Becoming Jane: Finding the Real “Austenland”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want […]
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Perhaps one of the most recognised first lines in literature, Jane Austen’s assessment of the desires of a single man begins one of the most well-loved novels of all time. For nearly 300 years, “Pride and Prejudice”has captivated audiences around the world.
The most recent addition to the line-up of “Pride and Prejudice” films, just in time for the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication, is “Austenland,” starring Keri Russell. Well-received at the Sundance Film Festival, “Austenland”is the story of a 30-something woman obsessed with Fitzwilliam Darcy (as played by Colin Firth in the BBC film version of the books) who travels to a country manor to spend two weeks immersed in Jane Austen’s world— and discovers that a true Regency gentleman is not an unattainable ideal after all.
While most travellers wouldn’t go to such extremes to experience Jane Austen’s England (or find their own Mr Darcy), it is still possible for those on holiday in the UK to immerse themselves in Austen’s world and most popular work.
Number 4 Sydney Place, Bath
In Georgian England, it was quite fashionable to spend weeks in Bath, where the waters were believed to have healing powers. Austen herself travelled to Bath quite frequently, and the city plays a prominent role in many of her books. At Number 4 Sydney Place, a restored 1800s apartment, visitors can actually stay in the very rooms where Jane Austen wrote some of her most memorable scenes.
While the village of Meryton is a creation of Austen’s imagination, it was largely based on the village of Lacock near Bath. Lacock stood in for Meryton in the BBC adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice”; it’s an easy half-day trip from Bath and not far from Stonehenge, either.
The Jane Austen Centre
The Jane Austen Centre in Bath is the closest place one will find to a real-life Austenland. In addition to permanent exhibits of clothing as well as other artefacts from Austen’s life and times, the Centre arranges a Jane Austen festival each fall, complete with a version of the Netherfield Ball, the formal dance that served as a key plot point in “Pride and Prejudice.” For those who can’t make it to the ball, the Centre allows visitors to experience Austen’s world by trying on Regency-era fashions and enjoying traditional foods.
The official home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth House was the inspiration for Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s family home in the novel. In fact, this home stood in for Pemberley in the BBC film. At Chatsworth, you can explore more than 30 rooms decorated in grand style — and try on period costumes —offering a glimpse of what it was like to live in the upper-class world of Austen’s time.
Austen was born in the small village of Steventonand lived there for the first 25 years of her life. The rectory where she was born and raised has long been demolished, but the 600-year-old church where her father preached still stands. It was here that she wrote “Pride and Prejudice,” as well as “Sense and Sensibility” and “Northanger Abbey,” which her father offered to a publisher without her knowledge. You can still find family headstones in the church graveyard and get a true sense of the world in which Austen lived as well as the places and people that inspired her work.
Outside of Bath, the village of Chawton is well-known as the place where Austen spent the last eight years of her life. After revising “Pride and Prejudice” here before its publication, she wrote her last three novels in this home, including “Persuasion.” The modest house has been largely preserved as it was when Austen was lived there.
While there is no such place as “Austenland,” for a Jane Austen fan, visiting some of these sites is as close as they can get to the refined and romantic world of early 19th century England. From taking the waters at Bath to exploring the rolling fields of Steventon, these sites provide unparalleled insight into one of the world’s greatest novelists.
Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: When Olivia Keep was assigned to read “Pride and Prejudice” for a literature class, she had no idea it would spark a lifelong fascination with Jane Austen. An author herself, she enjoys travelling the world with her own Mr Darcy and their two children.