Bath, Bridgerton and Jane Austen
Bridgerton, Netflix’s smash-hit series based on the novels by Julia Quinn, depicts Regency England as a place of romance, scandal and the fashionable elite. Set in 1813, the same year that Jane Austen’s novel Pride & Prejudice was published, and partly filmed in Bath, our guest blogger and Austen expert Christine Hughes wonders whether Jane would have recognised the settings, fashions and social mores in this fantasy version of Regency England?
The Crescent by John Claude Nattes, 1804
At the heart of Bath’s Georgian architecture is the Royal Crescent, and it is the exterior of No. 1 Royal Crescent that features as Lady Featherington’s house in the series. Whilst it would certainly have been a very wealthy family who could take a house there, the series shows how anyone who wanted to be considered fashionable would promenade along the Crescent, or the avenues of London’s Hyde Park, in the hope of meeting an eligible suitor such as Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings. Jane would often walk along the Crescent after church and it was perhaps on one such walk that inspired her to write how, in Northanger Abbey, the Thorpes and Allens hastened away from the Pump Rooms “to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company.”
In the evenings, attendance at a crowded place such as Bath’s Assembly Rooms or a grand private ball such as Lady Danbury’s, was essential for meeting a promising matrimonial prospect. Elizabeth and Darcy’s infamous first meeting is defined by his aloof behaviour at the Meryton Assembly Rooms. In Bridgerton, Daphne and Simon’s abrupt meeting at Lady Danbury’s ball falls rather short of the decorum of the time as they are not formally introduced.
Holbourne Museum, image courtesy Visit Bath
Holbourne Museum serves as the exterior location for this setting. Jane attended fashionable events such as breakfasts here and lived almost opposite at 4 Sydney Place. Both Bridgerton and Jane’s Bath-based novels show how vital the latest fashions were when attending these occasions. In a style similar to the notorious Lady Whistledown’s society pages, The Mirror of the Graces was published anonymously in 1811 by ‘A Lady of Distinction’ and offered advice on fashions of the day, but also “female accomplishments and manners” and the “rules of proprietary.” It is not hard to imagine characters from both these stories consulting this book when dramatic events unfold!
The Frontispiece of The Mirror of the Graces, 1811
Bath Street is a further setting that offers an intriguing connection between Bridgerton, Jane Austen and those earlier themes of scandal and the fashionable elite. If Lady Whistledown’s society pages sought to expose such material, then the Austen family would have hoped to see no mention of Jane Leigh Perrot, Jane’s maternal aunt, who appeared before magistrates in 1800 accused of the theft of lace from a Bath Street shop. Her story, which was covered by periodicals at the time, offers the same insight as Bridgerton into how members of this society could exercise their privilege in matters of criminal justice, as much as they could in securing the most recent fashions or developing the right acquaintances.
Today, whether we are walking the same streets as Jane did, or seeing favourite Bath locations take a starring role on screen, it is a reminder that all aspects of the Regency era will continue to fascinate us for many years to come.