Search This Blog

Monday, 22 September 2014

Jane Austen and Bath I

During the 18th century Bath was one of Britain’s most fashionable resorts, thanks to its health-giving waters. John Wood the elder and his son created elegant streets like the Circus and Royal Crescent, each building faced with the area’s characteristic cream-coloured freestone from Combe Down. By Austen’s day Bath was perhaps no longer quite as fashionable as formerly, but it was still a bustling, thriving spa.  
Paragon, Bath.

Jane Austen’s first stay in Bath is thought to have been in 1797, when she was about 22 years old. A visit to her aunt and uncle, Mr and Mrs Leigh-Perrot, at No 1 Paragon, is mentioned in a letter to her sister Cassandra (17 May 1799), ‘Our first view of Bath has been just as gloomy as it was last November twelvemonth’.
13 Queen's Square, Bath.
On her 1799 visit, she was accompanied by her mother, and her brother Edward and his wife Elizabeth. 

They stayed at 13 Queen Square: ‘We are exceedingly pleased with the house’, Jane continued in her letter, ‘the rooms are quite as large as we expected. Mrs Bromley [presumably the landlady] is a fat woman in mourning, and a little black kitten runs about the staircase...we have two very nice-sized rooms, with dirty quilts and everything comfortable...There was a very long list of arrivals here in the newspaper yesterday, so we need not immediately dread absolute solitude; and there is a public breakfast in Sydney Gardens each morning, so we shall not be wholly starved...The prospect from the drawing-room window, at which I now write, is rather picturesque, as it commands a perspective view of the left side of Brock Street, broken by three Lombardy poplars in the garden of the last house of Queen’s Parade ’.
Brock St, Bath.

Jane may well have had this stay in mind, and was probably smiling to herself, when she added a little family in-joke to Persuasion (written during 1815–1816). 
The young Musgrove ladies tell Anne Elliot and their parents: ‘We hope we shall be in Bath in the winter; but remember, papa, if we do go, we must be in a good situation: none of your Queen-squares for us!’
Illustration from the author’s collection: Fashionable eighteenth century folk on the Parade in Bath. Engraving by E Gascoine, from a drawing by Hugh Thomson, English Illustrated Magazine 1883–4, (Macmillan, New York, 1884).
Photos © Sue Wilkes.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Hogarth's Moral Tales

William Hogarth (1697–1764) British artist and engraver, died over a decade before Jane Austen was born, but she would have been familiar with his brilliantly observed illustrations of high and low life.

William’s ‘Modern Moral Subjects’ are among his most famous works. Each series started out as a set of paintings, which were then engraved and sold as prints. The Harlot's Progress (1733–1734), The Rake’s Progress (1735) and Marriage√† la Mode (1745) were made as affordable as possible so they could reach a wide audience.

Hogarth’s prints were still widely available in Austen’s day; Romantic poets like William Wordsworth owned copies. Industry and Idleness (or adaptations of it) was so well-known that it was a popular teaching aid for children. You can find out more about Hogarth's life and his possible influences on Jane Austen's work in my latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World


Self-portrait of William Hogarth and his dog Trump (left, above).John Ireland and John Nichols, Hogarth’s Works, First Series, Chatto & Windus, c.1874. 
‘Industry and Idleness’, Plate III (left, below) – The Idle Apprentice at play in the churchyard during divine service.
‘Idleness’ (right), Henry Sharpe Horsley,The Affectionate Parent’s Gift, T.Kelly, 1827.This illustration for a children’s book in the 1820s is clearly inspired by the Industry and Idleness above.