5 Stops on the Real Jane Austen Pilgrimage
The first time I went to England, my itinerary had a very distinct theme: Jane Austen.
I have interested in Jane Austen since I was 13, and a hardcore fan since I was 16. I’ve read all her books at least once, and most of them upwards of six times. Except Mansfield Park–I’m sorry, I just couldn’t do it. To me, Jane Austen is a Big Deal.
With some exceptions, these sights aren’t necessarily the ones you’ll see in the movies — they are places that the real Jane Austen lived or loved. By visiting them, you can follow the trail of her life, as well her books.
Bath featured prominently both in Jane Austen’s work and in the Regency era. From October to June, wealthy and semi-wealthy families from all over England would pour into the city to take the waters, gamble, flirt, and dance.
Despite my personal love for Bath, one thing is very clear in Jane Austen’s work and letters: She hated it.
In 1801, she wrote to her sister Cassandra, “Another stupid party last night; perhaps if larger they might be less intolerable, but here there were only just enough to make one card table, with six people to look over, & talk nonsense to each other.”
Perhaps when you think about all of the social obligations like the one described above, it becomes easier to see why Original Hipster Jane Austen didn’t warm to the city. Her family also went through difficult times there–from her father’s retirement and departure from the country in 1800 to his sudden death in 1805. The personal circumstances and poverty made her life difficult in those years.
Nevertheless, the present-day city is a delight for Austenites. Many of the classic settings from Jane Austen’s books can still be visited today, like the Assembly Rooms and Pump Room, both featured in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Austen’s writing is so detailed, you can find the streets characters lived on, and accurately follow Anne Elliot through her mad dash around the city in search of Captain Wentworth.
The Jane Austen Centre is based in Bath. It’s easy to spot, because there’s a statue of Jane Austen out front. Though I enjoyed the museum and the volunteer guides are delightful, I personally prefer Chawton House’s exhibit for learning about Jane’s life (keep reading to get the scoop on that). However, the gift shop is not to be missed!
There are also a plethora of walking tours and other fun experiences to be had, like the Jane Austen Festival in September, or the Jane Austen Dancers every Wednesday night at 8PM.