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Written by JulieW
(9/21/2007 8:18 a.m.)
For JA ,leaving her beloved settled family life at Steventon Rectory for the glittering but superficial life in Bath, was not a welcome step.
However, the events that surrounded this move from Hampshire to Bath seem to have seared themselves on her mind.
We have found reference after reference to events she later translated into her novels. I really can't help but think that Mary and James ,with their somewhat avaricious behaviour were the spark that helped JA create that searingly , blisteringly , savage but comic scene in Chapter 2 of S+S where Fanny bargains away any help John Dashwod wishes to give to the Dashwood ladies.Grrrrrrrr....
At least some good came of it……
We leave JA at the end of Letter 38 still living with the Leigh Perrots and Mrs Austen at the Paragon , a place we know she disliked, despite the presence of friendly servants( Franks dear black head").Still to arrive to join them were The Reverend Austen and Cassandra.
However, the place that was to be their first home in Bath had already been advertised in the Bath Chronicle of 21st May
The Lease of no 4 Sydney Place , three years and a quarter of which are unexpired at midsummer. The situation is desirable, the Rent very low and the Landlord is bound by covenant to paint the first two floor this summer. A premium will therefore be expected. For particulars apply to Messers. Watson and Foreman, Cornwall Buildings Bath
For once, JA's luck held.
The Austens took the lease of number 4 at a rent of £150 per annum . This was , you will recall one of the places she favoured when they were house hunting. It was on the outskirts of Bath, looking out onto the countryside . It was also near to the Sydney Gardens and its Labyrinth, on lovely flat ground with the centre of town an easy level walk along the wonderfully wide Pultney Street and over the Pultney Bridge.
I can't help but point out it was also a long way away from The Paragon and Mrs LP ;-)
None of JA's letters from this period exist: presumably because she and Cassandra were together and there was no need to continue the correspondence. So we have to rely on other sources for information about their movements.
They seem to have continued with their plan to go to Sidmouth in Devon. Eliza de Feuillide wrote to Phylly Walter on the 29th October 1801:
I conclude that you know of our Uncle & Aunt Austen and their daughters having spent the summer in Devonshire-They are now returned to Bath where they are superintending the fitting up of their new house
Sidmouth was a relatively undeveloped resort at this time. I'm sure JA and Casandra delighted in the walks around the place.
This is what by W.G. Hoskins, in his book Devon (1954 ),has to say about late 18th early 19th century town:
Sidmouth is one of the most attractive seaside towns on the South coast of England, framed in a narrow valley opening on to the sea, and sheltered East and West. by tremendous red sandstone cliffs that rise to over 500 ft.
For centuries it was a small market and fishing town… but the fishery had much declined by the early 19th century.
Fortunately, visitors had begun to discover the mildness of its climate and its beautiful scenery, and from the 1780s onwards it was increasingly patronised, even during the winter.
The Napoleonic Wars gave a great stimulus to the town by closing the Continent to the upper and upper-middle classes, who began to settle at Sidmouth and to build themselves "cottages" in every sheltered spot.
These "cottages"now frequently converted into hotels are a delightful feature of Sidmouth architecture. Sidmouth remained "select" throughout the 19th century.
Its shingle beach did not attract families with children, it did not set out to offer other "attractions"; the railway came late (1874) and even then stopped far short of the town. For all these reasons Sidmouth has preserved its early 19th century character to a high degree.
Knowle Cottage (now the Knowle Hotel) was typical of the kind of building that created modern Sidmouth, though more opulent than most. It was built by Lord Ie Despencer in 1805, a thatched building of about 40 rooms, in ten acres of ornamental grounds, with a suite of drawing-rooms nearly 100 ft. long…
Besides these and numerous other "cottages "scattered about the vale, a number of terraces of lodging-houses were built between 1800 and 1820, when the population of the town more than doubled. Fortfield Terrace, Clifton Place, York Terrace, and Elysian Fields are characteristic of this period.
In the old town are Georgian houses and shops.
The Unitarian chapel in the High Street retains its 18th century pulpit with sounding-board, gallery front, and clock…
The sea-wall was first built in 1835- 8: before that there was simply a paved walk along the shore; but attempts to make a harbour at the same time failed.
Here is Turner's dramatic view of the place:
And that is where we will leave them: JA , returning from a refreshing visit to the sea, to her own front door whihc she cold , if she chose, close on the outside workd, in a house she could once more call her own, and above all , in a location she liked.
Thank you so much for taking part in the short Group Read. I do hope you have found it illuminating and enjoyable.
I've loved filling in the background to these wonderful relicts of JA's life , and having you with me for the "bewitching" journey with such congenial company.
I do hope you will join me for another journey soon:-)
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