Clues left in Austen's novels
J Biddulph (letters August 30) asks what Jane Austen would think of Bath today, and answers this question by suggesting that she would be "horrified" by the heavy traffic. The fact is that she was already pretty horrified before she even got here.
Jane Austen's writing life ended abruptly when she moved to Bath in 1801, and she didn't take up her pen again until she left for Chawton in 1806.
There is good evidence to suggest she was depressed in Bath and her novels reveal much the Austen industry (aided and abetted by many saccharine adaptations) has hidden.
Various characters in Northhanger Abbey describe the city as "vile", "horrid" and "tiresome". Even discounting that walk to Beechen Cliff when Catherine Morland rejects the city completely, she finally escapes to visit a "Gothic Abbey". Even the most ardent Jane-ite must get one of the author's best gags: Bath Abbey clearly isn't up to scratch.
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Persuasion forces us to contemplate Bath's fierce "white glare", while its heroine, Anne Elliot, openly loathes the place. In one very strange scene, she decontaminates Bath on a walk, spreading "purification and perfume all the way".
Guess where John Willoughby seduces Eliza Williams and leaves her pregnant in Sense and Sensibility? Where does George Wickam hide after escaping his marriage in Pride and Prejudice? Which city does the monster of Mansfield Park regularly visit?
Bath's appropriation of Jane Austen and her work is extremely skilful PR, but it's nothing more than that. She didn't like it here much.
Dr Richard Berger Second Avenue Bath