sight of her in a maze of irony. For the well-bred, dutiful Miss Jane, the younger daughter [though not so very young at twenty-five] of the Rev. George Austen, is putting on a brave, bright face on her parents’ decision to retire to Bath. She fills her artificial days with busyness. There is so much to do – should her meagre allowance stretch to it. On the Fourth of June, for example, there will be the annual concert with illuminations and fireworks for his majesty King George’s birthday – you know, that royal personage with a rather slender hold on reason.


“Even the concert will have more than its usual charm with me as the gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound,” comments Jane, rather sourly.

BathAt the far end of Pulteney Street, just across from the smartest pleasure grounds outside London’s Vauxhall, we’ll find 4, Sydney Place. It bears the only plaque to Jane in the entire city. Here she lived from 1801 until late 1804. The architect responsible for this part of Bath, Thomas Baldwin, clearly wore out his set-square when he did his planning. A balloonist’s view would resemble nothing so much as a pair of straight-laced spinster sisters who have turned their backs on each other, lain their heads on the fountain at Laura-Place, and, at the far end of the boulevard, angled their prim knees at 45 degrees to form the perfect diamond of Sydney Place. But times and tastes changed, and in the wilder 1790s, one Charles Harcourt-Masters planned Sydney Gardens in accordance with the new fashion for serpentine paths, shady bowers and “deep romantic chasms”.

Oh, and labyrinths.

Jane was to forge a love-hate relationship with such paradoxically cultivated wildernesses. When this strange, benighted interlude in Bath was over, she would write in “Mansfield Park” of her hot and morally confused characters winding in and out of such paths in a tedious great house’s park.

We looked down the whole vista and found it enclosed in iron gates.”

Bridged Path Never mind, for surely the essence of civilisation is the control over nature? Here are sweet woods and verdure enough to calm the restlessness that seems to afflict the younger Miss Austen. The walk along the new canal, for instance, offers a tantalising glimpse of the distant hills beyond Bathampton, as if seen through the wrong end of a telescope. And here, too, are attractive little cast-iron bridges springing forth from the thick vegetation over the tow-path, carrying one across the span of the wonders of the new technology, saving one’s summer slippers and the muslin hem of one’s sky-blue gown from mud. And here is a tempting tuffet where one can sit, like not-so-little Miss Muffet, and await the descent of the inevitable spider of anxiety from the tree above.

No, Cassandra, I do not want you to draw my portrait. Do I speak clearly for once? Is that view of my back in my blue gown and bonnet a talking silence or a silent silence? Perhaps my unspoken opinion will linger in the air of Sydney Gardens longer than my letters to you, so easily destroyed at the touch of a match.

Jane AustenWhy did Jane turn her back on Cassandra in that blue-gowned portrait of 1804? It seems she did want to be invisible, to escape the quizzing glasses of what she would call in “Northanger Abbey” a neighbourhood of voluntary spies. And to quote from another child of the future: And this iron gate, this ha-ha, give me a sense of restraint and hardship. I cannot get out, as the starling said.

In Jane’s head the ironies must have been buzzing like a migraine. She had ideas, yes, but not ideas for a new story, so much as ideas that she really ought to be writing a new story, which is the worst of all worlds.

And all she could think of was the symbolism of the labyrinth.
In Jane’s day, the labyrinth extended over a large area on the left-hand side of the upward-sloping gardens, between the bowling green and the canal. It included some deliciously Gothic features, such as the moss-covered grotto with its underground passage leading to the centre of the maze. A revolving wheel would take you up in a dizzy ride above the trees and hedges where you could see the lost souls still wandering around below. How she must have longed for distant Hampshire, to feel the rush of fresh air, to sniff the haymaking, the wild garlic, the violets – the quiet things, the true things she ached for in the “white glare” of the artificial city.

And as she rode, she might have counted the revolutions of the massy wheel, like the years that are constantly turning. Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven and no protection against the “years of danger”. No interest from baronet blood or even clergy blood, thin as it was, for the second daughter of the elderly George Austen.

Sir Philip Sidney What should she do? Sir Philip Sidney- were the Gardens named for him, she wonders- said “Look in thy heart and write”. Very well. In her heart then, are all single women. Imagine a family of – not two, but four single, penniless spinsters, with an elderly father, say a clergyman. What should be their name? Why, the Watsons of course. What sons – she smiles thinly at the poor pun – would go through such stasis, such doubts? She thinks enviously of her brothers, so free to take on the world. Let a spirited Watson sister speak: she has a voice. She says “I had rather be a teacher in a school – and I can think of nothing worse – than marry a man I did not like.” But another one says: “You know we must marry. It is very bad to grow old and be poor and laughed at.”

She must name these sisters, these voices. Elizabeth? Emma? Yes, Emma. I’m a… I’m..I…I…I…


The very heart of Jane’s labyrinth has been reached.


There are very few letters and nothing except the fragment called “The Watsons”Dove from Jane’s time in Bath. Jane Austen simply disappears from view among the foliage. We lose her voice altogether, and all the eager would-be biographer is left with in this leafy month is the soft-brained mocking coo of a pigeon.

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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