Jane Austen and the Georgian social whirlwind of Bath

Jane Austen and the Georgian social whirlwind of Bath

Working for the second 12 months, the British Library and the Nationwide Belief have collaboratively designed a Doctoral Fellowship scheme which goals to look at the hyperlinks between the collections of every organisation. From January 2023, I had the pleasure of enjoying the function of PhD scholar in a venture that examines the significance of public leisure areas, such because the assembly rooms of Tub, inside Georgian society. The primary goal of the venture has been to research literature and different ephemera on paper, discovered within the intensive catalogs of the British Library and the Nationwide Belief, with the intention to higher perceive Austen’s society and, extra broadly, social life in Tub.

Within the 18th century, Tub was a spot for each the trendy and the infirm, a metropolis that attracted individuals each for its therapeutic waters and its lavish leisure. Tub has turn out to be synonymous with leisure. Whereas there was an abundance of scheduled leisure resembling performs, balls and musical concert events, the best leisure of all was that of the spa city’s social theatre.

Whether or not you consider Austen beloved or hated Tub, town definitely had an influence on his life and writings. In reality, there is not a single one in every of Austen’s six nice novels that does not point out Tub in a roundabout way, whether or not utilizing town as the primary theatrical stage for Northanger Abbey (1817), or a short point out of Mr. Wickham ‘get pleasure from[ing] himself in London or Tub’ in Delight and Prejudice (1813). Town figures prominently in Austen’s posthumously printed novels, Persuasion (1817) and Northanger Abbey. The remedy of Tub in these texts receives two opposing views: one in every of surprise and pleasure of a small-town woman touring to the “massive metropolis” of Northanger Abbeycontrasting with the view of Tub as a light metropolis, a spot to which Anne Elliot relatively reluctantly goes to affix her household in Persuasion.

As town attracted trendy society, this similar social class turned a main goal for criticism and mock, as evidenced by satirical prints of the time. Within the assortment of the British Library is a hardcover e-book from 1858 which features a sequence of satirical prints by Thomas Rowlandson titled, The consolation of Tubfirst printed in 1798. The sequence of twelve plates depicts varied amusements within the metropolis, together with a live performance and dance, waters drunk on the Pump Room, and public video games.

Christopher Anstey, plate ten from The Comforts of Tub. Designed and engraved by Rowlandson, with versification by Christopher Anstey, Esq, 1858. British Library, name quantity 1267.f.21.

Every print is accompanied by an excerpt from Christopher Anstey’s New Tub Information, first printed in 1766. The title of Anstey’s work is kind of deceptive. As a substitute of an academic article recommending the most recent and hottest hotspots in Tub, the publication is written in a sequence of satirical and anapestic poems, following the lives of the fictional Blunderhead household. In reality, it is not likely a information in any respect. Right here, the mixture of textual content and print merges the visible and the textual, presenting two very related satirical critiques of Georgian society in Tub.

The title page of Christopher Anstey's New Bath Guide, showing full title and publisher's details.

Christopher Anstey, The New Tub Information: or Memoirs of the Br-d Household. In a sequence of poetic epistles.1766. British Library, name quantity 11633.c.5.

Trying Fastidiously at Plate Ten from Rowlandson The consolation of Tub, we will see a mess of actions going down inside this live performance setting. Whereas there are viewers members watching the efficiency intently, many will be seen chatting amongst themselves, gazing into the gap, fidgeting and even taking a fast nap. The function of the general public in Georgian leisure areas was very totally different from what we expertise at this time. Whereas we’re requested to show off the distractions of cellphones, and speaking by way of films is commonly met with passive-aggressive “shhh,” 18th-century leisure etiquette was a bit of totally different. Talking of the theatergoer’s expertise, Jim Davis says, “[r]refreshments, dialogue of the efficiency in progress, informal dialog, a little bit of eyeing and flirting, have been all a part of the expertise” (Davis, p.520).

19th century black and white engraving depicting a concert in an ornate Georgian hall.  The orchestra and the singer are visible, performing in front of a crowded audience.  Accompanying text is visible at the bottom of the page.

Christopher Anstey, plate two from The Comforts of Tub. 1858. British Library, name quantity 1267.f.21.

The function of the viewers member, or spectator, was a topic many artists like Rowlandson embraced of their work. Discovered within the assortment of the British Library, George Cruikshank’s Pit, Bins & Gallery, printed in 1834, illustrates a bustling theater viewers unfold over three ranges. Like Rowlandson The live performancethe print exhibits quite a lot of comedian e-book characters, all engaged in an array of actions, from speaking and consuming to preventing for area within the higher gallery.

Colorful impression of a well-filled entertainment space, divided into pit, boxes and gallery.

George Cruikshank, Pit packing containers & Gallery, from My Sketch E book, 1834, British Library, name quantity C.59.d.5.

This visualization of the viewer, created by artists resembling Cruikshank and Rowlandson, usually depicts an viewers whose full consideration isn’t directed to the leisure in query (Davis, p.520). Due to this fact, audiences are portrayed as energetic relatively than passive viewers, enjoying an important function within the Georgian leisure expertise. This energetic viewers participation is subsequently important to what we take into account to be Georgian leisure. It isn’t simply the bodily exercise of dancing, appearing or singing that creates the leisure, however the people who watch and take part not solely within the live performance halls but additionally within the social theater of Tub. For is not the spa city itself merely a dramatic stage the place the wealthy and trendy ‘play’ their fame? Tub subsequently acted as a stage that facilitated the talkative one-on-ones of the trendy elite.

The theater and live performance halls weren’t the one areas the place society ensured the function of spectator; the Pump Rooms have been a spot individuals frequented to see and be seen. In Austen Chapter Three Northanger Abbey, the narrator describes the every day rituals of life in Tub:

“Every morning now introduced its standard duties – retailers to be visited; a brand new a part of city to take a look at; and the pump room to occupy, the place they paraded up and down for an hour, taking a look at everybody and speaking to nobody.” (Northanger Abbey, p.25).

Austen paints an image of a society which, as Kathryn Sutherland says, is ‘trying constantly’. The pump room was not solely a spot of therapeutic, the place therapeutic waters have been taken for these sick, but additionally an area to be seen enjoying your right societal function. Self-presentation inside the firm was additionally seen by way of newspaper ads, evident in Austen’s Persuasion the place the arrival of Elliot’s rich cousins, the Dalrymples, is introduced within the newspaper:

“The Tub newspaper introduced one morning the arrival of the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, […] for the Dalrymples (in Anne’s opinion, most unhappily) have been cousins ​​of the Elliots; and the agony was find out how to current your self correctly.” (Persuasion, p.139).

Seen in each excerpts, Austen not solely displays this societal “peacock,” but additionally subtly alludes to the absurdity of social formalities, for if the agony is attributable to making an attempt to speak to 1’s personal relations, it should be close to unimaginable. to socialize with another person. .

Take part within the social show of oneself inside these public areas, each created and fueled by a tradition of gossip. Being talked about, being recognized, having a revered repute, have been all methods to faucet into the advantages of the superstar tradition of the time. For in Georgian Tub, gossip was the final word type of leisure. Much like the function of the viewers, gossip concerned the energetic and passive viewer. Whereas the gossip commerce provided loads of leisure to eat, members of those social courses additionally performed the function of the entertainers themselves, each topic to such gossip and thru their social look on this “stage”. This tradition of gossip can be an intrinsic function of Austen’s writings. The naivety of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey is obvious when she struggles to know who to take heed to for gossip, or within the case of John Thorpe, her lies and tips. In an effort to thwart Catherine’s plans with the well-behaved Henry and Eleanor Tilney, John spreads false details about the whereabouts of the Tilneys with the intention to safe Catherine’s time for himself.

Thus Tub was a metropolis of each energetic and passive leisure. Tub’s amusements existed on stage and within the audiences of performs and concert events, but additionally in equal measure in social areas such because the Pump Room and tea rooms. Folks regarded ahead to scripted stage and ballroom leisure, in addition to participation in unscripted social theatre. Thus, public leisure areas in Tub have been important to facilitate not solely scheduled leisure, but additionally social shows of wealth and significance. It might subsequently be remiss to outline Tub’s public leisure areas as mere websites of formal exercise. The favored seaside resort functioned because the theatrical backdrop for the social circus that was Georgia’s elite, in the end offering a modern area to see and be seen.

By Joanne Edwards, PhD scholar on the British Library and the Nationwide Belief.


Austen, Jane Northanger Abbey1817, (London: Penguin Classics version, 2011)

Austen, Jane Persuasion1817, (London: Penguin Classics version, 2011)

Austen, Jane Northanger Abbey1817, (London: Penguin Classics version, 2011)

Austen, Jane Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye (New York: Oxford College Press, 2011)

Davis, Jim, ‘Watching and Being Watched’, theater journal, 2017, 69. 4, p. 515-53

Sutherland, Catherine, ‘Jane Austen and social judgment‘, Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians,

#Jane #Austen #Georgian #social #whirlwind #Tub

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