Journeying with Jane
Summer is one of the busiest times of year for travelling, both at home and further abroad. As Jane Austen and her fellow Georgians show, going on a journey has always involved untold delights, undoubted discomforts and, ultimately, the importance of self-discovery.
English teacher and Georgian history expert Christine Hughes tells us more.
“We were jolted so Cursedly, that I thought it would have made a dislocation of my Bones”, complained author Edward Ward after a visit to Bath in 1700, adding “nor would I advise [many] to Adventure the Fatigue of a Coach to the Bath.”
A satirical image showing the typical chaos of travel with Thomas Rowlandson’s bawdy humour, 24th November 1785
Yet, despite the clear discomfort of getting to this Somerset city, Bath and other nearby places became more and more popular as travel destinations through the following centuries. A far-reaching and enduring cultural shift was sweeping across England and the continent, driven in part by the increasing pace of the industrial revolution. As roads and transport improved, a rapidly expanding urban population sought new forms of genteel pleasure and entertainment.
By Jane Austen’s time, in the early nineteenth century, war on the continent had made domestic excursions and travel even more popular, a trend Austen reflected in her writing. The importance of travel as a theme in her novels is apparent even when the heroine only goes a very short distance. Anne’s first journey in Persuasion, for example, is a very short one from her family’s estate to Uppercross Cottage. But while it is a mere three miles, it is significant and Anne is struck by how, “a removal from one set of people to another, though at a distance of only three miles, will often include a total change of conversation, opinion and idea.”
A familiar inn scene implying a long road ahead for departing travels, 1807 Thomas Rowlandson - reproduced print of an original watercolour
It is this necessity for a complete change of company and ideas that Austen places at the heart of Elizabeth Bennet’s self-development in her bildungsroman Pride and Prejudice.
Her exasperating parents are left at home as Elizabeth travels with her aunt and uncle Gardiner to Derbyshire “in pursuit of novelty and amusement.” Ultimately though, she finds more than simple diversions. When she first sees Pemberley, “Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more.” Travelling away from her home enables Elizabeth to know more of herself and Mr Darcy in their unexpected - and now infamous - meeting in the picturesque landscape of his home.
So significant is the importance of travel, that Austen ends what is possibly her most famous novel by describing how the Darcys always felt the warmest gratitude towards the Gardiners who, “by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.”
To Austen, clearly who you travel with is just as important as where you visit. We will certainly be catching up with friends in our own travels this summer, as well as enjoying the opportunities to make new ones.
View of Bath, 1776. Watercolour by unknown artist