Have you ever wanted to experience Jane Austen’s London? To see all the sights (comparing past and present) and to literally walk in Jane’s footsteps, all without being slowed down by an actual tour guide? If so, then Walking Jane Austen’s London: A Tour Guide for The Modern Reader is just for you!
Walking Jane Austen’s London includes eight highly informative walks that are between 1.75 and 2.5 miles. Each walk (or chapter) starts with a very useful box of information, which includes the starting location of your walk, the nearest tube station and bus stop, the length of your route, and the opening hours of any Regency or Georgian historical site that is on your way. Also included in each chapter is a well-marked map detailing your walk route, as well as the streets and other attractions close by. With a picture (sometimes two) on every one of the 109 pages, this provides an attractive and entertaining read no matter where you are.
These are some of the places seen in the following walks:
Walk 1—Sloane Street to Kensington Palace Gardens
- The room of her brother’s home where Jane Austen did most of her letter-writing and proof reading in.
- Kensington Gardens, where Elinor (from Sense and Sensibility) took a stroll–although the beauty would be somewhat marred by her companions, Mrs. Jennings and Lucy Steele!
Walk 2—Marylebone and Bond Street
- Bond Street (present in many Regency novels), the parading ground of the dandies, beaux, and the Prince Regent.
- Wimpole Street, where Maria Rushworth (from Mansfield Park) lived before running off with Henry Crawford.
- The home of Jane’s publisher, John Murray, who was (in her opinion) “…a Rogue of course, but a civil one.”
- The residence of the fashionable and well-dressed dandy, Beau Brummell.
Walk 4—Leicester Square to Green Park
- Almack’s Assembly, the marriage market of the Regency world.
- White’s, the most exclusive of the Regency clubs and location of the famous ‘Beau’ Window, place to sit and be admired. This was also where Henry Austen was invited for a ball, along with a prince, a king, and an emperor!
Walk 5—Soho to the British Museum
- The British Museum, which has Regency and Georgian exhibits, as well as a tearoom.
- Turk’s Head coffee house, the favorite haunt of Doctor Johnson and Joshua Reynolds.
Walk 6—Westminster to Charing Cross
- The Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, where Jane Austen has a plaque in her honor.
- The site where Jane Austen found a portrait that “was” Jane Bingley (from Pride and Prejudice).
Walk 7—Somerset House to Lincoln’s Inn Fields
- Drury Lane Theatre, the lobby where Willoughby learns of Marianne’s illness from Sir John Middleton (from Sense and Sensibility).
- Lincoln’s Inn (one of four historic Inns of Court), where Jane Austen’s friend and romantic interest, Tom Lefroy, returned to his legal studies after his time with relatives (and Jane).
Walk 8—Temple Bar to London Bridge
- The original Twining’s teashop, where the Austen family bought their tea.
- St. Clement’s Church, where Lydia and Mr. Wickham joined hands in marriage—albeit reluctantly on his part (from Pride and Prejudice).
Walking Jane Austen’s London is a book that should be in every Janeite’s nonfiction section of their library. This book truly is as the front cover describes—a tour guide. With short and interesting anecdotes for each historical place passed (but without the rushed pace of the tour and droning voice of the guide) as well as many pictures of the Regency world then and now, Walking Jane Austen’s London captures the attention and provides a fun activity for any Austen lover. The interesting and sometimes surprising anecdotes never get dull, but if they do and you don’t particularly care for the Temple Bar Memorial or the Bank of England, just keep walking and you’ll soon be at the next stop in your tour—after all, this walk and its pace are up to you!
The other great feature of this book is how readable it is. Louise Allen does an amazing job in compiling all the facts for these eight walks (facts spanning the 1700s and 1800s) yet always keeping the main object in focus—Jane Austen and her experiences in London. She is also attentive to the purpose of the book and the location of the reader, in keeping each chapter to about twenty pages so as not to bog one down with a load of information, especially while standing on the sidewalk looking up at a popular tourist attraction. The only thing that disappointed me as I read was that, despite the large number of pictures, there wasn’t a picture of every single building or park showing what it looks like currently. But then I realized that reading Walking Jane Austen’s London and imagining Westminster Abbey while sitting in my living room, is a good deal different than reading it, say, in London, on the sidewalk, with book and water bottle in hand, while staring at the actual Westminster Abbey.
One of my favorite non-fiction books that I own is a pocket-sized book set in the Victorian age all about the names and hidden meanings of flowers. Is it a book I can use every day? No. Is it one, like Pride and Prejudice or Emma that I plan on re-reading about once a year? No. But I keep it because it’s unique and interesting, and I know that one day I’m going to find the exact bit of information I need at the exact moment I need it.
Walking Jane Austen’s London is the same kind of book. It might not be one of those that you plan on re-reading yearly, but it is entirely unique, and can not only be read while you’re sitting in your living room far away from London but also as the perfect companion while on your own long dreamt of Jane Austen pilgrimage.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Walking Jane Austen’s London: A Tour Guide for the Modern Reader, by Louise Allen
Shire Publications (2013)
Paperback (112) pages
Cover image courtesy of Shire Publications © 2013; text © 2013 Katie P., Austenprose.