• Deborah Yaffe

Our cousins' street

Many Janeites lack an intimate familiarity with the geography of class in Regency England; we – by which I mean I – can’t tell our Edward Streets from our Portman Squares. Luckily, however, Jane Austen makes such distinctions instantly legible to even her least-informed reader: If the wealthy Mrs. Jennings lives near Portman Square, while Georgiana Darcy’s disreputable ex-governess lets lodgings in Edward Street, it’s not hard to deduce which is the more upscale location.


That logic allows readers of Persuasion to instantly understand the cachet of the Bath address inhabited by the Elliot family’s most socially desirable relations – the Dowager-Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Carteret.


“Lady Dalrymple had taken a house, for three months, in Laura Place, and would be living in style,” Austen informs us in chapter 16. Once the sycophantic Sir Walter Elliot and his daughter Elizabeth are received there, “ ‘Our cousins in Laura Place’ – ‘Our cousins, Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret,’ were talked of to every body.”


Apparently, Laura Place hasn’t lost its prestige: A trio of adjoining buildings there, near the center of the beloved and well-preserved Georgian city, will be auctioned online next Tuesday, and the guide price – the seller’s guess as to what the property might be worth – is £4 million (about $5.3 million).


The three 18th-century buildings comprise nearly 17,000 square feet of combined office and residential space, currently renting for more than £226,000 a year (about $303,000). Although Lady Dalrymple’s household presumably took up an entire building, modern-day demands appear to be more modest: These three Laura Place buildings have been divided into nine apartments and ten offices.


“These properties are genuinely unique and occupy a prominent position in a beautiful part of Bath,” Peter Mayo, investment director of Acuitus, the real estate auction house handling the sale, told a local newspaper. “We expect there to be interest not least because of the location’s associations with Austen and the opportunity to own a landmark in the city.”


So heads up, Janeites: If you’ve always longed to be the kind of person Sir Walter Elliot might brag about knowing – and if you have a few millions lying around – now’s your chance.

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