How Jane Austen Became Such a Tourist Trap

How Jane Austen Became Such A Tourist Trap

For a woman who spent much of her life pinched for pennies, Jane Austen sure makes a handy marketing tool today. For example, on my way into a Jane Austen Festival dance workshop1 at the local Guildhall (another soaring, cake-like interior), I was handed a flyer for a Georgian Lunch Menu, offering 20 percent off for anybody in period costume.

This is not an exception. The Victoria Art Gallery and the (wonderful) Bath Fashion Museum are doing a double-header on Jane Austen s Bath, with exhibits featuring sketches from the period and Georgian dress.

The festival brochure advertised a boutique hotel ( Stay with Jane Austen? ) and afternoon tea at the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa (accompanied by photo of Janeites in costume, toting parasols). It seems the Jane Austen Festival serves as an opportunity to roll together the city s many historical attractions and serve them together as an immersive experience, on a silver platter, for the very likeliest takers.

Literary fandom centered on Austen isn t new, points out Juliette Wells, professor at Goucher College and author of the intro to a new anniversary edition of Emma. People have been making pilgrimages for more than a century to places associated with her life and works, as is also true for plenty of other famous authors (Shakespeare, the Bront s, etc.). Though having been to Haworth, you won t find the same level of hullabaloo. Advertisement

But as it turns out, Bath s position as a Janeite pilgrimage site is a fairly recent development, and the result of concerted efforts. After all, the Jane Austen s House Museum in Chawton has her home and her actual possessions, and the cathedral in Winchester has her grave, yet it s Bath that ranks alongside Chatsworth as a Jane-related destination. In no small part, it s the work of David Baldock, founder of the Jane Austen Center.

He got the idea in 1997, when a friend an Austen fan expressed her disappointment with the town. It turned out that as a young Jane Austen fan she had made a pilgrimage to Bath from the north of England and found precisely NOTHING dedicated to her favourite author, he explained via email. I did a bit of research and it was rather easy because of the author s association with the city to establish a strong case for setting up a permanent exhibition in Jane s name.

The result which feels a little like a welcome center opened in 1999.

Then, a couple of years later and with the country in the grip of the foot and mouth epidemic, Baldock explained I realised that I needed something more to draw the world s attention to the city and especially to its connection to Jane Austen. The timing was convenient, just a few short years after the BBC s famous Pride and Prejudice. You very much feel the presence of Colin Firth and his infamous wet shirt, between the Darcy portrait looming over the tea room and the gift shop stocked with I

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