Call Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. A literary mystery is a foot in Lyme Regis. Jane Austen’s head is missing!
Adrianne Maslen reports in the Bridport News that a stone bust representing the famous author which was the centerpiece of the Jane Austen Garden on Lyme’s seafront has vanished. The garden which is opposite Jane’s Café on the Marine parade is currently being redesigned by the coast development works. The bust was removed in 2006 for safe keeping but now can not be located.
Merry Bolton, chairman of the environment group, said: “We can’t find Jane Austen’s head anywhere. We can’t find it in the store where all the things from the Jane Austen Garden were kept when all the works were going on.”
Jane Austen and her family visited Lyme Regis on holiday in 1803 and 1804. Later she would include a famous tragic scene in her novel Persuasion when her characters walk the Cobb (a man made breakwater for the port) and Louisa Musgrove carelessly jumps from the wall and hits her head. Many readers associate Jane Austen with Lyme Regis and it is a favorite pilgrimage spot for her fans. The garden was dedicated to the authoress and is its only monument to her in the city.
Local resident Diana Shervington who is a long-standing member of the Jane Austen Society and a distant relative of Jane Austen through her brother Edward has been working closely with the Lyme Regis Environmental Group to redesign the garden. She is appealing to anyone in the town who might know the whereabouts of the famous local bust to get in touch.
“The bust used to stand up there grandly at the back very visibly. When the garden was dedicated the bust was very much in evidence, therefore we want it back – I hope the mystery can be cleared up.”
It is distressing to think that Miss Austen’s head has been ‘pinched’ or mislaid. One would think that the parties involved would not be mentioning its disappearance publically unless all other avenues had been exhausted to locate it. From what we know of Jane Austen’s temperment through her personal correspondence she was not known to loose her head over anything. However, it appears that Lyme Regis has lost theirs if no one was cataloguing the artifacts when the garden was disassembled. I wish them the best of luck in relocating it. Since Jane Austen shied away from publicity in her lifetime she would find the busts disappearance quite ironic. Amusingly, this borders on burlesque comedy and worthy of a plot in an Austen inspired mystery novel!
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Virginia Claire Tharrington with friends at Lyme Regis (2008)
The ultimate Austen adventure continues with our featured weekly columnist, Virginia Claire Tharrington straight from the trenches of Austen central, The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England where she is interning until December. Join her every Saturday as she shares with us her incredible adventure that every Janeite, and even Austen’s heroine Catherine Morland would envy.
Off to Lyme Regis…
This past weekend one of my house mates and I went to Lyme Regis. Jane Austen visited the town with her parents in 1804 and part of her beloved novel Persuasion is based in it. Lyme was such a wonderful picturesque fishing village we really enjoyed a nice weekend there. Getting to Lyme was not easy though because my friends and I took the wrong train and such which made us very late to check in, but our bed and breakfast was lovely.
Virginia & friends on the Granny Teeth steps on the Cobb, Lyme Regis
We got up on Saturday morning to good weather so we headed out to see the Cobb. This was the highlight of the trip for me because I got to walk along the top like they did in Persuasion. We loved going to the Cobb and walking though we almost got blown off the top. I can see why the women in Persuasion could not walk all the way out because it was to windy so they had to go down the stairs and that’s when Louisa’s spill took place. We also went to the aquarium that was run by this lovely old fisherman. I am pretty sure that he had just put fish that he caught in tanks and called it an aquarium, but he did have some nice pictures and stories of the filming of Persuasion. We took so many pictures on the 3 sets of stairs on the Cobb because in each version of the movie Persuasion they use a different set of stairs. I thought it was interesting that there is no real answer to what stairs Jane Austen was talking about. But I personally think the Granny Teeth steps were the ones that Jane might have been thinking of when writing.
View of Lyme Regis harbour from the park
We then went to the Jane Austen Gardens which were lovely. I had a copy of Persuasion with me so I of course had to read the Lyme section while I was in Lyme and in the park. We loved wondering through the gardens which had a wonderful view of the Cobb and the sea. We had a wonderful rest of the day walking around shopping in Lyme. The weather got a little rainy around tea time so my friends and I went back to our bed and breakfast and watched the 1980′s Pride and Prejudice which is my favorite because we were talking about Pride and Prejudice adaptations in Jane Austen class last week. They really enjoyed that version as well but don’t think it helped that I was reciting the lines with the movies.
Virginia at the The Jane Austen Gardens, Lyme Regis
This week at the Jane Austen Centre has been wonderful as well. I have been doing a lot more guiding which I think is really helping my confidence with public speaking. The people at the Centre are who make it so fantastic. I will be doing a survey tomorrow at the Centre and possibly dressing in Regency attire with a guy from my house. We will have to see if I can convince him to dress up with me.
My Jane Austen class is also going very well. We just finished Pride and Prejudice and now starting Mansfield Park which is nice since I haven’t studied it yet in class. We studied Northanger Abbey which was neat because since I live in Bath I pass Milson Street, the pump rooms and many other places that the novel mentions which really bring it to life.
Cheers till next week!
Virginia Claire Tharrington
Intern, The Jane Austen Centre, Bath, England
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Anne and Henrietta, finding themselves the earliest of the party the next morning, agreed to stroll down to the sea before breakfast. They went to the sands to watch the flowing of the tide, which a fine south-easterly breeze was bringing in with all the grandeur which so flat a shore admitted. They praised the morning; gloried in the sea; sympathized in the delight of the fresh-feeling breeze — and were silent.The Narrator on Anne Elliot & Henrietta Musgrove, Persuasion, Chapter 12
From this poetic description of a stroll by the sea, I am inclined to believe that the authoress had a fondness for the seaside inspired by a romantic view of the past. Only real experience could evoke such feelings and finess of description.
Jane Austen did experience the delights of the seaside with her family during visits to both Lyme-Regis and Bath which were both prominent health and pleasure resorts in the 18th-century. In the on-line article ‘The Bathing was so delightful this morning’ from the Jane Austen Society of Australia, we learn a bit more about her experiences there.
Jane Austen was well aware that when people like Mrs Bennet claimed ‘A little sea-bathing would set me up for ever’ they were using imagined ill health to achieve their real aims of novelty, entertainment and pleasure.
Within the Austen family there was a preference for using spas for ill health and visiting the seaside for pleasure. Edward Austen visited and James Leigh-Perrott lived in Bath for treatment of their gout. Jane and Cassandra Austen visited Cheltenham in 1816 to try to cure Jane’s declining health. Their visits to the seaside were planned as recreational visits only, with no specific medical purpose attached to them. It was only the prospect of annual visits to the seaside that made the move to Bath tolerable to Jane.
Both Jane and Cassandra sea-bathed regularly while in residence at Lyme-Regis in 1804, using bath machines which were small wooden bath houses on wheels drawn by horses into the shallows. The bathers could then descend by stairs into the water, in the nude, which was the fashion of the time. (smiling while envisioning my idol Jane Austen skinny-dipping!)
*Illustration by Edmund H. Garrett, ‘They went to the sands”, Persuasion, Chapter 12, published by Robert Bros, London, (1892)
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