18 July, 2007

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath is a museum dedicated to the 5 years that Jane Austen spent living and writing in Bath. The townhouse itself is very similar to the one that Jane Austen lived in for a while after her father's death. One of the Jane Austen Centre staff members gave a short, but very informative talk about Jane Austen' life, family, and writings before we were able to freely wonder through the exhibits.

I didn't know much about Jane Austen's life before this visit other than the titles of the books that she had written. I learned that she was a very private person who never wanted the public to know her identity when her books became published. She had a very close relationship with her sister Cassandra whom she lived with all her life. Whenever they were apart from each other, they wrote every single day. When Jane died, her sister destroyed all of the letters written to her that were personal or emotional in nature in order to respect Jane's wish for privacy. I was very impressed to learn that Jane had written 3 novels by the age of 22, and that all of her novels were influenced by her experiences living 5 years in the town of Bath. It is hard to believe that Jane Austen died at the age of only 41 but still left behind the literary legacy that she did.

ITV in Britain recently filmed an adaptation of the novel Persuasion. The costumes from the film are currently on exhibit at the Jane Austen Centre until October of 2007. It was very interesting to see clips of the film itself and then to see the actual costumes worn by the actors on display a few feet away. The film showing also describes the process that the film's costume designer went through in trying to decide how Austen would have wanted each of the characters of her novel to appear. There was a dress on display called the Mystery Dress that was created using cloth from the 18th century. The dress was started in that era but for reasons that nobody could uncover, it was never finished.

I was really impressed with the staff and exhibits at the Jane Austen Centre and feel that it was worth the journey to Bath and the price of admission. I recommend this site to anyone who has ever read or seen an adaptation of a Jane Austen classic that has stayed with them throughout the years.