A Do-It-Yourself Guide through the
Landscape of Austen
In the Steps of Jane Austen:
Walking Tours of Austen’s England
By Anne-Marie Edwards.
Jones Books, 2003. xx + 188 pages.
65 B/W illustrations. Paperback.
Reviewed by Barbara Britton Wenner.
Jane Austen’s England, Maggie
Lane asks and answers the question, “How much of England did Jane
Austen know?” She knew more of southern England than her beloved
Hampshire. Lane tells us that Jane Austen’s “travels took her through
fourteen counties, some of them repeatedly; she knew three cities
intimately, and she was acquainted with many stretches of the English
coastline.” Anne-Marie Edwards in her book, In the Steps of Jane Austen,
provides just the guide for the serious Janeite.
A pair of sturdy walking shoes, a
walking stick, and a rain jacket, along with Edwards’ book, were all I
needed to feel part of the landscape which Jane Austen used so
imaginatively. Renting a car and having someone with the nerve to drive
in England help considerably too. My goal was to see the landscapes of Persuasion, and after talking my
husband into negotiating the narrows roads from Winchester to the
Channel coast, we arrived at Lyme Regis car park. I turned to Chapter
9, “Lyme Regis—‘Summers by the Sea,’” and basically followed Edwards’
detailed route of what she calls a four-mile walk. Suggestion: Give
yourself a half day for this excursion. This walk feels longer than
four miles because it is full of sights, from the Cobb, and the famous
“Granny’s Teeth,” to Marine Parade along the colorful shore of Lyme up
to Charmouth Fields and then over the river Lym on quaint Horne Bridge
and back down Colway Lane to the town again.
Without Edwards’ guide, we would
have missed a number of important sights. Amazingly, Lyme looks much as
it did when the Austens spent holidays there. The lodging house where
they were said to have stayed is gone, but the possible model for
Captain Harville’s cottage remains—now Jane’s Take-Away—as do the two
inns mentioned in Persuasion.
the Steps of Jane Austen is the first American edition of
Edwards’ work; however, the book was first published in 1979 in England
and has gone through three editions there. I expect, with the number of
Americans who traveled to the Homecoming AGM in October 2003, many will
want to return on their own and visualize what Jane Austen’s England
was really like. If you don’t have the energy for a seven-mile tour
around Steventon and North Waltham, which happens to cross under the
very busy A30 and M3, you might try part of the tour, perhaps from the
Steventon church to the site of the rectory and back.
Although many of the walks assume
that the traveler is arriving by car, you can take a train to Bath Spa,
walk to the Abbey and begin your tour there. Of course, you can always
go on a guided tour, but there’s something very satisfying about
“discovering” the several places where the Austens stayed in Bath.
Again, be forewarned that the streets are hilly and the stairs many,
but you can give yourself permission (as I did) to cut out parts of the
walk. Edwards devotes two chapters to Bath, one called “Jane Visits
Bath” and the other entitled “Residence in Bath.” The first focuses on
connections between what Austen observes in the Bath landscape during
her early visits there and what she describes in Northanger Abbey. The second deals
with the social changes which Austen finds in Bath some 13 years after
she has written Northanger Abbey,
changes which influence the landscape of Persuasion. The potential tourist
must be forewarned: the walking tour suggested in Chapter 7 is quite
challenging and requires a hardy walker.
Walks in London, Winchester,
Southampton, and Chawton can also be reached without a car. Other walks
around Godmersham, Goodnestone, and Box Hill will probably require a
vehicle, although a bus does go to the first two. From my own
experience with In the Steps of Jane
Austen, I find that the maps are fairly simple and accurate, and
the discussions in each chapter explain succinctly what the tourist
might encounter of the actual places where Jane Austen went during her
lifetime. In fact, Edwards’ book remains a useful reference for the
armchair Janeite who wants to imagine the landscape. The traveler who
wants to see in considerable detail the sites of Austen’s life and
works and the returning pilgrim (like myself) who has taken several of
the walking tours and intends to take more on the next visit will find In the Steps of Jane Austen an
essential reference for their personal libraries.
Barbara Britton Wenner is an associate professor of English at the
University of Cincinnati. She has a book, Prospect and Refuge in the Landscape of
Jane Austen, forthcoming from Ashgate Press.
v.20, no. 3, Winter 2004, p. 22
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