Introduction | The Victoria Art Gallery

Introduction

Introduction to Jane Austen's Bath

Jane Austen lived in Bath between 1801 and 1805, when this was a city in gentle decline.  It was at the tail end of its heyday as the most cultured, exciting and fashionable British city outside London.

Bath is the setting for two of Austen’s novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, but it is mentioned in all of them.  To Jane Austen and her characters, this was a busy modern city, full of dazzling new buildings and crowds of visitors.  Her characters come to Bath looking for love, entertainment and the chance to meet new people.  For all of them it is a place to broaden horizons and escape everyday life.

Although Jane Austen’s first documented visit to Bath was in 1797 when she was 22, members of her family had been living here for years.  It is likely that she visited Bath regularly during her childhood and knew the city well.

Jane Austen didn’t write a great deal during the years she lived in Bath.  There are rumours that this was because she was depressed and unhappy here.  It is true that she experienced personal tragedy here – her father died suddenly at their home in Green Park.  However, because many of the letters that she wrote here were later destroyed, we know very little about how she actually felt about Bath.

Almost all of the works of art on display here are from the years when Austen was in Bath.  They show us the city that she and her characters lived in and give us a wonderful insight into the sights, sounds and atmosphere of Jane Austen’s Bath.

Image: South Parade, John Claude Nattes, 1804

South Parade
By John Claude Nattes, 1804

‘…a fine Sunday in Bath empties every house of its inhabitants, and all the world appears on such an occasion to walk about and tell their acquaintance what a charming day it is.’  Northanger Abbey

Image: Bath from Beacon Hill, David Cox, around 1815

Bath from Beacon Hill
By David Cox, around 1815

‘The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see more distinctly through rain… the appearance of the place was all vapour, shadow, smoke & confusion’  Jane Austen’s Letters, May 1801

The thousands of coal and wood fires burning in Georgian Bath meant that the city was, at times, quite polluted.

Image: Mrs G Nixon and Anne Coates at Basinghall Street By John Nixon, 1800

Mrs G Nixon and Anne Coates at Basinghall Street
By John Nixon, 1800

This shows a house in London, not Bath. However, it shows a fashionably furnished interior and does give us a good idea of the appearance and atmosphere of homes during Jane Austen’s lifetime.

Image: Free Stone Quarries, By John Hassell, 1798

Free Stone Quarries
By John Hassell, 1798

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot complains of ‘the white glare of Bath’ in the September sunshine. We think of Bath stone has having a mellow honey colour, but as this print shows, freshly cut Bath stone is pale and bright. Jane Austen and her characters would have seen a city looking very different from the Bath of today.

Image: Bath from the Lower Bristol Road By William Spornberg, 1801

Bath from the Lower Bristol Road

By William Spornberg, 1801

In Jane Austen’s era, Bath was much smaller city than it is today. This view is probably taken from what is now Oldfield Park, a heavily built-up area. There was little development to the south of the river Avon, partly because there were few bridges.  Twerton was an entirely separate village, rather than the suburb that it is today.