November 28, 2005

The Austen Festival

A couple weeks ago, Beth asked if I had ever been to the Austen Festival in Bath. In one of my previous posts, I said that I thought it "seems rife with Mr. Collinses and Mrs. Jennings." I've actually never been. And perhaps my analysis is unfair. I just can't help but think that Austen would find the whole thing very funny.

I know I'm not one to talk -- I mean, I spent a whole month in England retracing Austen's life. But, somehow, dressing up like one of her characters and parading through the streets seems like crossing a line. (And with that, perhaps I have offended half of my very small readership.)

The other thing that cracks me up is that Austen really didn't like living in Bath, so I'm sure it's the last place she would choose for a festival in her honor. I loved Bath, and would love to go back, but it was a difficult time for Austen when the family lived there and it seems like she wrote little if anything during the Bath years.

Have you been to the Austen Festival in Bath? What was it like? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please correct me if my assumptions are all wrong.


Anonymous Beth Rang said...

Actually, I asked if you'd attended, because from the dates you mentioned earlier, I thought your trip was before the festival, and I was surprised that one would make such a negative comment without actually having been there. There was still the possibility that you might have attended an earlier festival, so I thought I'd check. I felt I ought to speak up, because it seemed a pity that people might read your work and take it for granted that you spoke from experience.

I spent a few weeks in England in September, and while visiting Bath, I attended a few of the Festival's events -- in particular: the costume promenade, a visit to 4 Sydney Place, and the coach trip to Chawton as well as the Chawton House Library in Hampshire. The people I met were very nice, and I didn't meet a single Mr. Collins or Mrs. Jennings while I was there (although I did meet a Mr. Wickham in Brighton). The only costumed event I attended was the promenade which was simply a walk through Regency Bath in the costumes of that period. It did take on a bit of a parade atmosphere because of so many people lining the walk taking photographs, but in some sections of the walk it seemed less a parade which was nice.

Was it geeky? Probably. However, I thought it was inspiring to walk through the arcades and along cobblestone paths peeking out of a bonnet. It's a different view of Bath than we get in modern clothes. It was fun meeting people who also enjoyed Jane Austen or the history of that time. If that's crossing some line, so be it. Would Jane Austen find it funny? Probably, but what's wrong with a laugh? The Austen family certainly enjoyed their homegrown theatricals and writing.

Yes, I agree it is ironic that Bath identifies itself so much with Jane Austen when she was so unhappy there. However, I think it works as a place for the festival, because the places she was happiest are out in the country and simply wouldn't be practical for that sort of event. Further, two of her novels were partly set in Bath. Finally, the people in Bath admit she didn't like it, so it isn't as if they're perpetuating some sort of hoax. I'm glad they're so up front about it. I think she might enjoy the irony.

I'm looking forward to reading more about your trip. Mine passed too quickly, and I didn't get to some of the places I would have liked - Lyme Regis in particular.

11/30/2005 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger Lori said...

Thanks, Beth -- I really appreciate your comments and your perspective on this, and I'm glad you said something. Perhaps as Austen would have been, I'm a bit disappointed that you didn't meet anyone verging on the ridiculous. ;-) I would love to hear more about your trip, and more about that Mr. Wickham in Bath.



12/02/2005 12:14:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home