Crashing at Henry's place
Few of Jane Austen’s heroines are economically secure, so it’s ironic that her modern-day brand has become inextricably associated with wealth: lavish balls, ginormous country houses, elaborate gowns. (I blame the movies, whose location choices so often exaggerate the characters’ social standing.)
The latest example of Austen luxury branding is Henry’s Townhouse, a new boutique hotel in London’s chichi Marylebone neighborhood that occupies a building on Upper Berkeley Street where Austen’s brother Henry lived from 1801-4.
“Henry’s was passionately created for the discerning guest as a discreet London abode where flexibility, privacy, service and comfort are all at the fore of a stay,” explains the hotel’s website. (Yes, that’s really what it says. The text of the website often reads as if it were written by someone for whom English is not a first language.)
Among the amenities provided with each room are Egyptian cotton sheets, organic bath products, “Bollinger on arrival,” and my personal favorite, “a British Mini-Bar” – or, in a couple of cases, “a Very British Mini-Bar.” (What could it include? Jars of Marmite? Bottles of Pimm’s? And is a Very British Mini-Bar a better or worse version, I wonder?)
The proprietors are not shy about plugging their Austen connections – the website is studded with Austen quotes, each of the seven bedrooms is named after an Austen sibling or cousin, and guests can relax in a public space called Jane’s Sitting Room. The bedrooms, furnished with carefully curated antiques, are designed to evoke “a glamorous reimaging [sic] of the Georgian period, inspired by novelist Jane Austen, who stayed at No. 24 whilst visiting her brother Henry whom [sic] resided here.”
I’m not sure the hotel is on firm ground in its biographical claim: None of Austen’s surviving letters is written from Upper Berkeley Street, and details about her location during the years of Henry’s residence there are thin on the ground. Still, it’s a logical inference, given that the elder Austen sister, Cassandra, definitely did stay there, so I’ll let it go.
All this talk of discretion, glamor, and on-demand Bollinger may have given you the impression that a stay at Henry’s doesn’t come cheap. And you would be right. Although room rates are listed nowhere on the website – to get that information, you have to send an email inquiring about availability – a write-up in a trade magazine says prices start at £450 per night (about $605), or £4,950 per night (about $6,660) if you want to book the whole building for up to 14 people. Fanny Price and Elinor Dashwood need not apply.