Bath’s Persuasion

Solution to Arti’s Cryptic Challenge #2:  Bath

From London’s Paddington Station we took the 90 minute train ride to Bath Spa, saving us half the time than with the bus.  The City of Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Its magnificent Roman Baths and stylish Georgian streets and architecture make this a wonderful gem for tourists.  The first time I visited there was in December, 2007. For a more general overview of the beauty of Bath you can find my two previous posts here and here.

In this revisit, I was a more intentional traveller.  I let Austen’s Persuasion be my guide.  With a detailed street map of Bath in my hand, I went exploring the places mentioned in the novel, coincidentally, many of them I missed in my last visit.

“I was not so much changed…” was Anne Elliot’s words to Captain Wentworth upon seeing him eight years after turning him down.  The termination of their relationship was not her own intention, but duty had driven her to yield to Lady Russell’s persuasion.  It would have been a “throw-away” for Anne at 19 to engage with “a young man who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, … uncertain profession, and no connections.” (p. 20)

But the star-crossed lovers are granted the bliss of a second chance, and rightly grab it this time.  Austen’s setting of Bath in the book is no coincidence.  The Georgian City was the centre of fashion and the epitome of genteel society, a hotbed of social phenom for the critic and satirist in Austen.  Jane had lived in Bath herself for four years, 1801 – 1805, with her sister Cassandra and their parents.  Ironically, she was unpersuaded by its attractions according to her biographer Claire Tomalin.

Austen aptly uses Bath’s addresses for the purpose of her characterization.  Geographical location is everything in a class-conscious society, as Keiko Parker’s excellent article Jane Austen’s Use of Bath in Persuasion points out.

First off,  there’s the Pump Room, where in Jane Austen’s days people socialized and met one another, gathered to drink the therapeutic water, catch the latest fashion, simply to see and be seen.  The magnificent structure and decor makes The Pump Room a fine restaurant now:

Despite its grand decor, the areas around the baths are residences for the common folks in Austen’s time.  Mrs. Smith, the poor, infirmed widow with whom Anne maintains a loyal friendship, lives in the Westgate Buildings close to the Baths.  Anne becomes a laughing stock for the snobbish Sir Walter when he hears of her least favourite daughter is determined to visit Mrs. Smith instead of accepting an invitation to Lady Dalrymple’s, someone belonging to the upper echelon of society:

“Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations, are inviting to you.” (p. 113)

Today, the open area outside the Pump Room by the Roman Baths is perhaps the most popular tourist gathering place. Tour buses stop at the Bath Abbey for pick up and drop off, buskers perform in the open space outside the Roman Baths and Pump Room:

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Nearby is Sally Lunn’s Bun, originated in 1680 by a young French refugee, in the oldest house of Bath, ca. 1482.  Now a restaurant on top with the cellar a museum that houses the original kitchen and cookwares, Sally Lunn’s serves this traditional creation: a large, soft, round bun that can go with just about anything.  But probably best like this, simply with garlic butter:

 

The beautiful street corner outside Sally Lunn’s:

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Further up the town, there’s Milsom Street, a vibrant commercial area of shops and businesses.  The first time Anne saw Captain Wentworth again in Bath was on Milsom Street.  Here’s a present day view of the same site:

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As for Sir Walter himself, despite having to rent out his country mansion Kellynch Hall to avoid financial ruins, he has no intention that his retreat to Bath should compromise his status and comfort.  It’s only natural that others are curious: “What part of Bath do you think they’ll settle in?”  The answer is quite obvious:  the part that is befitting their social standing.  According to Keiko Parker’s insightful article, physical elevation in Bath directly corresponds to social standing.  The highest point at that time would have to be Camden Place, which is today’s Camden Crescent.  While I was looking for it,  the ‘Ye Old Farmhouse Pub’ was mentioned to me as the marker.  I was glad to find it while walking up Landsdown Road, for it was indeed quite an uphill walk.

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“Sir Walter had taken a very good house in Camden Place, a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence; and both he and Elizabeth were settled there, much to their satisfaction.

Anne entered it with a sinking heart, anticipating an imprisonment of many months…” (p. 98)

Just typical Austen, the overt contrast of characters using something indirect, here, the sense of place.

The houses on Camden Crescent has unobstructive view of lower Bath.  They are not grand mansions, but then again, location is everything.  The following are some of the houses found on this road across from the escarpment:

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And where do Sir Walter’s tenants Admiral and Mrs. Croft lodge during their short stay in Bath?  On Gay Street, not too high, not too low: “… perfectly to Sir Walter’s satisfaction.  He was not at all ashamed of the acquaintance, and did, in fact, think and talk a great deal more about the Admiral than the Admiral ever thought or talked about him.” (p. 121)

Elizabeth is not even half as kind as her vain and snobbish father.  Regarding the Crofts’ arrival in Bath, she suggests to Sir Walter that “We had better leave the Crofts to find their own level.” (p. 120)

In contrast, Anne has a good impression of the Admiral and his dear wife, the kind and down-to-earth couple, Mrs. Croft being the sister of Captain Wentworth having minimal bearing on Anne’s fondness of them. During their sojourn in Bath to mend a gouty Admiral Croft, Anne enjoys watching them strolling together, “it was a most attractive picture of happiness to her.” (p. 121)

So I’m just not a bit surprised to see their temporary lodging in Bath being on Gay Street.  Who else had lived there?  Jane Austen herself: #25 to be exact:

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As for a suitable place for socializing, Sir Walter and his favourite daughter Elizabeth choose the Upper Assembly Rooms, a much newer development closer to their upper, more fashionable side of town, although he would prefer entertaining in private which is even more prestigious.

The Assembly Rooms are a magnificent architectural legacy in their own rights.  Designed by John Wood the Younger, who raised the £20,000 needed for the venture, the ground-breaking project began in 1769 and opened for public use in 1771.  It was the biggest investment in a single building in 18th Century Bath. Four public rooms made up the suite:  The Octagon, Ball Room, Card Room, and Tea Room.

“Sir Walter, his two daughters, and Mrs, Clay, were the earliest of all their party at the rooms in the evening; and as Lady Dalrymple must be waited for, they took their station by one of the fires in the Octagon Room (p. 131).

Here’s the exquisite Octagon Room:

Regarding the chandelier, there’s this interesting account in The Authorised Guide (p.7):

“On 15 August 1771 Jonathan Collett quoted £400 for supplying five cut-glass chandeliers for the Ball Room.  They were up in time for the opening of the Rooms in September, but the following month disaster struck when ‘one of the arms of the chandilers in the Ballroom fell down during the time the company was dancing, narrowly missing  Gainsborough.  What could be salvaged from the set was made up into a single chandelier, which now hangs in the Octagon.”

I was just simply amazed at how long these chandeliers had lasted, well over 300 years, and in excellent shape.  Their brilliance had not faded, evolving first from candlelight, then to gas, and now electric:

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Anne and her party attend a music program in the Concert Hall.  That’s a function in the Tea Room.  Despite the name which seems to convey a small and cozy setting, the Tea Room is a gorgeous room of 60 ft. by 43 ft. dimension.  On one end is a magnificent colonnade of the Ionic order.  Subscription concerts are regular events held in the Tea Room. Mozart and Haydn had written compositions to be performed there, with Haydn himself having graced the magnificent venue.

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But what does Anne Elliot think about all the grandeur?  After earlier in the Octagon Room talking with Captain Wentworth, who has openly expressed his long-held passion for her, Anne, overwhelmed by a great flood of euphoria, now walks into the Concert Room (Tea Room):

“Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room.  Her happiness was from within.  Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed; but she knew nothing about it.  She was thinking only of the last half hour…” (p. 134)

As a visitor to the historic venue, I was captivated by the well-maintained interior and its elegance, and presently amused and surprised to find this display in between two columns: The Chair, which is mentioned several times in Persuasion. The Bath Chair was invented right here in the Georgian City to transport the rich and the sick.  It could be steered by the passenger:

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Jane might have noticed the frivolity and seen through the façade of high society of her time, and sharply depicted her observations in her brilliant novels, but as a modern day tourist and Janeite, I’m just amazed at how well history has been preserved, and that all these locations and life had been experienced by Jane herself. She might have the burden of society on her, which ironically had inspired and unleashed her talents, but for me, a present day tourist and reader of her works, I am totally persuaded that Bath is a place I will definitely revisit some more in the future.

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All photos taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, August 2010.  All Rights Reserved.

References:

1. Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin, Penguin Books, 2000.

2.  Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Modern Library Classics, Introduction by Amy Bloom, Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2001.

3. The Authorised Guide: The Assembly Rooms, Bath. Published by the Heritage Services division of Bath and North East Somerset Council in association with the National Trust.  Written by Oliver Garnett and Patricia Dunlop.

4. “What Part of Bath Do You Think They Will Settle In?”: Jane Austen’s Use of Bath in Persuasion by Keiko Parker.  Retrieved Online http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number23/parker.pdf

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Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

15 thoughts on “Bath’s Persuasion”

  1. ohh and ahh…
    Your photos are all so marvelous! You make me yearn for a return trip with my digital camera in tow!

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    oh yes, Ellen, you should go back for a revisit… December is a good time since they have the Christmas street market and bazaar… and do bring your digital camera! 🙂

    Arti

    Like

  2. I’m speechless, what a thorough write up & great images!
    After reading your post, I really want to revisit again. I was in Bath 20 some years ago for a day trip, it’s obvious that I must go back for more.

    Thank you Arti.

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    Thanks and you’ll be breathless there! 🙂

    A.

    Like

  3. Arti! This is wonderful and you deserve an award for this and the prior blog entry. I’m enjoying it immensely and love following along with Austen’s book. Oh, well done and so glad you’re taking us along on this trip so far! Looking forward to more!

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    oh,

    Thanks for your encouraging comment! It’s my pleasure to share the sights… it’s a bonus that others enjoy them too.

    Arti

    Like

  4. Thanks, Arti! I hope I’ll have a chance to visit Bath someday. 🙂

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    Lady Di,

    You’ll really love it… maybe in your sabbatical year?

    A.

    Like

  5. What wonderful pictures! It looks like a GREAT place to visit, especially for Austen fans. I must go there one day

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    Dorothy,

    I’m sure you’ll enjoy Bath while bringing along Northanger Abby and Persuasion. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen.

    Arti

    Like

  6. Arti, great post. We must have been in Bath within a week or two of each other this Summer. I recognise that waitress with the pony tale in The Pump Room.
    Thanks for your comments on my blog.
    All the best,
    Tony

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    Tony,

    Oh yes, I was in Bath Aug. 24 and 25. The Pump Room photo was taken during lunch time, Aug. 24. Could we have been in there just around the same time? This is so interesting!

    Your blog London Calling is a wonderful find for me… I’ll definitely go back for more visits! Thanks for stopping by and letting me know of the coincidence.

    Arti

    Like

  7. Oh Arti. I have been saving your post until I had time to really dwell with the photos and your descriptions and references. It’s wonderful to see these spaces from another perspective (other than the ones in the Austen film adaptations).

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    nikkipolani,

    Two of JA’s books have Bath as the setting: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Since you mention film adaptations, the 2007 BBC production of Persuasion actually has some good shots of Bath. Almost all the locations mentioned in the book you can see on screen. I re-watched it after I came back. For the setting, this made for TV movie is quite authentic … although I admit I’d much prefer the Anne Elliot of the book more than her portrayal on screen.

    Arti

    Like

  8. Arti, there’s only one thing to do – head back to Bath together 😉

    You have a wonderful way of travel writing that makes me want to be wherever you just have been, and be there immediately. I’ve been poking around a few other sites about Bath as a result of your post, and it surely is an elegant and charming place – and it looks like an easy one to visit.

    I do enjoy traveling as you did this time – with a bit of a context. My best trip to London was the year I researched Christopher Wren’s parish churches before going, and made an attempt to visit every one in the city, with St. Paul’s as the culmination.

    Ironically, I found the parish churches much more to my taste – a couple of them were absolutely exquisite, with a lightness and brightness that far outshone the glories of the cathedral.

    Thanks so much for putting in the work this required. It’s a wonderful post!

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    Linda,

    One thing I learned about myself through travelling, I didn’t quite get it the first time. In this second visit of Bath, I’ve found so much more than the first time… particularly the places mentioned in Austen’s works. Maybe it’s also a case of preparedness, or the lack of it the first time. But it’s all related you see: slow blogging, slow travelling, slow writing. I’d love to hear about your Wren research and findings… hope you’ll make it a task at hand. 🙂

    Arti

    Like

  9. And a ps:

    I grew up eating “Sally Lunn”. I didn’t have a clue about the context, or Bath, or Jane…

    But here’s a link to a link-rich site that also has two recipes (one quick, one yeast) for Sally Lunn. I do believe I might make some for myself and have a cup of tea and a bit more reading about Bath to go with it!

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    Thanks for the link. I didn’t know the SLB fame has travelled to NA.

    Like

  10. Lovely post Arti … it’s a long time since I was in Bath and I have such a yen to go back one day which I’m sure I will. To what degree do you think Bath dwells on its Jane Austen association? Is she everywhere?

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    whisperinggums,

    Jane was in Bath for four years, so she must have been to all the places that I mentioned here. According to her biographer Claire Tomalin, and from the letters she sent out the first years of her residence there, she was very critical of the high society of her days, and experienced some sort of ‘writer’s block’ while there. Regardless, Bath is a piece of elegant history well preserved. The Jane Austen Centre is there, promoting everything Jane. Bath’s rival is Chawton House, where Jane spent the rest of her life after Bath and where she wrote freely. You might be interested to read this article about the ‘rivalry’: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2990659/Fight-to-claim-Jane-Austens-true-home.html

    And thanks for the link to your Jane Austen Society of Australia, Canberra 🙂

    Arti

    Like

  11. Hang on, hang on! I have had your post open all morning, so that I remember to read it and comment at lunch. And you’ve posted a new one, on the Latin Quarter! Yippee!

    But I will force myself to wait and read this one first, which has been in my to-do brain since I first saw it load on Google Reader. So sorry I am far behind.

    I’ll be back.

    .
    Ruth,

    Take your time… I’ll be here.

    A.

    Like

  12. Oh heaven! This is just how I wanted to see it, through Anne Elliot and Jane Austen. The rooms and buildings are just as I pictured them. The preservation truly is incredible and appreciated. Your pictures are perfect and divine.

    We used to serve Sally Lunn bread at a fancy Jamestowne restaurant I worked at in college.

    This was just wonderful, and now I’ll have to wait until after work to read about the Latin Quarter. I will savor my anticipation until then.

    .
    Ruth,

    After visiting Bath twice, I’d like to see Jane’s ‘other’ home Chawton House which has been turned into a museum. That’s where she spent her last years and where she wrote or completed most of her novels. And, as my reply to Linda about the SLB… I just didn’t know they serve that in NA. But maybe just in the States because I haven’t heard of it here in Canada.

    Hope this didn’t take up too much of your lunch hour. Thanks for your time. 🙂

    Arti

    Like

  13. I just saw this post! Fantastic! I plan to go to Bath later when my husband visits end of the year. I’ll have fun reading your take on it (and London and Paris in your series of posts).

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    mee,

    Bath is wonderful. If you go in December, the Christmas art and craft fair and street markets are magical. Yes, you’re welcome to browse through my travel posts on England and France. I’d probably join the “Paris in July” blogging event later. What a marvellous experience it must be for you to work and live in England. I’d love to see your update on your blog.

    Arti

    Like

  14. Just read Jane Austin’s Persuasion – again, then watched the film – also again. I was curious about the Camden Place house. After some searching I found your post. I was amazed to realize that when we were in Bath 20 years ago I was so close. I must go back and see it again through Jane’s eyes. Thank you so much for the wonderful photos. I can’t wait to return with camera in hand.

    Like

    1. Martha,

      Welcome! Glad you’ve found me. 😉 Bath is a place that deserves frequent visits. Now that I’ve come back to this post and read it again, images and my experience there conjured up in my mind again. This was my second visit to Bath, and so, a more thorough and ‘literary’ exploration. But there are more places to see … maybe some days in the future. Hope you’ll have a chance to have a revisit of Bath. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it more the second time around, esp. with camera and Jane’s Persuasion with you.

      I’ve written many Jane Austen posts. You’re welcome to explore more by clicking on the category on the sidebar under Jane Austen. Hope to hear from you again!

      Like

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