Places in England visited recently: Bath and Stonehenge
Why was I skipping through King’s Cross Station Friday morning? Why did I slap the bus window and knock over my empty coffee cup in the process whilst driving past Sydney Place in Bath? Why am I here in England?
Because of the lovely Ms. Jane Austen.
Between 1801 and 1805, the brilliant authoress lived in Bath after her father retired as the rector of the church in her hometown. She was not a fan of Bath, which bubbled over into her writing when the heroine in her novel Persuasion also disliked the idea of her family moving there. Nonetheless, Jane did in fact live in Bath for a portion of her lifetime, and on Friday, I got to stand on what had been her front doorstep. Chills!
Bath in itself is a beautiful little town, with the famous Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey rooting the historical architecture in the center. We went through the actual Roman Baths first (I didn’t drink the water, but I was told it tasted like lead with a bloody aftertaste – gross), but after my classmates dispersed to explore the town, I first made my way to the Jane Austen Centre. My director told me that the things they do there are all very touristy, which no true Janeite really appreciates, but there was no way I was going to travel all the way to Bath and not get some sort of souvenir. After a gruesome half hour of indecisiveness in that tiny gift shop (I ended up buying a leather journal and a special box/postcard set), I set off alone to the outer parts of town. Jane’s family lived in Sydney Place – 4 Sydney Place to be exact – which is a ten or fifteen minute walk away from the center of town, where it’s much quieter and the buildings are farther apart. 4 Sydney Place is still a flat (or apartment), just with a little plaque on the front saying Jane lived there, so it was quite awkward taking a million selfies on someone’s stoop. But I regret nothing.
As I slowly backed away from her door and onto the sidewalk, and as I forced myself to walk away from the flat that housed my writing inspiration, I was overcome with the strangest sensation. After researching and studying and learning so much about Jane Austen, she herself became a sort of character to me. But as I walked down the cobblestone sidewalk that Jane herself must have walked down a hundred times, she became more real to me that any one I may have passed on the street. She had been there, taking the same steps I took, thinking about characters and plot lines and witty irony. I can’t even put into words what it meant to me to be walking on that seemingly insignificant path. When I saw her manuscript of Persuasion in the British Library last month, I had the same kind of feeling. All I could think of, staring through the glass at her written words, was that this was why I was here. That mantra repeated itself again in Bath, and I know that my time here, absorbing as much of Jane’s presence as I can, is inspiring me to become a better writer. This is why I’m here. Jane is why I’m here.
It was bittersweet, of course, because Jane didn’t fair well in Bath. She edited many of her manuscripts but never completed any novels during her time there, and it is speculated that she entered a state of depression while living in Bath. I like to think that she just very much missed living in the country because I feel like we are even more connected through our mutual love of being in nature. However, her depression also probably had to do with her father dying while they were living in Bath. I doubt that event would really improve her opinion of the place. I wonder what she would think of her flock of fans intentionally visiting the town just because of her. She’d probably tell us to get the hell out of there, in her own eloquent way, of course.
One of the quotes on my Jane postcards I bought from the shop was one I’d never heard before. In a letter, probably to her sister, she said that she was not in the humor for writing, but that she must “write on” until she is. I happen to have a tattoo on my shoulder that says “Write On” in Jane’s handwriting. I thought I was so clever to use that phrase, connecting my own writing motto with the aesthetics of Jane’s writing. But all along, my mind was connected to hers in a way I hadn’t seen before. When I saw that quote, it was like Jane was speaking to me from the page.
Write on, she urges me.
Even when you’re not in the mood for writing, write on until you get to that mood.
Write on and never stop.