Unfortunately, I have a rather unique connection with the English novelist Jane Austen. I say “unfortunately” because in a few days time this connection could be far from fortuitous.
I’d like to say that this connection is with regard to our wittiness and literary skill, but looking back at some of my earliest posts (and some may say my more recent ones as well), I think it is safe to say that this is certainly not the case. I can only admire and draw inspiration from the great Ms Austen. I would never be so bold as to suggest my work is even remotely as good as hers.
The connection we share is regarding our birth dates: I was born exactly two hundred years to the day after Ms Austen was. One would think that this would be a delightful connection to have, and for most of my life it has been. For several 16th of Decembers I have revelled in the fact that I was born not only on the same day as one cultural great, but of several including Beethoven (possibly), Noel Coward (definitely), Arthur C. Clarke and Christopher Biggins (the greatest of all).
In a few days time however, the world will remember the two hundredth anniversary of Ms Austen’s death. On the 18th of July 1817, Jane Austen passed away in Winchester. This may have been due to cancer or tuberculosis (although some now think it may have been the result of accidental poisoning), but the cause of her death has never entirely been determined. What is certain is Ms Austen was childless, unmarried and 41 years old at the time. Thankfully for me, I am in good health and will be nowhere near Hampshire next week. Yet, I too find myself without children, without a husband and 41 years old, traits that until a few days ago on realising this freak coincidence, caused me no concern whatsoever. If these are the only other similarities I share with my fellow birthday colleague, then I am happy to accept that I will never be a successful novelist in my lifetime which hopefully will go way beyond next Tuesday.
If however, no one sees a tweet from me after the 18th of July 2017 and that this post becomes the last to appear on this website, then how apt it is about Ms Austen… although how vexing also (to say the least), that I shared even more with the author than I actually cared to.
The beautiful city of Bath, south-west England, synonymous of course with…
That is not her standing by the entrance to the Jane Austen Centre along Gay Street, by the way (should there have been any doubt)
Inside the Jane Austen Centre, where one can enjoy lovely displays of period dress…
…and even get the opportunity to try some on as well
This assistant held out this prized bonnet, counted down from ‘three’ before several visitors (including myself) dashed forward to grab it.
I didn’t win, and I apologise to the old lady I elbowed out of the way in the hope of getting it
The Jane Austen Centre has other fascinating artefacts to please Austen fans, including this original draft of ‘The Watsons’, a novel Ms Austen abandoned and did not complete herself
There are also interesting period-themed facts on display, like this illustrated guide to Regency semaphore coding
Visitors can also try their hand at writing with a quill. This was my feeble attempt. It reads:
“There once was an author called Jane
who certainly wasn’t plain.
She wrote with a quill
with ink she tried not to spill.
But, how vexing to use. Such a pain!”
It took weeks to fully wash to ink stains from my hands
The centre also has a little shop dedicated to Colin Firth…
…managed by a Colin Firth lookalike, although clearly he wasn’t available the day I visited the centre
The centre also recreates some of the rooms the Austens would have lived in. This is how the parlour may have looked – bar the posters, labels, false window, spot lights and lino – when the family lived along Gay Street two centuries ago
Unfortunately, the building in which the Jane Austen Centre is presently housed is not actually the building Ms Austen lived in. The actual address is a few doors down at number 25, now a dentist’s surgery
The surgery celebrates its connection with the novelist with this portrait on the waiting room wall. The reading material available to waiting patients however, is limited to a few vulgar, reality-TV-star-storied magazines that are more ostentatious than Austen (hawh-hawh!)
Another Bath address that once housed the Austens is 4 Sydney House
This address too celebrates its Austen connection not just with a plaque…
…but with a like-minded sense of humour by the present residents
Royal Crescent, the most exclusive address in Bath, but sadly not one Ms Austen resided at
Bath Abbey, where the Austens may well have attended service. Such a shame the benches are facing the wrong way to enjoy its splendour
One visitor who could do with trying a Regency costume on
The city’s famous Roman Baths where Ms Austen is known to have visited
The baths may be one of the finest historical sites in Europe…
…but I wouldn’t want to take my chances in that rather unpleasant looking green water. It looks like the diving pool at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
An actor who didn’t get a job at the Jane Austen Centre
Visitors looking for the statue of Bladud
The Austens may well have drunk from the King’s Spring in the hope of benefitting from the water’s apparent healing properties. The water is terribly salty, and going by the corrosion on the ornamental salmon, I wouldn’t want to drink too much of it for fear it may do the same to my insides
Within the baths’ museum there are a number of Roman artefacts on display found during excavations. This piece known as the ‘Head of a Lady’ may well have appealed to Ms Austen…
…for it would seem even Roman gentlewomen wore fancy bonnets
More information on the fabulous Jane Austen Centre can be found at their official website here.
A visit to Bath should always include a visit to the great baths. It is truly a fascinating place. Click here to visit the official website.
Lord Byron’s pilgrimage to Sintra, Portugal
London … and the ‘Books About Town‘ bookbench collection of 2014