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Jane Austen, Lyme Regis and Captain Wentworth

I've just been to Lyme Regis - the weather was wonderful last week - no stormy seas as in the picture shown. I love this print which shows the old assembly rooms at Lyme Regis. Sadly, they were knocked down some years ago to make way for a car park, but we do have a description of them that was written by Constance Hill in her book, Jane Austen, Her Homes and Her Friends.

Her writing inspired my own for a chapter in Searching for Captain Wentworth. My heroine Sophie has travelled back in time to be with her ancestors, the Elliot family who live next door to Jane Austen in Bath. Sophie and her family are in Bath when the unexpected arrival of Jane's brother, Lieutenant Charles Austen, leaves Sophie feeling both excited and nervous. She knows she is falling in love with him and yet knows that it must be a hopeless case ... 

I dressed with great care, choosing a fine, Indian muslin, embroidered with flowers and French knots along the hem and down the sleeves. A string of coral beads at my throat gleamed in the dying light and two bright spots on my cheeks gave the impression that I was permanently blushing, the work of the sun and sea breezes combined, which had turned my skin to a pale bronze. I felt nervous at the thought of seeing Charles again and for a moment wished I could stay at home and hide away. Seeing him in Lyme had been a shock, I’d felt a certain consciousness between us when we’d met or I’d wanted to believe that I had at the time.
Charles Austen
Now, I was not so sure and scolded myself for imagining that Charles had come to Lyme especially to see me. I needed to separate what I wanted to believe from the truth and the facts were that Charles had come to find suitable lodgings for his parents in the surrounding area. That was all, I was determined that I would suppress any other thoughts including those shadowy memories of some other matter that tried to find their way to the surface. He wasn’t going to stay in Lyme and even if he did stay for one night, he was soon to leave so that he could organize his family’s accommodation. They weren’t even going to be in the area, choosing to go to Dawlish instead. His interest in me stemmed from our friendship in Bath and I told myself not to think that there was anything else. If I was not careful, I could so easily betray my feelings, not only to those around me, but to Charles himself.
However much I longed to tell Charles about the place he was securing in my heart, I could not reveal my feelings. I knew that now. It wouldn’t be fair to him, I decided. He’d made it perfectly clear that he was not about to fall in love with anyone, nor did it fit in with his plans. His career and advancement in his chosen profession were paramount. Besides, a little voice somewhere in my head said it was never meant to be. I could not, and should not attempt to change fate.

The Assembly Rooms set on the edge of the sea gave the impression of being afloat, as if on a great galleon sailing out on the water, for nothing but sea and sky could be seen through the windows. The walls rippled with light and reflections in tones of lapis lazuli, which as the evening progressed bobbed and dipped like the ocean itself, bathing the interior with a rosy glow from the sun setting on the horizon and from the warmth of the candles glimmering in sconces and glass chandeliers alike. What could be more thrilling than dancing with the sea all around us?
The Rooms were very full and even though I searched the place looking for a glimpse of Lieutenant Austen, I knew he was not there yet. I seemed to possess a sixth sense when Charles was around; the air seemed to vibrate differently when he was in the room. I would have to be patient and pull myself together for fear of betraying my emotions to everyone. Conscious that word had got around about our arrival in Lyme, it was evident that our party was the object of much interest as knowing expressions and cognizant looks were exchanged amongst the local gentry and it wasn’t long before those acquainted with our host made their presence known. We were introduced to the Barnwells, the Crawfords and the Suttons, all deemed as families of quality by Mr Elliot and Mr Glanville. After their stiff formality, it was lovely to see Miss Rockingham appear with her bright smile and easy chatter. She was with her brother who was immediately introduced and proved to be as welcoming as his sister.
BBC Persuasion 1995
‘I believe we have a mutual acquaintance, Miss Elliot,’ Doctor Rockingham remarked. ‘It is such a pleasure to meet you at last and to know that our friend Miss Austen is well. We were hoping to see her this summer. Have you received any word that she is to come to Lyme again?’
‘Her brother is here, Doctor Rockingham, and is hoping to secure accommodation for his family in Dawlish, I understand. I know Jane is keen to come to Lyme once more; her memories of the place are all happy ones.’
‘My sister and I will be more than delighted to see her, Miss Elliot, but whether or not we shall have that pleasure, I hope you will honour us with a visit again soon.’
I assured them that I would. It was impossible not to warm to the doctor and his sister who were friendly and kind, quite unlike any of the other people I had met so far in Lyme. When Doctor Rockingham smiled, his eyes lit up his handsome face. If only he had someone to make him happy, I thought, he’d be a changed man.
Before we had been there a quarter of an hour, I had invitations to dance from two or three young men who were introduced. I was relieved that our host would be forced to open the ball with Emma as a consequence, but disappointed that Lieutenant Austen was not there to ask me to dance. Just as I was beginning to give up hope of him ever making an appearance and as the little orchestra were tuning up their violins, the door opened. Charles Austen entered the room, along with two other people who looked very familiar.
The Cobb at Lyme Regis
‘That’s the gentleman and lady we saw that time on the Cobb,’ exclaimed Marianne, as everyone stopped to stare at the people who had just walked in. ‘I can quite easily see why you were taken aback. There is such a similarity between them, that I confess, Sophia; I am not at all surprised you were in shock. He could be none other than Lieutenant Austen’s brother, do you see?’
I could see very easily. Different in looks and manner, yet, there was no doubt that they came from the same family. Both had the same wavy, chestnut hair that framed their handsome faces in dark curls and the same hazel eyes, though perhaps in Mr Austen’s brother they reminded me more of Jane in their clarity. There was a look about him that reminded me very much of his sister. He had the same sensitive appearance; the same intelligent look.
His lady smiled, as her eyes darted at anyone who glanced her way. She was an elfin beauty. Delicate, yet exotic in style, like a jewelled bird stolen from a foreign land, she was swathed in a silken gown that flattered her tiny figure complimenting her pale complexion. As I stared, quite entranced with the pleasure of looking at her, I knew I was being watched. I only had to move my head very slightly to see Charles and to be aware of his beautiful, dark eyes. He bowed, his expression giving away little emotion. I felt the intensity of his gaze. So much so, that the spell was broken only by my own reticence to return the expression that I knew I had not misread.

‘Who are those people? ’I heard Mr Sutton ask Mr Barnwell who were standing a little apart from us.
‘Irish, I daresay, by their manners, ’answered Mr Barnwell, ‘just fit to be quality in Lyme.’
Mr Glanville butted in. ‘On the contrary, they’re nobody worth knowing. I recognize the taller gentleman from Bath, but I believe he is a sailor, no one of any rank worth our consideration.’
‘But the other gentleman,’ added Mr Sutton, ‘and more particularly his lady have quite an air about them.’
‘Now, she is somebody worth our attention,’ declared Mr Crawford, turning at their words and joining in, ‘for not only is she very easy on the eye, gentlemen, but Mrs Crawford’s been telling me she is a French countess! Or, at least she was before her first husband had his head chopped off. Her new husband is a banker, I believe. They are passing through, staying at the Three Cups Inn, I understand, before heading back to their London home.’
Lyme Regis
I hated the way they talked about Charles, his brother and his wife. I wanted to tell them to stop being so rude. I would have liked to tell them everything about these truly worthy brothers who had not been handed money and riches on a plate, and of how they had more daring, wit, and intelligence than the lot of them put together, but, of course, I couldn’t. I wasn’t even sure if Charles and I would have a chance to speak on our own. I didn’t know anyone that would make it possible for us to meet and talk, let alone dance with one another. We would have to be introduced all over again and I couldn’t see any of the gentlemen in my party making that a possibility.

I hope you enjoyed the extract!