A very (expensive) Jane Austen Christmas
By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 23 2015 02:00PM
If you are a Janeite with no 2016 Christmas plans – and a whole wad of cash left over from this year’s gift shopping – the New York Times has a trip for you.
Its suite of fabulous, and fabulously expensive, vacations – they call them “journeys,” natch – which take well-heeled Times readers everywhere from the Panama Canal to the Great Pyramids of Egypt, now includes a week-long tour to Austen sites in England. The trip, “A Jane Austen Christmas,” runs from December 23-29 of next year.
For a mere $7,000 -- not including airfare! -- participants will visit Steventon, Chawton, Winchester and Bath; lunch at The Vyne, in Hampshire, where Austen attended neighborhood balls hosted by her family’s friends the Chutes; and visit Lacock, the picturesque olde tyme village where a host of British costume dramas have been filmed. The itinerary also includes a Christmas-themed musical performance and “a Christmas Day luncheon, complete with Christmas crackers.”
Now, far be it from me to slag off any money-making venture the New York Times uses to subsidize its still-the-best-in-the-world news operation. But: really? A thousand dollars a day for a UK trip that includes both Christmas Day and Boxing Day, when – let’s be honest – the entire country will be completely closed down, sealed off and settled in front of its collective TV set with a giant box of Quality Street chocolates? And all this for Christmas crackers, which you can buy at Target for $8?
The annual summer tour run by the Jane Austen Society of North America (the 2015 one is described here) is a far better value -- more sites, less money. And you won’t catch JASNA committing a howler like the Times’ promise that its Janeite tourists will “visit the rectory where [Austen] spent most of her first 25 years.” That would certainly be quite a draw -- except that the rectory was razed in the nineteenth century. All that remains is an empty field.
As usual, my dear, your observations are spot on in every particular. I've spent one Christmastide in the Mother Country, and you're absolutely right about the entire UK going on hiatus from Xmas Eve through Boxing Day. (Actually, the year I was there, it seemed as if the entire country closed down until Twelfth Night, and then only reopened for the Harrods sale.) You're also right about the JASNA tours' being far better value for money than most others. And as for the visit to the Steventon Rectory JA knew...paging Deirdre Le Faye!
My British husband also said I was being unduly generous by not pointing out that even the days after Boxing Day were likely to be completely dead. I suspect that most of the people signing up for this tour will be imagining a Dickens-type Christmas, forgetting that the happy scenes in, say, "A Christmas Carol" occur among family and friends in people's private homes, not amid strangers in some hotel in Winchester.. Ugh -- not my idea of a happy holiday!
Given the astonishing expense and tenuous connections of the travel products you describe, it makes me wonder how we get our northern stately homes in on the act? Wentworth Castle (just down the road from the now not sold Wentworth Woodhouse, is full of name connections - D'Arcy Wentworth for example. Any pointers greatly received as like all small stately homes and country houses we could benefit enormously from tapping into Austen interest - and we would provide good Yorkshire value too!
Good question! If you lack a bona fide JA connection, what you really need is for someone to film a key scene in an Austen adaptation at your place (Wentworth Castle! The name could hardly be better from a Janeite POV -- I already want to go). Saltram House did very well out of the 1995 S&S, I think. And what's this about the Wentworth Woodhouse sale? Has it fallen through already? I hadn't heard that news. . .