Romance | The Victoria Art Gallery


Romance in Bath

During Jane Austen’s lifetime, Bath was famous as the place to meet the opposite sex. Opportunities to socialise were numerous; taking the waters at the Pump Room, dances at the Assembly Rooms, Public Breakfasts at Spring Gardens, concerts at Sydney Gardens, attending church or just strolling around town.

In Austen’s novels, Bath is the place for romance. Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey meets her future husband here and in Persuasion Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth are happily reunited. 

For Jane Austen’s family, Bath was firmly associated with romance. Her parents had married here in 1764, at St Swithin’s Church. A copy of their Marriage Certificate is on display in this exhibition.

Austen’s view of the romantic possibilities of Bath was not entirely rosy; in Emma, Mr Elton disappears to Bath, humiliated after Emma’s refusal to marry him. He returns married (on the rebound) to a snobbish, irritating, nouveau riche woman – representing Austen’s view of the kind of relationships formed here.

Image: New Room, By John Claude Nattes, 1805

New Room

By John Claude Nattes, 1805

‘He was nowhere to be met with; every search for him was equally unsuccessful, in morning lounges or evening assemblies; neither at the Upper nor Lower Rooms, at dressed or undressed balls, was he perceivable…His name was not in the Pump-room book… He must be gone from Bath.’  Northanger Abbey

Image: Lady with a Straw Bonnet, By John Nixon, 1801

Lady with a Straw Bonnet

By John Nixon, 1801

‘My mother has ordered a new Bonnet, & so have I… I find my straw bonnet looking very much like other people’s and quite as smart. – Bonnets of Cambric Muslin … are a good deal worn & some of them are quite pretty’  Jane Austen’s Letters, May 1801

Image: Broad Street from Lansdown Road, By John Syer, around 1840

Broad Street from Lansdown Road

By John Syer, around 1840

‘Prettier musings of high-wrought love and eternal constancy, could never have passed along the streets of Bath, that Anne was sporting with from Camden Place to Westgate Buildings. It was almost enough to spread purification and perfume all the way.’  Persuasion

Although painted at least 20 years after Persuasion was written, this gives us a good impression of the views that Anne Elliot would have seen on her way into town.

Image: The Successful Fortune Hunter, By Thomas Rowlandson, 1812

The Successful Fortune Hunter

By Thomas Rowlandson, 1812

‘and she could not but feel how much better it was to be the daughter of a gentleman of property in Croydon, than the niece of an old woman who threw herself away on an Irish captain.’  The Watsons

Jane Austen wrote The Watsons while living in Bath but never finished it. A major theme in the book is the perils of the marriage market. For any wealthy heiress, there was always a danger that they would attract the wrong kind of man.