Post-Bicentenary Crowd at JAHM; or, What Happens When an Unexpected Group Arrives and One of the Visitors Was on Project Runway

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The day after the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death (July 18), Jane Austen’s House Museum (JAHM) saw an influx of visitors. It’s like people had suddenly remembered that she was somebody important or something! I volunteered as a steward at JAHM on the 19th. From 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. we had over 250 visitors. Remember, this house is small, and we have a 50-person maximum. When we reach this number (which includes a couple of stewards), we have to ask people to wait to enter the house.

On this day, we began with a tour group at 10, and I got to meet and greet them (basically welcome them to the house)–a new task for me. The group had 45 people in it, so I had to split up the group so that they would not all enter at the same time. Keep in mind that we also had other visitors, so at 10 we had more than 50 people wanting to enter the house. At least we knew that this tour group was coming….

I was supposed to give a behind the scenes tour to two of the Chawton House fellows, but I was too busy to do that. The tour turned into a 10-minute “look at this!” run through the house. On the upside, I did get to chat with a bunch of really nice people from the tour group, as well as many other visitors.

  • We talked about the wallpaper in the house, including how wallpaper was made and applied to walls in the 18th- and 19th-centuries and now.
  • We talked about why JAHM does not have people dressed up as Jane Austen acting as stewards. Truly, one visitor was disappointed to not find a JA figure present in the house. I said, “Oh, that’s what it’s like in Bath.”
  • I had to keep my eye on a few visitors who were picking up items in the house. Another visitor warned me about them!
  • I assisted an elderly woman in a wheelchair’s caretaker as he helped her walk up the stairs so that she could see JA’s room.
  • I also had to convince a visitor that JA did not die 400 years ago, even though his friend assured him that indeed it was 400 years ago. 😀

So many interesting things happen when you work as a steward.

Perhaps the morning’s most unexpected delight was when a tour bus stopped in front of the house, and about 25 or more people got dressed up in Regency attire on the bus. How do I know that they were dressing on the bus? I was upstairs looking out, and I could see them getting dressed. Awkwarrrddd. I ran downstairs to check the schedule, and no other tour group was scheduled for the morning. What? A surprise, unannounced tour group? What would we do? We were at capacity already.

 

Luckily, this group decided to enter the grounds and only take some pictures, in the rain, by the entrance to JAHM. Whew! They were not coming in, we thought. Oh, wait! They just went back to the bus to change into their streets clothes! To back track a few minutes here, while I was watching this intrepid group take their pictures, I noticed the person taking the picture. I could have sworn that he was a contestant on Project Runway. Nah.

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Who was this group of people? One of our visitors recognized the group as the cast of Jane Austen’s Persuasion: A New Musical Drama. I met half of the cast as they wandered in, and I asked the first few visitors who was taking pictures of them. “Is he from America?” I asked. They were like, um, I don’t know. Really? Well, eventually Mr. Photographer entered. In the pic above he is in the center pane directly above the girl in the blue dress. He has a hat on.

I saw him, pointed at him, and said, “You were on Project Runway! I knew it was you! Project Runway!” It was Justin, a contestant on not only a regular season of PR, but also an all-stars season. Guess what! He immediately shushed me! Apparently he didn’t want anyone to know who he was. Why not? I never found out. Better question: did he design the costumes? Still don’t know.

Just another day at JAHM. 🙂

 

Meeting the JASNA Pathfinders at CHL

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I spend every Monday afternoon in this wonderful room: the Chawton House Library (CHL) lower reading room. This room contains many of CHL’s women writers’ books. Most visitors to CHL end their tour of the Great House by visiting this room.

On Monday, I had the pleasure of meeting members of JASNA (a few of whom were from the North Texas regional group), who were visiting as a part of the Pathfinders tour. The Pathfinders visited a bunch of Austen sites, including CHL and Jane Austen’s House Museum on July 17. I ran into the group again at Winchester Cathedral on July 18 (the day of Austen’s death).

It was neat to meet a group out of the Dallas, Texas, area, for my sister lives in this area, and I can actually meet up with the group when I next visit Dallas. It goes to show how small this world is–what are the chances that this particular JASNA group would hail from my home state, particularly where my sister lives?

Meeting this group reminded me (as if I could forget) how awesome JASNA and its members are. 🙂

 

Bosham

IMG_0192Bosham, a village in Sussex, is close to Chichester and sits on a peninsula that often floods this small town. Seriously, when the tide rises it covers the road along the edge of town. The houses on the coastal perimeter of this village actually prepare for major flooding by including tiny doors, rather than full-sized ones, so that when the water flows down the streets, it does not enter the doors. See the pic below. The door is the size of a window.

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While walking around Bosham, we found a lovely church where we attended service on a Saturday evening.

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Although we could not get a table at the local pub as we had hoped we would, we enjoyed our jaunt into Bosham.

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Arundel Castle: Part Medieval, 17th Century, 18th Century, and Victorian Medievalism (No Austen?)

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This post comes to you a week after its event, so forgive me!

My previous Alton host Sarah graciously offered to drive Adam and me to Arundel Castle (pronounced air-un-dell) on July 15. This castle has curb appeal for sure! It’s walled off from the town, sits high on a hill, etc.–all those things a castle should be and do. Much to my surprise, I learned that the original castle–the medieval structure, that is–was actually quite small. The rest of this behemoth has been added over the course of centuries, and the grounds and architecture reflect many eras. I will focus my post on this mash-up, one that involves pastiche.

To begin: Medievalism. The castle’s keep is the oldest part of the estate, and this keep is where the original inhabitants lived. Walking to the top of the keep is a harrowing flight by most’s standards, but let me tell you that walking down is much scarier!

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Shown above: the stairs and Sarah.

Ooh, ooh! Before we leave the keep, you might need to use the toilet, so let me stop here to show you where the garderobe is–it’s in that hole there in side wall of the keep. No door. Just do your business…and don’t fall in. Mind the drop! Read the sign!

OK, let’s make our way back to the castle. Below is an image of the walk down from the castle keep to the rest of the castle–the 17th-c. Civil Wars era (FWIW, 1642-49 English Civ War). I am wearing the gray fleece.

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In this section ahead, there is a series of rooms with furniture and wax(?)-figure displays that try to give you a sense of how awful it was to be sequestered in the castle during the 1640s Parliamentarians’/Roundheads’/Cromwell’s army’s/etc./etc. siege. Eventually, the inhabitants of the castle had to surrender due to lack of water. 😦

The rest of the castle is a mix of 18th- and 19th-century objects, design, and architecture.

As seen above, there are even 18th-century vehicles in the more modern section of the castle, which feels very 17th and 18th century in some of its design. There is a great hall, and the house contains some grand dining and sitting rooms. In much of the space of this grand structure, Arundel Castle does not feel like a castle at all. It is a palace or mansion.

This is reinforced by its own version of a pleasure garden. See the lovely flowers and the cherub holding on tightly to that dolphin? How about those hedges–pruned to a series of points!

Speaking of pleasure, let us not forget the spectacle in the Collector Earl’s Garden that is this Inigo Jones masque inspired device–a high pressured fountain that keeps a crown afloat by mere force.

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To get back to medievalism, though, the palace/mansion/castle(?) also shows a marked interest in Victorian medievalism, which means that it’s architecturally and aesthetically designed in some respects like a medieval castle and chapel but created in the Victorian Era. The chapel, for instance, is a total throwback–it looks many centuries old, but it isn’t (only about two and a half–yes, still old). If the signs hadn’t told me that the chapel is not from the 14th century, I would have sworn that it was.

Luckily, one more faux medieval element of the castle helps visitors walk away with that “yeah, I visited a castle” feeling! On the grounds, one will find a few ‘shoppes’ set up that emulate what it was like to make armor, food, trinkets, and such. There is a holding area for falcons and owls, which you can walk right up to and handle if you wish. There is also a bird demonstration just to show that they are trained.

There is also a knights’ challenge, which is hokey (they say it’s not staged, not predetermined, etc.) but allows you a chance to sit on the lawn and watch guys in cool outfits strike at each other with spears, axes, and swords. There is a tournament that gets the crowd involved, too–pick your knight! (Hint: pick the old duke of Arundel, even if you don’t think he should win…which I didn’t.)

I enjoyed my visit to Arundel Castle, and I would recommend your going, but give yourself an entire day to spend at this place. There is a lot to see and do, none of which relates to Jane Austen unless you can imagine her sitting in that sedan chair I showed in the picture above (which I did, of course). 😉

A Pilgrimage to Winchester to Visit JA: July 18, 2017

Last night I began my pilgrimage to Winchester. Like the pilgrims who came to Winchester Cathedral for centuries to commemorate the life of Saint Swithun, I (and many others) visited the cathedral today to honor Jane Austen, who died 200 years ago on this date, July 18. You might deem my use of the word pilgrimage a bit blasphemous, but consider me to be a woman who has traveled from the U.S.A. to England by car, bus, plane, and subway to visit the site where her favorite author lived and died.  I am a pilgrim on a journey to honor someone I esteem as a kind of a moral, spiritual guide.

This blog post is one small attempt to give a shout-out to Saint Jane. (Did I go too far now? Saint Jane??) I actually did write a note of thanks to Jane Austen today at Winchester Cathedral. I was the first to write in the book today! OMG. OMG. OMG! Were the other visitors this morning too busy taking pictures that they failed to notice this book?

By the way, I included this second image here because I failed to notice this sign until after I flipped through the book, saw everyone else write on the left side of the book, and then proceeded to follow everyone else. Was this a case of the proverbial “blind leading the blind”? Guess so.

Whatever the case, I was so pleased to share my experience of visiting Jane Austen’s grave site (which is actually inside the cathedral) with so many other devotees–including JASNA members called Pathfinders who were visiting from the U.S. (See the picture at top, right, which shows the lovely flowers donated by JASNA.) I was a proud member today of this wonderful society.

And what a day it was.

  • I visited JA’s grave and read the words on the commemorative plaques with my own eyes.
  • I read Cassandra’s words about the hour before JA’s passing and days follow it.
  • I saw James’ poem about JA’s passing in Winchester.
  • I saw Henry’s draft of the gravestone (which does not mention that JA was a writer). I saw Austen’s nephew’s plaque (which does).
  • I saw the stained glass windows purchased with funds raised by many late 19th-century admirers, too.
  • I learned that from the mid-19th century onwards, people began to recognize that her grave site deserved as much beauty and praise that they could offer.
  • I even saw the register that mistakenly notes the date of Austen’s death.

Check out the pics below for a visual rendering of most of the things I just wrote about.

The plaque and some notes on the window.

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An image of the two pics above in context–oh, yeah, there I am, too!

Henry’s draft on the left, and James’ on the right.

The register: note the July 16th date.

I saw all of this in a matter of hours. Then I took a break, walked to my flat, ate lunch, and went back to the cathedral. 🙂

When I returned to the cathedral, I looked at the grave site again. Then I left again so that I could walk down to 8 College to see the place where JA passed away.

After that I saw this groovy art piece.

Then I went to back to the cathedral so that I could take a look at the gift shop. I didn’t buy anything today. Maybe another day? There are some really cool items in the shop, like this purse!

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Then I went back in the cathedral so that I could hear the Governor of the Bank of England talk about the new Jane Austen £10 note, which was unveiled today for the first time and will be released into circulation on September 14. I learned a lot about how print money is designed and made. I learned the ins and outs, too, of the new note. Watch the video, which tells you all about it. For real, do it right now, and then come back to the blog post. 😛

I also got to hold one of the notes. No, I didn’t get to keep it.

That’s my thumb!

After holding onto a new piece of pop culture I ventured around the cathedral one more time to check out the cathedral’s exhibition: “Inspired by the Word.” What a fantastic exhibit. I love the realistic renderings, such as the statues, but also the really clever and arts-and-crafty things, such as the pinned ribbon collage with all of Austen’s characters and some famous passages from the novels.

Funny story–I actually met the artist of the sculpture of JA at the writing table, but I didn’t meet him today at the cathedral. I met him a couple of days ago in Basingstoke at a mall when I was hunting for the JA Sitting with Jane book benches. More on that in another post. Anyhow, the artist is Robert Truscott, and his work is amazing.

Finally, I decided that it was time to leave and go have a rest. I thought about returning for the evensong honoring JA, but I didn’t have a ticket. Perhaps I could have snuck in. Maybe not. I heard that the cathedral would be packed, and I figured that I had already celebrated JA in my own way this morning. I will return to the cathedral before I leave Winchester, and maybe I’ll hold my own private service. 😉

I leave you with this image below because after a long, hot day (highs in the 80s here), the early evening’s weather changed into a thunderstorm with downpours of rain only minutes after the evensong ended. Coincidence? I think not. 😀

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Perhaps Austen’s bicentenary can be linked back to Saint Swithun after all. I learned today of a proverb about Swithun and rain:

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain

For forty days it will remain

St Swithun’s day if thou be fair

For forty days ’twill rain nae mare

These words are written on a tomb that may or may not be his, but it is in Winchester Cathedral. St. Swithun’s Day was on July 15, FWIW, and today could be, or should be, called Jane Austen’s Day. July 18, 2017 was a day filled with warmth and plenty of sunlight, but it ended with a wonderful rain shower (replete with thunder and lightning) to say “goodnight, Jane.”

“Reputations, Legacies, Futures: Jane Austen, Germaine de Stael and their Contemporaries”: A Conference at Chawton House Library

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On July 14 I attended part of a conference that addressed Jane Austen, Germaine de Stael, and other women writers, such as Charlotte Lennox and Maria Edgeworth. While my reason for being at CHL is to do research, I also have found that attending talks is worth taking a research break. In some ways, attending talks is a kind of research strategy. I get to listen to great speakers talk about JA, and then I get ideas for parts of book chapters and such.

On Friday I attended two sessions. The first, “Screenplays and Adaptations,” was scheduled for 9:30 a.m., but (funny story?) the bus bringing the conference participants to CHL was about 30-40 minutes late! As it turns out one of the speakers on the panel could not attend, so while we started late, we did end on time.

The first panel’s first speaker was Susan Civale, who spoke about an Austen improv show called Austentatious

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Check out this poster!

I had never heard of this program before, but let me tell you that it sounds hilarious. I love comedy improv. I used to regularly attend the Oxymorons’ show in San Antonio–and I laughed so much that my face hurt. If only I could attend the Austen show. Alas, it is now in Edinburgh. Anyhoo, I loved listening to Civale’s very smart paper and to learn that Austentatious also makes fun of Austen scholars. We deserve that, right?

The second paper was on translations of JA in Bulgaria. Another fascinating paper here. Vitana Kostadinova addressed how long it took JA to reach Bulgaria (for political reasons): around 150 years after JA’s books were first published. Kostadinova also indicated that the BBC productions of Pride and Prejudice and others were influential in raising Austen’s popularity in Bulgaria.

The speaker I actually came to hear was Cecily O’Neill. O’Neill is a playwright and dramaturg who has adapted pieces from JA’s juvenilia (my baby). 2Time Theatre has staged these productions, but sadly I missed them! Another doh moment. It was wonderful to hear O’Neill talk about the adaptation of Austen’s work, and even better to hear her perform a scene with her daughter! What delight. All smiling from yours truly. After the session I talked to O’Neill, and she is as lovely as I hoped she would be. 🙂

Shout-out to Marilyn Francus for chairing this panel. It’s almost as if I was the intended audience. FWIW, Francus is the JASNA IVP coordinator, so I have been corresponding with her for many months. I had not met her until Friday, and I am pleased to say that she is awesome–friendly, helpful, funny!

The last panel I attended was “Austen Remix.” This panel, chaired by Deidre Lynch, addressed two topics that are also near and dear to my heart: 1) keeping track of books that Austen had access to in the Knight collection and 2) monster mashups! Another FWIW: I have written two essays on the monster mashup genre and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, so when I saw that one of the papers was entitled “Zombie Jane Austen” and that its author–who actually teaches at the uni from which I earned my Masters degree, but I never got to take a class with–is someone I have quoted in my work, I had to go to this talk.

That said, let me work my way backwards through the panel. The last paper was Mary Ann O’Farrell’s zombie paper, and I was happy to hear her begin by addressing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (the book and film) but surprised to hear her end with the show Girls. I was so fascinated that when the Q&A began, I raised my hand, popped out of my chair in the back corner of the room, and just started talking! “Is Girls a zombification of JA?” I asked. It. was. awesome. O’Farrell is an engaging speaker–what a wonderful reading style–and a great conversant in the Q&A part of the session. After the session I made sure to introduce myself to her because even though we inhabited the same halls at Texas A&M in the early 2000’s, we never actually met. What a joy to talk to her finally!

The second paper in the panel addressed a handful of thrifty editions of JA’s Pride and Prejudice published in the 1880s and 90s. Annika Bautz provided some publishing stats that showed how many copies of P&P were printed by different sellers over these two decades, and the numbers astounded the audience. I remember hearing a gasp at the 10,000 number from one of the years. Bautz also showed some of the images from these editions, and it was somewhat disconcerting to see how the Victorian era represented Lizzie Bennet as a docile, dutiful daughter. Harrumph!

The panel opened with Peter Sabor’s paper on JA’s brother’s library at one of his estates, Godmersham Park. Sabor and a group of scholars and students are putting together a digital library that will allow readers to actually feel like they are in the library, replete with the ability to pull a book off the shelf. I can’t wait to see the Digital Godmersham Park project come to fruition. Sabor even mentioned that missing books will be shelved, so to speak, in the digital library–it is his and others scholars’ hope that some of these copies are out there in the world waiting to be found. How do we know what’s missing? Someone created a catalog of the books in the library’s collection, and these are nowhere to be found in the current holdings.

After listening to six great papers, meeting new people, and saying hi to a few friends (Hi, Emily Friedman!), I scarfed down my lunch and headed over to the reading room so that I could get back to my close reading (by this I mean squinting to decipher 18th- and 19th-century handwriting). 🙂 All in all, it was another great day full of great ideas. I am thankful that a collection of great books and great minds were at my disposal that day!

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See ya soon, CHL!

Conducting Research in the Upper Reading Room & Hanging Out with Those Living at Chawton

Images of books from Chawton House Library collection.

After spending a week getting acquainted with the CHL and JAHM and meeting the people who work there, attending and assisting in events, and volunteering, I finally sat down on Tuesday afternoon (July 11) in the Upper Reading Room to begin my archival research. My goal last week was to look at marginalia as well as writings by women for women (including themselves).

Over the course of the week, I looked at copies of the Baronetage, Shakespeare’s Works (1734), Elegant Extracts, Mary Brunton’s Self-Control, Fordyce’s Sermons, Ann Murry’s Mentoria, and more. I looked at unique, handwritten manuscripts on prayers and poetry, an account ledger of Mary Topham’s shopping, a riddle manuscript, and a play manuscript. I took copious notes and pictures, but I will not post those here. The images above show a few of the many books I looked at last week, arranged from 1) top left to right, and 2) bottom left to right the following: 1) the oh-so fragile copy of Self-Control, Mentoria, and an account diary and 2) a riddle manuscript and a play manuscript.

I spent the following hours in the Upper Reading Room: Tuesday afternoon from 1:30-4:30, Wednesday morning from 9:30-12:30 and 1:30 to 4:30, Thursday from 1:30-4:30, and Friday from 1:30-4:30. Thursday morning I spent some time synthesizing notes and planning. Friday morning I attended a conference at CHL (another post forthcoming).

The Upper Reading Room is closed from 12:30-1:30, so I oftentimes hang out with the CHL fellows, Ros, Robin, and Jodi, for lunch. I always pack a sandwich, some crisps, and a juice box. During the break on Wednesday, we all went to see the Chawton horses. Shown below are Speedy and Summer.

Occasionally, I even get to snap a picture of the sheep on the property.

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I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to spend this time in Chawton conducting research related to my Austen project, hanging out with the fellows, meeting and greeting four-legged friends, and volunteering at the CHL and JAHM.

 

First Day as a CHL and a JAHM Steward

On July 10 and 11 I officially began my stewardship at Chawton House Library (CHL) and Jane Austen’s House Museum (JAHM), respectively. I volunteered on Monday at CHL and Tuesday at JAHM. See the pics above which show my badges and nifty lanyards.

On Monday I began by opening the house. This process includes opening the doors to the rooms, turning on lights, removing the covers on the display cases, pulling back the curtains, and putting away the covers. After that, I met with the librarian, Darren Bevins, to discuss what I would do that day. He asked me to sit in the Study Room (which actually contains Deirdre Le Faye’s library) and work on a future exhibit’s placards. The exhibit will showcase books for a reading group that will begin in September. The group will read books written by Eliza Haywood, Mary Brunton, Alexander Pope, Sir Walter Scott, and many more writers, including the relatively unknown author-adventurer, Mary Ann Talbot. The picture below shows CHL’s Facebook page image of the manuscript.

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While I was sitting in this room working on the placards, guess who showed up! Deirdre Le Faye–fangirl moment #2 with Le Faye; remember that I met her two days prior at the AGM. It was a delight to be a fly on the wall (well, I was actually just sitting in a chair behind the computer) as she looked over her collection and chatted to herself. FWIW, that morning she was being interviewed in the Lower Reading Room.

After working on a handful of these placards, I ate my lunch in the Common Room. While I ate my lunch I realized that I was sitting at a converted billiards table.

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After lunch I moved from the Study Room to the Lower Reading Room. This room is kept locked at all times, for it contains valuable books from the CHL collection. It also contains some items from the current exhibit, including handwritten pages from Austen’s Sir Charles Grandison manuscript and a letter (on loan from a Texas owner, Sandra Clark) from Jane to Cassandra dated Christmas Eve (presumably 1798).

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The letter is in the display case obviously to keep it out of people’s hands, but CHL made a laminated facsimile of it so that visitors can read the entire letter. Above you see an image of the page that would have doubled as the envelope. Notice the writing from edge to edge and even on the outer page itself.

As I sat in this room for a few hours, I read Cecily O’Neill’s new playbook called Young Jane and prepared my list for Tuesday afternoon’s research session (more on that in another post). I also let people into the locked room–some groups were small: a single person, a couple, a few friends. Some groups were large: a handful of people, even an entire tour group from Taiwan. I loved meeting all of the visitors. I shared information with them. I answered questions. It was great to see what it’s like from the opposite perspective of visiting a museum (even though CHL doesn’t call itself that)–to see the joy of a first look at something amazing.

To finish up my day I closed down the house by simply reversing my morning routine.

♦♦♦

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On Tuesday I began my second volunteer position, this one at JAHM. This site is particularly special, for it is the house in which Austen lived out the last years of her life. The house is referred to as a cottage–definitely in 19th-c. terms, for it is quite large with many rooms–and it is full of light, even on a cloudy, rainy day, such as this one.

To begin I met the other volunteers for the day, Sammy and Debbie, who gave me a crash course on how to be steward at the house. Like CHL, this involves turning on lights and opening shutters (no curtains here), but adds some other touches like placing fresh-cut flowers in rooms. I was asked to monitor the upstairs on Tuesday because a large German? tour group entered the house. The house can only contain 50 people at once, so with the other visitors and the tour group included, it was a tight fit.

I spent most of my morning in the Admiral’s Room–a room containing items belonging to Francis Austen. Visitors asked me questions about the bed and flooring, and I had to improvise as I answered these questions. Luckily, I answered them correctly. I could easily answer other questions such as “Where is the ring?”–which refers to Austen’s turquoise ring.

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I moseyed around the house that morning and met Jeremy Knight (an Austen descendent) by accident. I also eavesdropped on many conversations, including one by some Americans who kindly argued over which day Austen died.

I really enjoy being in JAHM, for I feel close to Austen there; I get a sense of this house being a home, a lived-in place where our dear Jane conversed with friends and family, worked on a patchwork coverlet, and wrote half of her famous novels.

So That’s Why It’s Called Bath, or, Dude Looks like a Lady (not a JA post, or is it?)

Ah, there is some lovely green water. Don’t you want to just go take a long, hot bath in the waters of Bath? No? Perhaps you want to drink the “spa water”? No, again? Well, how about just visiting the baths of Bath and learning a little bit about its history? OK, then. Good.

Last weekend Adam and I visited Bath with the intention of going to the Jane Austen Centre (see previous blog post) and walking around the fashionable town–all this was done to get a sense of the place in which JA lived and set two novels. Of course, a visit to Bath would feel incomplete without a visit to the Roman baths. As an American tourist, you have to go there. I have been to the baths before, but I was on a tight schedule and did not have time to fully read the placards and mosey around at my own pace. On this visit, I did just that, and it was lovely.

My favorite item in the museum/baths is this (surprise! it has nothing to do with water…or does it?):

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Take a look at the image in the center of this fractured, but still legible triangular pediment. That image could be a gorgon. It is not what I expect to see when I think of a gorgon, however, because I always think of a female figure, particularly Medusa. Gorgons are typically female, yet plenty of people, including those who have created the museum guide and those editing Wikipedia, say: Gorgon!

Look again. What do you see?

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(I did not take this picture! Image found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/patrlynch/13642134174)

This picture seems to show a man with snake-like hair (aka gorgon)–but if a gorgon, why a man? Why a man adorning Minerva’s temple? The Roman baths include so many images of Minerva and other important women, so who the heck is this dude? According to The Guardian, this figure is a hybrid–part Roman, part Celtic; it’s a medusa-wild man. A Bath blogger suggests a couple of other theories, including one also mentioned at the museum: he is a water deity. Maybe he’s Neptune says the blogger. The Roman Baths website says that he might be Oceanus. I like this idea of a water god–it fits better with the whole bath concept because, you know, water! The blogger also suggests a few other possibilities, like a sun god or Mithras. At this point, I am going to go with……………….Oceanus!

See:

OK, moving on. Check out this bronzy water pic at left and this pigeon soaking in the tub at right. That pigeon was having a spa day, and I loved it!

I could go on and on about the Roman baths–I really enjoyed my visit–but I will end by saying this: when you visit 1) watch your step, 2) don’t slip and fall, 3) don’t touch the water or put your feet in it, 4) don’t climb the columns, and 5) do not eat ice cream or french fries (aka chips), or sip on a soft drink while you are there.

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See those feet? Those are my feet not sitting in the water. I tend to follow the rules, or at least I try to follow them. I can’t say that about everyone I saw there, including a certain person who will go unnamed. 😀

I wonder what Jane Austen thought about this part of Bath. If she could visit the Pump Room and take in the waters, would she not have had some familiarity with this part of the baths? As my day started with Stonehenge and ended with Roman baths, I couldn’t help but continually think about Austen and what she would have thought about these places.

An Afternoon Spent in Bath (with Waxen Austen)

In 1801, Jane Austen (JA) and her father, mother, and sister moved to Bath. She lived in various places in Bath for five years. Although Austen supposedly was not fond of the town, she set two of her novels in Bath. Strangely enough, these novels were posthumously published, so she technically did not see one of her Bath novels in print. Bath would not have been a place of writing for JA, but rather one of socializing. Bath was a fashionable place to be, so one would hang out with friends, go to balls, the theatre, and more. Read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion to see how busy one’s social calendar could be while staying in or visiting Bath.

I decided to visit Bath over the weekend so that I could check out the Jane Austen Centre (JAC). I wanted to see if it would be a place to take students on a future travel abroad course that I aim to design. I had heard mixed reviews of the JAC–some people call it a waste of time; others deem it a fun place to go. Someone mentioned that it is the Disney version of Jane Austen. Seeing as how I like Disney, I thought that I might be OK with that. I can see how someone might find the place to be a little hokey. After all, all of the young ladies working there (seriously, only young girls get to work there) are in Regency dress. They wear name badges that match the names of Austen characters. They give tours of two rooms, all in the guise of Jane Bennet and the like. It is a bit hokey, but kind of fun.

After the tour ends with a portrait gallery of images mostly not of JA (and the guide explains that), visitors find themselves in a space that is quite informative about JA’s time in Bath. I found this part of the centre to be useful. Then, you can watch a film narrated by the BBC actor (Adrian Lukis) who played Wickam in the 1995 miniseries. After that you enter a room with a lot of stuff–costumes, objects, and the like that you can either look at and pose with, or you can try on and do the same.

Here are a few of the non-wearable items:

A few of the wearable items, one sported by yours truly:

By the way, all of the costumes were tiny–really meant for someone who is a size 2 (US size). Even the bonnets were small. Finally I found one that fit.  I also pretended to enter a shop to look for such items:

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After having a go in the shop(ping) area, visitors get to dip their pens in the inkwell in a Janeish moment of writing and then see the newish waxen figure of Jane, and they can pose with it, as I did.

By the way, the ink stained my fingers! Believe it or not, JA and I share the same height.

I gotta admit: the wax figure is a little weird. I didn’t know what to think about that low-cut dress (when you stand by it you can see some cleavage). I also never really liked wax museums anyway. I didn’t feel like I was standing next to Austen, but it was neat nonetheless to pose with the figure.

After finishing the exhibit, which is small and takes about 30 minutes-1 hour to get through (an hour would be for slow readers and people trying on a bunch of costumes and taking a bunch of pics), visitors can pop up to the top floor for some tea and treats. Adam and I decided to do that, as we were tired and in need of some tea.

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Of course, I had the Jane Austen blend. It was delish.

A trip to Bath would not be complete without a visit to the Royal Crescent, the Assembly Room, and the Pump Room, so we also visited those places.

What spectacular views! I failed to take a picture of the Pump Room. Sorry! We also walked around Bath a bit, and I had Adam take a picture of this street. Something about it just caught my eye:

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I also had to take a picture of this sign, which hung over a shoe store:

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All in all, it was a nice afternoon in Bath.