For immediate release: Austenacious requests proposals for a JANE AUSTEN THEME PARK!
Goals: To have a fun place irl to hang out with our peeps, being sarcastical, laughing at our neighbors, and trying not to be sport for them in return. Why? Why not, she said!
Rules for theme park proposals:
Note, we are not talking about some kind of holodeck adventures where we roleplay with low-rent actors dressed up as Mr. Darcy, ala Austenland. That is not a theme park. Nor is it, as AustenBlog pointed out, ironic enough for the Austen fans. We are as ironic as all hell, damn it. That is why we are Austen fans!
Nor, actually, do we want some kind of honest attempt to immerse tourists in Jane Austen’s Bath, or her villages, or even her country houses, with actors waylaying you and attempting to interact or something. How pathetically embarrassing! (OK, I am scared of those people. I admit it.) That sort of thing may be fine for Dickens’ World, but honest, vulgar sentimentality is not for us.
And we have no desire to sully Chawton, Bath, or even Lyme Regis with our water slides. You are talking to someone who almost cried when she saw the Anne of Green Gables theme park, Rainbow Valley.
But Austen is not Brontë. (I guess you knew that.) We can have some ironical, Austen-spirited fun, right? Sure, Bath is practically a Regency theme park, but the essence of Austen isn’t the world—it’s the snark. So we need a theme park with some snark, some fun, a Louisa Musgrove Drop ride, OK, yes, a Colin Firth splashing into the water roller coaster, and maybe Lady Catherine vs. Elizabeth Bennet paintball. The rest is up to you.
That’s the goal. Now hit us!
. . . as the sign for Hampshire County proclaimed! Action Jane and I have been having a jolly time here, with her showing me all the sights. In London, we stopped at the British Library. My dear friends, I cannot even describe to you the treasures in their little gallery. Even the sight of one of Jane Austen’s handwritten volumes of juvenalia was overwhelmed by the sheer physical presence of so many manuscripts handwritten by her, by Wordsworth, by Chaucer, and, yes, by Charlotte Brontë (and that was just part of one display case). In the spirit of Brontë/Austen relations, I’ll admit that seeing “Reader, I married him.” in Charlotte’s own hand was simply stunning. And that her writing was more legible than Miss Austen’s. We’ve talked before about how indescribable it is to see handwritten copies of Jane’s work. I think, more than anything, the proof that she and these other were all real people, is overwhelming.
Jane frowned on my friend Mr. Coles’ suggestion that I sit on her tomb and sing New Age chants, so we headed on to her last house, where she lived from 1809 to 1817.
Chawton is a lovely little village, and Jane Austen’s House Museum quite worthy of pilgrimage. Really ridiculously so, given the number of things that were hers and that clearly inspired something in one of the books. I found the lock of her hair another shocking proof that she really lived. Some other highlights:
The sacred writing table. It is, as mentioned, very small! In fact, I can’t see how Jane’s writing desk, which was at the British Library, actually fit on it. I’ve heard people say that everything in Austen’s life was small: her paper, her table, the rooms in her house. Paper and table, yes, but to this apartment dweller, the rooms in her house seemed plenty commodious! Not huge, but nothing I’d turn my nose up at.
The actual dress worn by Kate Winslet as she fell down the hill in Sense and Sensibility! Really! Squee!!
Miss Osborne and other aspiring Regency chefs: Here is the recipe book Jane’s friend Martha Lloyd kept when she lived with them. I couldn’t read it, unfortunately, but I have no doubt it’s for jugged hare or some other delight.
And here is Action Jane in the kitchen. To the left of the fireplace is the safe that Miss Austen had the keys of, where the sugar and tea were kept.
In reward for our pilgrimage, we had an amazing cream tea at Cassandra’s Cup across the street. Cream tea consists of tea, plus one or two scones with jam and clotted cream to spread on. Clotted cream! Heavenly. Then, because I am a thorough pilgrimess, we headed down to Lyme Regis.
Lyme is the seaside resort on the south coast where Louisa Musgrove falls down the Cobb steps in Persuasion. (Falling down things is a favorite among Austen girls, isn’t it?)
We arrived in Lyme at sunset, and went to the sea first, as Jane says “lingering, as all must linger and gaze on a first return to the sea, who ever deserve to look on it at all.” Believe it or not, we actually stayed at the Cobb Arms, and next morning, we walked along the lower Cobb.
Jane wanted to walk along the upper Cobb, but I wouldn’t let her. Indeed, considering that it’s a sloping stone walkway, with no handrails, 8 feet above the lower Cobb and probably 20 feet above the harbor, and very windy, I’m surprised the ladies were walking there at all.
I liked Lyme Regis, but then I do have a weakness for seaside resort towns. And Lyme has some commercialism, but not too much. I don’t think Jane would be displeased, were she to return. However, as far as I know, I didn’t see any unknown cousins who will later be charmed by my beauty. One can always hope.
Next up: Bath!
Photo credits: ©2011 by Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
Travel has been much on my mind lately. I need to get away. I need to see new places, have new experiences. I need to go and stay with my friend and her obnoxious husband for two months. Wait . . . back up. Can we try that again?
Take 2: I need to go to London to get my hair cut. And while I’m there I can stay with an annoying old woman, try to glimpse my not-fiancé, and avoid my evil sister-in-law . . . maybe not.
Take 3: OK, yes, let’s take a trip to Bath for someone’s gout (thank goodness not mine). Ooh, and I could meet a handsome young man and maybe he’ll ask me to stay at his family’s abbey, and I can get in some quality ghost time! This is getting better.
Take 4: I know! Let’s drive to the seaside. Someone can fall down and injure themselves, and then we can go to Bath, and . . . and I’ll meet an old schoolfriend and be saved by her from a disastrous marriage, and finally marry the man of my dreams. Under an umbrella. There. That’s a wrap!
I do love it when the characters travel in Jane Austen. You just know that dramatic things are going to happen. Characters and destinies will be revealed. Not like in real life, where they . . . probably won’t. And I have a feeling Austen herself loved travel in spite of her better judgment. She may make snobby comments about the Eltons’ “exploring,” but you get a breath of fresh air when her heroines are on the road, when they look at the sea.