Proud but not Prejudiced
Jane Austen Centre (Bath)
Member Name: Essexgirl2006
Jane Austen Centre (Bath)
Advantages: Informative centre on Jane Austen's life in Bath
Disadvantages: Bath-centric - you will learn little about her life before and after Bath.
Your experience starts with a short 15 minute talk which happens twice an hour - fifteen minutes past and fifteen minutes to. This is probably worth timing your visit for. If you are early, there is a pleasant waiting room upstairs with pictures and letters on the wall from various famous people in regard to the Centre. There is one from the actress Emma Thompson enclosing a copy of her Golden Globe acceptance speech for the screenplay of Sense and Sensibility, the speech was written as if by Jane Austen and is very well done and worth a read. There is also a short film being shown in another room.
When you arrive you are given a leaflet with a little bit of information about the centre, as well as Jane's immediate family tree and a chronology. I found this very interesting to put into context which books she wrote when and which were published when (her name didn't appear in print until after she died - her books just said they were written by 'A Lady') and how this fitted around other events in her life. There were about 10-12 people for the talk, and the staff member who gave it spoke clearly and engagingly about Jane and her family, telling us what they did and mentioning the rumours of marriage proposals and broken hearts. She explained that it is believed Jane died of Addison's Disease (adrenal failure) at the age of 41. At the time the disease hadn't been 'discovered' so she was undiagnosed, so the diagnosis was done through the description of symptoms in family letters some time later. The speaker also discussed the interpretation of Jane's work and how it has been adapted for a modern environment in books such as Pride, Prejudice and Zombies and the many film adaptations that have taken stories from Jane's books in various forms. This wasn't done in a highbrow way and I found the whole talk very informative and enjoyable.
After this you go back downstairs and walk through the exhibition, it is not a huge display - there are costumes, a tableaux featuring her brother Frank (an Admiral, who served under Nelson), and generic information of Bath society at that time. There is a short 15 minute film presented by the actress Amanda Root (who starred in the 1995 film version of Persuasion) about Jane Austen's Bath. There is information and a timeline on the properties she stayed at in the city. The emphasis is on Jane's time in Bath and less so on her prior and subsequent life, so it is by no means comprehensive. However I found it interesting enough, and I was in the exhibition a further 30 minutes or so (I didn't watch the film). Overall for your visit I would suggest allowing an hour.
You exit the exhibition back into the gift shop where you can buy Austen's books (in a variety of price ranges - from budget to leather bound hardbacks), biographies and other books associated with Bath and the Regency and Georgian periods. There are other associated gifts also, and I found the staff really helpful in answering any questions I had. On the second floor is the Regency Tea Rooms. I didn't visit them but they appeared to be well thought of. Although the presentation was on the first floor, the exhibition is on the ground floor and should be suitable for wheelchairs even though it is quite narrow. I am sure staff members will be happy to oblige with the talk, if any visitors were unable to go upstairs. Overall I do recommend this a place to visit, especially if you are an Austen fan. I appreciate that her books may not appeal to everybody.
As I mentioned above, I did a Jane Ausen Walk as well, which is organised by the centre. The walk is only on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday (except Christmas) at 11am and meets outside the KC Exchange Visitor Centre in the Abbey churchyard. The cost for adults is £6.00 and the walk lasted about two hours. There is an extra 4pm tour on Friday and Saturdays in July and August. Your admission ticket allows you 20% discount off of admission to the Jane Austen Centre (where the walk finishes) and 10% off at the Regency Tea Room above it.
There were only six of us on our walk one windy March Sunday, and first of all our guide showed us the Pump Rooms across the Abbey courtyard. The tour was not just about Austen but our guide also told us about the history of the city, its origins (rumoured to have been 'discovered' by a Pig Farmer), architecture, key residents and anecdotes about how certain streets got their names. For example, we learnt about the significance of the Pump Rooms during the Georgians period and the influential Richard 'Beau' Nash who dictated society rituals during this time which carried forth after his death. As the city is World Heritage City, much of it is as it was in Austen's day, thus houses she lived and stayed in are still standing and you can also see many places featured in her Bath centred novels - Northanger Abbey and Persuasion - such as the character's addresses and places she refers to.
Amongst these our guide also told us about places Jane would have visited and shopped in her time here (she visited Bath twice in the late eighteenth century and lived there for about five years in the early nineteenth century), her thoughts and opinions garnered from her letters. Our guide also shared little anecdotes about Jane and her family, such as the scandal of her Aunt being (falsely) accused of shoplifting.
Over our two hour tour we only covered a small area, as we stopped quite a bit, but it was enough for me to lose my bearings (mind you, that doesn't take much!). Our guide also managed to persuade the lady on the front desk to let us have a quick peak at the Assembly Rooms for free (where various society dances and gatherings took place in Regency Bath) and was no doubt visited by Jane and her family as well as her characters - it is visited and described by the character Anne Elliot in Persuasion. She was also able to fill us in on where some TV series and films were made, not just Austen's but other period films such as The Duchess and Vanity Fair.
Although the walk happens rain or shine, I think the weather makes a difference to your enjoyment. It was fairly windy on the day we went and our guide was sensitive to this, ensuring that we stood out of the wind wherever possible. However, true fans maybe prepared to brave the elements.
Summary: A good centre for everything Austen in Bath.