Looking for Austen in Bath

Manchester/Bath UK Trip Journal Day 6

Bath, UK

I wrote a journal entry before this one, Gentle Reader, but am not publishing it because I think it will go directly into the article.  To give you an idea of what I am thinking about for the article, the title might be something like “Jane Austen Slept Here: The Inauthenticity of Bath.”  That is the one word that occurred to me over and over again as I visited Bath: inauthentic.

Not that Bath itself is not beautiful.  Not that there isn’t a Jane Austen connection, because there is.  She based so much of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey on Bath, and some of those places are still here today.  The Pump Room, for example, is still in existence, and This Humble Author had afternoon tea there (very posh).  But this, unfortunately, was as close to Austen herself as I could get in Bath.

The Jane Austen Centre, while lovely and enthusiastic, is a celebration of Austen’s time in Bath, and of Austen’s works, rather than of Austen herself.  There is no connection to Austen and that address.  No matter, of course, because the Centre does real work in spreading the joy of Austen.  I know I purchased several “I ❤ [insert Austen male character name here]” buttons for my student Jane Austen group (I did promise to bring them souvenirs).  And the guides themselves seem to truly love everything about Austen: her life, her books, the movies based on her life and works.  Their enthusiasm is contagious; how can you not love Austen when you walk through the Centre?

But I think that’s the point of it all: you walk through the Centre because you love Austen already, not because you’re trying to get to know her.  I am reminded of the time I went to see one of the Twilight movies, and, not a fan of the books, I kept whispering loudly to my friend, “why is that funny?” when everyone started laughing at a clearly inside joke.  Or, as I experienced today, as two women window-shopped in front of me, stopped to look at a book about Austen’s life.  “It looks like something from Little House on the Prairie,” one woman said.  To which the other said, “I thought she wrote, you know, girls’ books.”

Or, as my tour guide said on one of the bus tours around Bath I took today, as he did take the time to point out a few places associated with Austen, “Are there any Jane Austen enthusiasts on the bus?”  I raised a timid hand.  “No one else?” he asked.  “Well, that’s probably best, as Austen hated Bath.”

That’s the lore, anyways, as her father died here, as she wrote very little, or none at all while in Bath, as Anne Elliott loathes going to Bath in Persuasion.  But still, my tour guide at the Austen Centre insisted that Austen must have loved Bath, because she set so many of her novels here.

I am happy about it, you know, the chance to explore the inauthenticity of literary tourism.  I think it’s the angle my project needed, to separate me from the other articles about Austen and the literary pilgrimage.  But I am the tiniest bit disappointed, because while as a critic, I’m thrilled with the direction this article is going, as a fan, as a Janeite myself, I am devastated over the loss of Austen today.  Because I wanted her to be there, too.

I wanted to be like Jane.

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