I do like a Literary jaunt and often I try to infuse our travel plans with a bit of literary trail.
A decade and a half back when I moved to UK, I found out about the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Being a Jane Austen Fan, I was immediately curious to see and experience the festival. When I visited the festival back in 2008 I had hand written on a little note pad my first impressions, with an intention to include it in a letter to a friend back in India, who is also a Jane Austen fan.
Interestingly when I read it now, I can see my child like enthusiasm of knowing more about my favourite writer. I find it strange to read my own words a decade and a half later and find my naivety and my wide-eyed observations very amusing.
“She lived in Bath for five years, after her father retired. She knew Bath from childhood since her grandparents were from Bath and though she was not wealthy, but she had wealthy relative. In fact, she disliked Bath and had written to her sister mentioning it being very unpleasant to stay in Bath. And even in her books the characters from Bath are described as silly overly pompous or slimy.
It was very interesting to know about Jane Austen as a person. She did not marry because she did not believe in marriage without affection. She in fact has supposed to have got a proposal at the age of 27 from a rich man, when it is considered very late in those times. She is supposed to have accepted and within twelve hours withdrawn it. She was told by many that it was wise to do so, and it will secure her a comfortable life. She was driven to poverty and had to live in slums, when she became unwell her brother helped her out and moved out to coun. In those days even in England, not being married was looked down upon. I can relate to this woman, she may not have been very brave and powerful, yet she had some conviction.
I bought a book at Jane Austen Centre, which is compilation of her letters to her sister Cassandra and her niece. It is said, in those days the girls were taught good letter writing skills, it was the way ladies made their mark on social world, exchanged views about fashion and gossiped. A good writing skill was must for all girls. Jane Austen’s letters are mere exchange of thoughts, views, and communication with her sister. Her sister was her confidante, her support and good friend. I read the first letter, she wrote it when she was 20, and she mentions flirting with a guy named Tom Lefroy(the person with whom she falls in love as per the movie Becoming Jane), and how she has spent her money on pink petticoats and laces for the ball, which man is eyeing which woman, etc. Her letter is very much like a letter I would write to you!!“
I still find it a bit quizzical as to why the Jane Austen festival is held in a place which the author disliked very much, yet it sits in my memory very closely associated with Jane Austen and I have very fond memories of my visit.
I have always enjoyed reading her books. I loved her story telling, the description of the English countryside in her books, the regency era picnics, and her writing style,which in beginning I struggled with. As a young girl in India reading her books, I had to get used to her language, her style of writing and narration. English language has evolved since her writing the books, words do not have the same meaning as they did in when she wrote the book. Her way of describing things ,choice of words, the old way of describing age, what does ‘coming out of a girl’ refer to, words like insipid and unattached fascinated and puzzled me at the same time. It gave me the love for English countrysides, an understanding of the era and it also improved my vocabulary immensely.
I admire her courage and strength, for staying true to her heart, in spite of the difficulties in her way. I find it an extraordinary feat that a woman who never travelled out of England has managed to capture the hearts of many around the world with her words. They have an audience even two centuries later. Her books have been translated in many languages and have been adapted to movies and series across the world. I find her tales are timeless and are relevant across cultures.
I personally prefer reading books to screen adaptions. I am always a bit sceptical whether they capture the essence of the book, and sometimes I find reading a book more engaging and it is more soul satisfying. But I do watch the screen adaptations too, and not averse to them.
I have a few favourites from Jane Austen s book adaptions on screen. I love the BBC Mini Series 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice and a movie in Tamil called Kandukondain Kandukondain, which is the adaption of Sense and Sensibilities. And how can I forget the modern rendition of Emma ; Clueless. And I also loved the reference to the book Pride and Prejudice, in the movie You’ve got mail
“Confession: I have read Pride and Prejudice two hundred times. I get lost in the language; words like: Thither. Mischance. Felicity”.
Kathleen and Joe s exchange on Pride and Prejudice throughout the movie is very interesting. I have read Pride and Prejudice many times; unlike Kathleen I have not kept count of it, and I personally prefer Sense and Sensibilities over Pride and Prejudice.
I have been recently wondering whether her books are popular with Millennials and Gen Z. Will her stories and tales live on? Can her characters and stories be relatable to 21st century?
As her avid fan I hope and wish her stories to be alive and read for many more years. I also happen to know Mark Twain, disliked Jane Austen’s work and he has vehemently criticised her work. Years ago, when I read about his views, I was a bit disappointed. I do like both the authors, and admire their command over storytelling, their wit and humour. I am also not too sure, if I were to give the book to my husband and say “ Read it , you will love it “, as Kathleen says to Joe in You’ve got mail. I doubt he would be as enthusiastic as I am about Austen s work.
Charlotte Bronte did not like Jane Austen’s writing as it did not have enough poetry or passion in it for her. I loved reading Bronte s Jane Eyre. And I am certain Bronte and Austen would agree that they both had very different styles of writing.
So it is a ‘universal truth ‘that not everyone likes her books and writing style. I understand we all have our own preferences in reading, and not all books have the same fan following and not all books are written for everyone.
In her stories, I found the extreme pressure on woman of finding a man narrated well and with a bit of humour . She depicts very well the plight of women in that era , and how marriage was her ticket to a comfortable life, the whole charade involved in finding a suitor with prospects was interesting and insightful for me. I originate from India, where arranged marriages are very common and I could see the parallels of it in her books. And I believe in the present days as well there is an immense pressure on woman to find someone by certain age, which can create anxieties and stress. She has taken all the immense pressure turned it to a story and narrates it with a bit of fun and humour.
Besides that, I found her stories transported me to regency world, the social gatherings and picnics and parties. She seems to have been a keen observer, with great social skills and has narrated the stories rather very well. Perhaps the writing gave her the solace she needed and it was her form of coping mechanism with the immense stress on her of finding a man. She gave her heroines what she did not find, a love match.
In her letters, I could see a brilliant vivacious girl, with a great penmanship, who had to play by the rules the society had laid down for her and every women. She expressed and rebelled in the way she thought best. I have often pondered what if Jane Austen lived in the current days. I think she would be an influencer, would have many followers on her social media posts, she would be creating funny videos on Tik Tok and writing funny, sharp and edgy blogs.
If you are an Austen admirer and fan of Regency period, I believe the Jane Austen Festival in Bath is worth a visit. It is an immersive and fun experience.
I did enjoy the festival a lot ,it is also the best way to see the city Bath. Unlike Austen, I love the city of Bath; with its Roman Baths, the Royal Crescent, Bath Abbey, cobbled streets, pretty cafes to site by and do a bit of people watching.
I had been wanting to visit the festival again for a while.
Last year we were passing by Bath, during the Jane Austen festival. We decided to stop over and experience the festival again. The festival is usually held during September, and there are various Jane Austen themed events that are organised. There is festival Fayre, whereby there are stalls full of Regency articles, hats, and silhouette artists. There is a country dance Ball, Regency themed Tea parties.
We attended the hilarious 20-minute version of Pride and Prejudice, which also has a funny recreation of Mr Darcy with ‘wet shirt scene. I enjoyed the show and had a hearty laugh.
The Pump Room, which is mentioned in the book Persuasion, has been the social heart of the city for a long time. It now has a Regency style Ball during the festival time.
The grand event which was my favourite from both the visits is the famous costumed Regency Promenade. The promenade is a procession of people dressed in regency costumes, walking in Jane Austen’s footsteps taking in many of Bath’s famous landmarks. The parade takes an hour to finish and ends at Parade Gardens. The costumes are so colourful, and it has joyous vibe to it.
There are many places in England associated with Jane Austen some of which I have visited, perhaps I will write about them another day. But the one which remain close to my heart is the Bath Jane Austen Festival and the costume promenade.