Several Alert Janeites sent us a link to an article in the Telegraph in which a rather gentlemanly duel of words is going on between two Austen tourism venues–Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton and the Jane Austen Festival in Bath.
Jane Austen Festival director David Lassman opens with a genteel bit of trash talk.
“I think of Bath as Jane Austen’s true home and people who come here year after year from all over the world certainly recognise it as such,” said David Lassman, festival director until 2007 and a leading authority on the novelist.
We suspect a true “leading authority on the novelist” would never make such a claim, but never mind. Tom Carpenter of Jane Austen’s House delivers a smart slap across the cheek with a white glove:
“The festival is huge fun and there is nothing wrong with having it there. Good luck to Bath. They are a commercial business and Jane Austen appears to be more marketable than the Romans.”
To which we can only say: OH SNAP.
We’ve been to both places and enjoyed each one thoroughly. Of course Jane Austen didn’t really like living in Bath (and the tourism workers are happy to remind one of it, whether smugly or apologetically) but it’s still an amazing place for Jane Austen fans to experience. You can’t help but walk up busy Milsom Street, look up and see “Edgar Buildings” carved overhead, without smiling and remembering Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe chasing to very good-looking young men; one can’t follow Anne Elliot’s footsteps in the “toilsome walk” up to Camden Place without imagining how Sir Walter and Miss Elliot would have felt at having all of Bath spread at their feet; one cannot enter the Octagon Room at the Assembly Rooms without thinking of Anne and Captain Wentworth’s encounter there, or walk the Gravel Walk (even with a snarky tour guide opining, “It should be more properly called the Tarmac Walk”) without realizing, hey, this really isn’t the way to Camden Place–and getting a whole new perspective on that scene in Persuasion. It’s a playground for Janeites. We love the city and would, quite frankly, happily live there.
But Chawton is something else. Every room of the house, the garden, the outer buildings, one remembers: You’re at Jane Austen’s House. Things mentioned in her letters are right there. The coverlet Jane pieced with her sister and mother; the china that Jane helped Edward Austen and his daughter Fanny choose at Wedgwood; the “topaze” crosses that Charles Austen purchased for his sisters; the table where she worked; the room in which she slept; the floors where she walked; they’re all there. This is the place that Jane Austen loved, and the place that she lived, and one feels her presence there more than anywhere in Bath–even at 4 Sydney Place.
As much as we love Bath, we would have to say: if you have to pick one Jane Austen place to see, pick Chawton. (And try to sneak in a trip to see the church in Steventon, too.) As the signs say, Hampshire is Jane Austen country.
Thanks to Alert Janeites Cheree, Lisa, and Baja Janeite for the link!