Strictly Jane Austen

Five minutes with Jane Austen aficionado, Diana White


Our two-day festive jaunt around Jane Austen’s Bath is led by local historian Diana White. Ahead of the tour, we caught up with her to ask about her book, Jane Austen: The Life and Times of the Woman behind the Books, and the city Jane Austen made her home.

ECT: Tell us a bit about your book

DW: When I wrote my biography, I wanted to write about Jane Austen herself, I didn’t want to do another family saga. Jane Austen was living at a time when women were classed as goods and chattels. I wanted to show the difficulties she faced, how she lived day to day. What did she really think about men and marriage, religion and politics?  She was a feminist quite unable to express herself as such except in her novels. (Very pertinent to the fact that she began to write more seriously was her decision to turn down a proposal of marriage from Harris Bigg Withers.) I wanted to show Jane as she really was, a woman who wrote romances with a subtext that revealed her subversive, mocking self

ECT: When did your interest in Jane Austen begin?

DW: When I first came to Bath 30 years ago. I joined a Jane Austen group and took up Regency dancing, which I went on teach myself for many years. (I only gave up when my knees gave out!) 

ECT: You have also been a Mayor’s Guide for Bath for many years – do you think Jane would still recognise the city today?

DW: Yes, I think so. Despite the many changes, it is still possible to follow in her footsteps, and those of characters from Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, the two novels she based here.

The Circus Bath

Image courtesy Visit Bath

ECT:  So, what are your top three sites for conjuring the spirit of Jane Austen?

DW:  Milsom Street, the fashionable shopping street prominent in both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, The Pump Rooms and, of course the Assembly Rooms. Jane’s uncle was a wealthy man and was a subscriber to the Tontine (an investment plan for raising capital, devised in the 17th century) that funded the building of the Upper Rooms, Regency Bath’s most elegant meeting place. Jane and her characters often gathered here for evening balls, concerts and other social functions.

Assembly Rooms

Image courtesy Jane Austen Festival

Our tour has been postponed to 2021 due to Covid-19 restrictions, but while you’re waiting, why not read Diana’s fascinating book? Order your copy here