Vicariously visiting Jane Austen's England
This summer, the Jane Austen Society of North America will once again sponsor a tour of Austen sites in England – the places she lived, the places she set her novels, the places standing in for those places in movies made from her novels. Alas, I will not be along for the ride.
Three years ago, I combined business with pleasure by spending a big chunk of my Among the Janeites book advance on JASNA’s Sense and Sensibility bicentennial tour (chapter 2 in the finished book). This year: no advance, no chapter to write, no Mansfield Park bicentennial trip. No chance to visit Portsmouth and Northamptonshire and the house where Patricia Rozema filmed her idiosyncratic 1999 version of the novel. Sigh.
Luckily, it’s possible to vicariously enjoy some of the thrills of a JASNA England tour by browsing in the pages of Walking Jane Austen’s London, a 2013 guidebook by Louise Allen, the author of dozens of romance novels, many of them set in Regency England.
Allen divides well-traveled tourist districts of the city into eight walking tours of roughly two miles, each one laid out in a chapter that includes an easy-to-follow map, modern photographs and period prints from Allen’s own collection.
The walks take in not only sites associated with the Austen family (Henry Austen’s bank on Henrietta Street, the house in Hans Place where Jane visited him during Eliza’s final illness) but also shops, theaters and monuments that figured in Regency life. The wistful American reader can stroll in imagination through Mayfair and Soho, Kensington and Marylebone, stopping for tea (the drink) at Twining’s or tea (the meal) at Fortnum & Mason.
It all makes for an inexpensive but tantalizing mental vacation, an entertaining series of mini-history lessons, and a reminder of why we’d all rather be reading Jane Austen. . . in London.