This museum is located on Gay Street, on the same street, but not the same house in which Jane once lived for a time with her mother and sister after her father died. The buildings are very similar.
A live "Mr. Bennet" happily greets visitors at the doorway, in Regency costume while a statue of Lizzie Bennet stands to the right as though waiting for someone on the street. Inside is the gift shop where you can buy tickets and wait for the tour while perusing a delightful array of Jane Austen souvenirs.
As the tour begins a guide shares the story of Austen's upbringing. It was fun learning a few things I didn't know about Jane and her family. She was quite close to her sister, Cassandra, who also never married, though she was secretly engaged for a time.
During the 1790s, Jane's family visited Bath on a few occasions. The tour guide noted that these were lighter and more carefree days, when she wrote Northanger Abbey. After her father retired from the pastorate they moved to Bath in 1801. This was not necessarily a happy time for Jane as in 1805 Mr. Austen passed away. It was after this they moved to Gay Street. These were less productive times of writing for Jane. Later she wrote her novel, Persuasion, with a darker view of Bath.
After a short introduction I was escorted down the hall where a gallery of pictures supposed to be Jane, a group of watercolors, prints, and sketches.
The Centre includes a short film narrated by Adrian Lukis, the actor who played the dastardly Mr. Wickham in the beloved 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Actual period clothing is displayed as well as a table set for tea and various displays describing events in Jane's life and daily living during the Regency period in general.
Did you know Jane did possibly experienced young love and at a different time was actually engaged for less than a day? The first, a nephew of neighbors in Steventon where she grew up, Tom Lefroy, visited several times. He and Jane enjoyed one another's company, but his parents had him intended for a wealthier match.
During her time in Bath, when she was late in her 20s, a younger brother of one of her friend's, Harris Bigg-Wither, offered a proposal of marriage, a surprise to Jane. At first, considering his inheritance and an opportunity to provide for her mother and sister, Jane accepted the proposal, but upon reflection overnight realized she didn't have the affection for Mr. Bigg-Wither which she believed would be important for a successful marriage. She declined the next day, to the embarrassment of both families. Yet Jane Austen's principles are evident again and again in her novels. The heroine holds out for marriage to a man she truly loves above other considerations.
Miss Austen's years post-Bath were spent in Chawton in a cottage her brother, Edward, provided for her, her mother, and her sister. Part of a large and close family, Cassandra and Jane helped their brother Edward with his family as well. Her brother, Henry, whom she was closest to, later advocated for her in having her works published. She ocntinued writing until her death at age 41 in 1817.
At the end of the museum you will find a full-size wax image, created by a forensic artist and said to be the most accurate depiction of Jane Austen. Visitors can also dress up in period clothing to have their picture taken. I opted to have my photo taken alongside "Jane" without a costume, but still it felt special.
The Jane Austen Centre in Bath is a testament to the fulfilling life that she lived though cut short by an unknown disease. She lives on in her books, in the imaginations of those who greatly admire her writing, and every young woman searching for her own Mr. Darcy!
About Kathleen: Kathleen Rouser has loved making up stories since she was a little girl and wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She desires to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She is a long time member in good standing of ACFW and a former board member of its Great Lakes Chapter. Kathleen has been published in anthologies, including the Amazon bestseller, Christmas Treasures, as well as in both print and online magazines. Her debut full-length novel, Rumors and Promises, was recently published by Heritage Beacon Fiction in April, 2016.
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