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Jane Austen, Weymouth, and the Olympics!

The Old Harbour Weymouth - hosting the Olympic Sailing

 I recently visited Weymouth just as the Olympic sailing was starting. The town was in festive mood on the day I visited and there was a fantastic carnival atmosphere with decorated floats and activities laid on in celebration of the Olympics. The area round by the old harbour is the prettiest, and there are still some lovely examples of Georgian architecture in the town. I've always been curious to see it because apart from the mentions in Jane Austen's books and letters, I knew that the town became fashionable when George 3rd visited with his family. Fanny Burney recorded a funny tale - the 'neighbouring machine' she refers to is a bathing machine: "...Think but of the surprise of His Majesty when, the first time of his bathing, he had no sooner popped his royal head under water than a band of music, concealed in a neighbouring machine, struck up "God save great George our King".

Cassandra Austen wrote to Jane from Weymouth in 1804 where she was staying with brother Henry and Eliza. Jane doesn't seem too impressed by her sister's account! Jane replied:

Carnival time - Olympic Sailing
Your account of Weymouth contains nothing which strikes me so forcibly as there being no ice in the town. For every other vexation I was in some measure prepared, and particularly for your disappointment in not seeing the Royal family go on board, having already heard from Mr Crawford that he had seen you in the very act of being too late, but for there being no ice...what could prepare me? Weymouth is altogether a shocking place I perceive, without recommendation of any kind and worthy of being frequented by the inhabitants of Gloucester (referring to a newspaper report of HRH the Duke of Gloucester's arrival in Weymouth to visit the Royal Family). I am really very glad that we did not go there and that Henry and Eliza found nothing in it to make them think differently.

Jane Austen mentions Weymouth several times in her novels though she doesn't actually take us there.
Girls from the sea - Weymouth Olympics
In Emma, we find out eventually that Weymouth was the place where Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax were secretly engaged. No one in Highbury, including Emma, is aware of this betrothal until we get almost to the end of the book. Jane Austen leaves lots of clues but I'm sure not many people pick them up until a second reading - one of the delights of this novel.
Jane Fairfax is saved from falling overboard from a sailing boat by Mr Dixon in Weymouth, and as a consequence Emma, helped on by Frank Churchill becomes suspicious of Jane's feelings for her rescuer. Mrs Bates receives a gift of a shawl which was bought in Weymouth, and we learn that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax sang together whilst staying at the resort. 
Initially, at the start of the novel, Emma has not met Frank whose father married her governess, Miss Taylor. She naturally wants to know all about him. However, she becomes increasingly irritated when Jane will not give any information away. Later, we realise why Jane is not willing to show much enthusiasm for her subject but, at the time, Emma thinks she is only being cautious because Jane is secretly in love with Mr Dixon. 

If any thing could be more, where all was most, she was more reserved on the subject of Weymouth and the Dixons than any thing. She seemed bent on giving no real insight into Mr. Dixon's character, or her own value for his company, or opinion of the suitableness of the match. It was all general approbation and smoothness; nothing delineated or distinguished. It did her no service however. Her caution was thrown away. Emma saw its artifice, and returned to her first surmises. There probably was something more to conceal than her own preference; Mr. Dixon, perhaps, had been very near changing one friend for the other, or been fixed only to Miss Campbell, for the sake of the future twelve thousand pounds 

The like reserve prevailed on other topics. She and Mr. Frank Churchill had been at Weymouth at the same time. It was known that they were a little acquainted; but not a syllable of real information could Emma procure as to what he truly was. "Was he handsome?" - "She believed he was reckoned a very fine young man." "Was he agreeable?" - "He was generally thought so." "Did he appear a sensible young man; a young man of information?" - "At a watering-place, or in a common London acquaintance, it was difficult to decide on such points. Manners were all that could be safely judged of, under a much longer knowledge than they had yet had of Mr. Churchill. She believed every body found his manners pleasing." Emma could not forgive her.

The old harbour, Weymouth - Olympic sailing
 I love the way Frank Churchill first avoids being drawn into a conversation about Weymouth when Emma is trying to find out what happened in Weymouth. He's clearly taken aback and needs to collect his thoughts about what he's going to say.  

"Did you see her often at Weymouth? Were you often in the same society?"
    At this moment they were approaching Ford's, and he hastily exclaimed, "Ha! this must be the very shop that every body attends every day of their lives, as my father informs me. He comes to Highbury himself, he says, six days out of the seven, and has always business at Ford's. If it be not inconvenient to you, pray let us go in, that I may prove myself to belong to the place, to be a true citizen of Highbury. I must buy something at Ford's. It will be taking out my freedom. I dare say they sell gloves."
    "Oh! yes, gloves and every thing. I do admire your patriotism. You will be adored in Highbury. You were very popular before you came, because you were Mr. Weston's son; but lay out half-a-guinea at Ford's, and your popularity will stand upon your own virtues."
    They went in; and while the sleek, well-tied parcels of "Men's Beavers" and "York Tan" were bringing down and displaying on the counter, he said - "But I beg your pardon, Miss Woodhouse, you were speaking to me, you were saying something at the very moment of this burst of my amor patria e. Do not let me lose it. I assure you the utmost stretch of public fame would not make me amends for the loss of any happiness in private life."
    "I merely asked, whether you had known much of Miss Fairfax and her party at Weymouth."
The old harbour, Weymouth - Olympic sailing
    "And now that I understand your question, I must pronounce it to be a very unfair one. It is always the lady's right to decide on the degree of acquaintance. Miss Fairfax must already have given her account. I shall not commit myself by claiming more than she may chuse to allow."
    "Upon my word! you answer as discreetly as she could do herself. But her account of every thing leaves so much to be guessed, she is so very reserved, so very unwilling to give the least information about any body, that I really think you may say what you like of your acquaintance with her."
    "May I indeed? Then I will speak the truth, and nothing suits me so well. I met her frequently at Weymouth. I had known the Campbells a little in town; and at Weymouth we were very much in the same set. Col. Campbell is a very agreeable man, and Mrs. Campbell a friendly, warm-hearted woman. I like them all."
Weymouth shopping street

In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor asks about Willoughby's character and receives this reply from Mrs Palmer who mentions Weymouth. 

"Oh! dear, yes; I know him extremely well," replied Mrs. Palmer - "Not that I ever spoke to him, indeed; but I have seen him for ever in town. Somehow or other, I never happened to be staying at Barton while he was at Allenham. Mama saw him here once before; - but I was with my uncle at Weymouth. However, I dare say we should have seen a great deal of him in Somersetshire, if it had not happened very unluckily that we should never have been in the country together. He is very little at Combe, I believe; but if he were ever so much there, I do not think Mr. Palmer would visit him, for he is in the opposition you know, and besides it is such a way off. I know why you inquire about him, very well; your sister is to marry him. I am monstrous glad of it, for then I shall have her for a neighbour you know."

Jane Odiwe at the old harbour, Weymouth - Olympic Sailing
In Mansfield Park the Honourable John Yates and Tom Bertram strike up a friendship at Weymouth and Miss Crawford is eager to learn all about the seaside town.

I had a lovely day out - I hope you enjoy the photos!

Weymouth Olympics - carnival!

Weymouth Olympics - carnival!