An Austen Intern Reports In from The Jane Austen Centre: Week 1

Austenprose is very pleased to present our first feature 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!

Jane Austen once wrote, “if adventure will not befall a young lady in her own village she must seek them aboard.”  This I am doing to the fullest extent. I have come all the way to Bath England, in my junior year of college, to study and discover both Jane and myself. I am an American student from an all women’s college in North Carolina who has come to Bath to study with Advanced Studies in England for the semester and intern in the Jane Austen Centre.

My love for Austen started at a young age. In fact, I don’t know if I remember a time before Lizzy, Darcy and Jane. My mother got me hooked at about 3 years old on the videos when I would watch the older 80s version of P&P for hours, even as a young child. Then I would beg her to read it to be by calling it “Pride and Precious” because I could not say “Prejudice”.  Mom thought I had just fallen in love with the clothes or something like that but I believe that it went deeper than that. Years later when I had a sister 10 years younger than me I tried to get her to watch the videos with me as I had but she had NO interest in sitting in one place for 30minutes much less 3 hours so I had to give up hope of bringing up another Janeite in the family.

I read the books for the first time on my own in about 6th grade. Ever since then Jane Austen has been a staple of my literary life. My obsession has slowly grown through high school where I started a Jane Austen Book Club my senior year, and was definitely know as the girl with a strange obsession with Jane Austen .

It was also through this book club that I got involved with JASNA which has influenced my love of Jane considerably. I got involved with the group just as a way to make contact for my book club and get advice, but it has become so much more. I am now the regional coordinator for JASNA NC. This has been an amazing experience for me not only because I am so young but it has given me a new love for Jane Austen’s legacy. It is absolutely amazing that she is so popular and still touches so many people almost 190 years after her death.  I also have been collecting copies of Pride and Prejudice for years (much to my mother’s dislike because she doesn’t know why I have sooo many). I have more than 60 copies and in 6 languages from all over the world. Anytime I travel to a new place I try to get a copy to remember the trip by.

I found my internship and study abroad program because I was googling “Jane Austen internship”. Several years ago I had seen an article on a publication from the Centre that an intern had written. I was slightly excited at the time that a place like the Jane Austen Centre in Bath would have interns but I didn’t know how you would go about getting the position so I forgot about it, until my fateful online search.  Once I saw that ASE offered a program in Bath with the internship I can remember going to tell my mom “I am studying abroad next semester“.  She was slightly shocked because I was already going to be studying in Iceland for the month of June and we were also at a Basketball game so I think she just thought I was excited. But anyone who knows me know that once I get my mind on something it is almost impossible to keep me from completing my goal.

Though the journey to securing the internship was anything but an easy road, it has paid off tenfold in my time here thus far. I cannot wait to continue to share my experiences because I know this is a chance of a lifetime and any Janeites dream.  Let’s just hope that “adventures” continue to befall me!

Signing off until next week,

Virginia Claire Tharrington

Intern, The Jane Austen Centre, Bath, England

Lamented knowledge

Illustration by Joan Hassall, View of Bath from Beechen Cliff, Folio Society, London, (1960)LAMENTED

In the present instance, she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances – side-screens and perspectives – lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape.The Narrator on Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14

The first time I read this passage, I was totally confused. Why would Catherine think that the view from Beechen Cliff was unworthy when Bath has been proclaimed one of the most beautiful cities in England? What?

I confess that at times I find Jane Austen difficult to interpret. It can be the words from the early 19th-century, or the way they used language differently than we do today, or sometimes it may be that I am not clever enough to get her meaning the first time around, … like, I’m totally for sure doing the Valley girl thing!

So, when I finally realized that young, inexperienced, and naive Catherine was literally reacting and forming new opinions based on Henry Tilney’s explanation of the aesthetic picturesque landscape, I hit my palm on my forehead in acknowledgement! The view of Bath was fine. Catherine had a picturesque change of perspective.

There is a deeper level of contemplation here, and I think that Jane Austen is also making a side-ways comment about the recent picturesque movement and it’s affect on the individual perspective in his or her environment. Further explanation on the movement can be found in this excellent 4 part series from Old Grey Pony called  Austen and the PicturesqueThe movement had a strong impact on all levels of art, literature, music, architecture and landscape in late Georgian and Regency England. In a nutshell, it is a way of looking at your inner and outer environment in an idealized and fanciful way to create a stylized perspective. Think rose-coloured glasses. It’s critics lamented that it infringed on the rights of the individual to think and live in a natural state, and tansformed the countryside of England into man’s view of perfection, instead of gods natural order. Err, well,  – – whatever.

*Illustration by Joan Hassall, “He talked of fore-grounds, distances, and second-distances” page 99, Northanger Abbey, The Folio Society, London, (1960) 

Dignified situation

Watercolour by Jane Hartshorne, “Camden Place, Bath” 1829DIGNIFIED 

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. Sir Walter Elliot, Persuasion, Chapter 15

I find it amusing that Sir Walter chose a location for his ‘retrenchment’ home high up on the hill in Bath with a lofty view. I imagine that it was pleasing for him to look out his windows and down on the rest of the city! Like a high and mighty King in his castle.

Jane Austen resided in Bath with her family from 1801 until her father’s death there in 1805. Her experiences there greatly influenced her novel Persuasion. Take the pilgrimage and walk in the gentle footsteps of Jane Austen as she arrives in Bath in this descriptive and informative account from the book Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, by Constance Hill.  

Let us follow in the wake of this “very neat chaise” gentle reader, alighting, as Jane did, in Paragon.

Those who know Bath may remember that this name is given to the eastern side of a curved street on the slope of a steep hill, whose opposite side, called Vineyards, is raised above the level of the road on a high terrace walk. In Miss Austen’s day Paragon consisted of twenty-one houses only, as those at the northern end of the row were then called Axford Buildings. The Leigh Perrots’ house, it seems, was No. 1 Paragon, which is nearly opposite a steep passage leading up to Belmont.

 At the further end of the street can be seen the green slopes that rise abruptly to Camden Place; which “Place” is described by a contemporary writer, the grandiloquent Mr. Egan, as a “superb crescent composed of majestic buildings.” No wonder that the author of “Persuasion” made Sir Walter Elliot choose this locality for his residence in Bath as being “a lofty and dignified situation, such as became a man of consequence.” There, “in the best house in Camden Place,” we can fancy the vain-glorious baronet and his daughter Elizabeth rejoicing in their superiority to their neighbours in the size of their drawing-rooms, the taste of their furniture, and the, elegance of their card-parties.

Book cover, Jane Austen in BathStroll along the shady, tree lined walk where Captain Wentworth met Anne Elliot in this beautifully illustrated guide, Jane Austen in Bath: Walking Tours of the Writer’s City , available on-line at Barnes & Noble Booksellers

*Watercolour painting of Camden Place, Bath by Jane Hartshorne, 1829 

Favourable fortune

Illustration by M.V. Wheelhouse, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 3FAVOURABLE 

They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck.The Narrator on Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 3

After a friendless entrance into Bath society, fortune shines favourably on young Catherine Morland and she is introduced to the “very near handsome” Henry Tilney at the Lower Rooms. This is a bright beginning for our heroine after arriving in Bath with no social connections and little experience.

Today, could you imagine arriving at a disco-tech and being introduced to a dance partner by the Master of Ceremonies? Wow, no wallflowers allowed here! But in 19th-century Bath, it would not have been appropriate for a man to walk up to a lady and just ask her to dance! One must be formally introduced by family, friends or a professional such as the Master of Ceremonies, who was not only responsible for introductions, but planned the Balls, hired the musicians, organized the dancing and made sure that proper etiquette prevailed. Phew … what a job!

Learn more about the authority and importance of the Master of Ceremonies and other decourums of the Regency era dance protocol in the informative book Jane Austen and Leisure, by David Selwin on-line at Googlebooks.

*Illustration by M. V. Wheelhouse, “They made their appearance at the Lower Rooms” page 50, The Austen-Gaskell Book: Scenes from the Works of Jane Austen & Mrs. Gaskell, published by G. Bell & Sons, Ltd., London (circa 1920)