Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bath - First Impressions


If you have ever been lucky enough to go to Bath, to see the places that inspired two of Jane Austen's books, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, you will know how easy it is to feel that you have stepped back in time. I love visiting Bath and being able to trace Jane Austen's footsteps. I could not resist having Lydia spend some of her time there. Although it is often said that Jane Austen disliked Bath, I cannot agree completely with this viewpoint as she chose it as the place for two of her heroines to fall in love.

Here are some first impressions of Bath.

Catherine Morland visits Bath with the Allens. From Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

They arrived at Bath. Catherine was all eager delight — her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.


Anne Elliot's first view of Bath reveals a different reaction. From Persuasion by Jane Austen

Anne.... persisted in a very determined, though very silent disinclination for Bath; caught the first dim view of the extensive buildings, smoking in rain, without any wish of seeing them better; felt their progress through the streets to be, however disagreeable, yet too rapid; for who would be glad to see her when she arrived?

Jane Austen wrote to her sister about her journey to Bath. Here is an extract from a letter.

13, Queen's Square, Friday (May 17) 1799


My Dearest Cassandra,

Our journey yesterday went off exceedingly well; nothing occurred to alarm or delay us. We found the roads in excellent order, had very good horses all the way, and reached Devizes with ease by four o'clock. I suppose John has told you in what manner we were divided when we left Andover, and no alteration was afterwards made. At Devizes we had comfortable rooms and a good dinner, to which we sat down about five; amongst other things we had asparagus and a lobster, which made me wish for you, and some cheesecakes, on which the children made so delightful a supper as to endear the town of Devizes to them for a long time.

Well, here we are at Bath; we got here about one o'clock, and have been arrived just long enough to go over the house, fix on our rooms, and be very well pleased with the whole of it. Poor Elizabeth has had a dismal ride of it from Devizes, for it has rained almost all the way, and our first view of Bath has been just as gloomy as it was last November twelvemonth.


Finally, in Lydia Bennet's Story, circumstances make it necessary for Lydia to travel to Bath. These are her first impressions.

Tuesday, May 17th

Though we are not come to be merry, Isabella wants to show me all the delights of Bath and from what I have observed so far, I am as thrilled with it all, as if I were a young girl in my first season. I am very pleased with my little bedroom on the first floor, which is neatly fitted up with a bed, a cupboard, the sweetest dressing table all draped in muslin and ribbon and a view giving a glimpse of Queen Square, not the most fashionable district, but splendid, nevertheless. I have been standing at the window, to witness the afternoon sun shining on the passers by, conveyed on foot, or by carriage, phaeton or gig. Two ladies in gauze cloaks caught my eye, the fringe on their parasols swinging in rhythm, their white muslin dresses fluttering back, outlining their pretty figures. A gentleman in a green coat swaggered along on the opposite path and hailed them with a wave of his hat and a bow. The constant clattering of the horses’ hooves, the rumble of coaches and the cries of tradespeople can be heard all around and I cannot help but be fascinated by all I see. If only circumstances were different, I might enjoy myself in Bath immensely.

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