Well, I’m back in the US with thousands of photos, dozens of stories, lots of new friends, 6 college credits, and 13 new books. I also have 7 drafts in my WordPress dash waiting to be written, edited, and posted. Let’s get to work!
So as I said in my last post, I took a course on Jane Austen. I had a hard time deciding what to blog about in regards to this experience, because I knew I obviously had to post something about it. I could have just listed off all the things I saw and studied in relation to Austen around Bath during our study excursions and field trips, but I’m not going to do that. Yes, I saw a lot. Yes, it was great to have such an immersive literary study experience. But that list wouldn’t make for a very interesting blog post. So, in the vein of the Green brother’s “Thoughts from Places,” I’m going to start a series of thoughts from literary places. Here goes.
On our Northanger Abbey-themed walk around Bath, my professor pointed this out to us:
When Austen lived in Bath, this circulating library would have been open to very wealthy people who would have been members and would have gone there to read books (which were heavy and cumbersome to carry around, hence the reading room). These old fading signs and advertisements can be seen all around Bath (to the astute observer) on places which are now storefronts or apartments. There are also plaques all around the city denoting places where famous people lived – the study center where I took my classes this summer was where Admiral Lord Nelson dwelt.
My Jane Austen prof made an interesting point in class about how in the U.S., we treat our historical buildings and sites with much more reverence and please-do-not-touch attitudes. But it’s not less reverence, it’s just a different kind. In Bath, people live among and within the history of the place and adapt buildings into new uses – shops, restaurants, apartments, offices – where famous people lived or remarkable events occurred. In America, we fence those places off and make them into museums. I suppose when you live in a country with a much longer and older history, people must move with it instead of roping it off. I mean, people actually live in No. 4 Sydney Place, Jane Austen’s most famous place of residence in Bath. I quite like this. It makes you feel really a part of the place, culture, and tradition where you live; as part of the constant stream of people and history the place has seen. It’s beautiful. Bath is very much a city of living history. From the Romans, to the Regency period, Bath is really proud of its history (the entire city is actually a World Heritage Site). They are also really proud of Jane Austen and shamelessly self-aware of this pride:
Jane Austen didn’t particularly like Bath, I’m sorry to say. I guess I can kindof see why. It’s not a very down-to-earth place, and in her time, it was even more of a socialite’s paradise, where the rich would go as a retreat, to be healed and whatnot. Today, the city’s pride is what makes it seem snobbish – it’s an act of Parliament to alter or build any sort of new structure in Bath because they want to preserve the integrity of Bath’s look: the iconic stonework that characterizes the city and makes everything uniform and stunningly beautiful. The result is a city that seems a strange hybrid of old and new – walking down Roman streets with Starbucks and Caffe Neros on the corners. It reminds me of the Chipotle which is now in residence at the Old Corner Bookstore in Boston, MA. While I used to think this was sacrilegious, living in Bath made me change my opinion slightly. In a way it’s better to adapt and live our lives than to rope everything off – I don’t think our predecessors would have wanted that.
Sorry, Jane, but I loved Bath. I know it’s a product of our differing times and personal experiences, but I loved living in a city stuck-in-time, yet always bustling forward. Bath is always going to hold a special place in my heart, and I will continue to use what I learned there whenever I read, study, or teach Jane Austen.