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|The White Hart, Gowland's, & Mrs Clay (L&T?)
Written by Rachel G
(10/28/2008 2:00 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, The White Hart Inn ,Stall Street ,Bath., penned by JulieW
I came across the following paragraph in an article on the JASA (JA Soc. Of Australia) website, and thought it might be of interest for the GR. (I have copied the relevant paragraph as it is embedded in an article about the “world's oldest profession”. The complete article is linked below.)
“In her novel Persuasion Jane Austen chose the White Hart Inn as the setting for Captain Wentworth’s romantic proposal by letter to Anne Elliot. The White Hart was a well-known Bath inn and the stables at the rear were a particularly popular stamping ground for local prostitutes. One especially notorious harlot who plied her trade there when Jane Austen was resident in Bath was Maria Price, who came to a bad end in 1823, when she was caught stealing. Mary Musgrove enjoys looking out the window when she stays at the White Hart, and on one occasion spies Mrs Clay and William Elliot having an assignation. As Mrs Clay is about to elope with this man, and he is trying to ‘buy’ her services so that she won’t marry Sir Walter Elliot, this seems a symbolically fitting place for them to be meeting. Contemporary Bath readers would have picked up the subtle hint! It is also intriguing to note that Mrs Clay uses Gowlands Lotion to clear away her freckles. This lotion contained mercury, the usual prescription for syphilis. Was Mrs Clay a sufferer? Freckles too were regarded at that time as a sign of a sexual disease. Jane Austen wants her readers to look doubtfully on Mrs Clay’s past history before she even runs off with William Walter Elliot and is established as his mistress in London.”
I find this very plausible, but I'm not sure how reliable the article is or whether it's inferences are correct. It seems consistent with JA's style to provide these sort of hints about a character rather than just relying on direct statements. Thoughts anyone?
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