There are many theories, scholarly and amateur about Jane Austen’s move and relationship with Bath, England. When I visited Bath in 1988, I was on a day trip my mum, and I don’t have a memory of there being too much of an Austen tie in with the tourist industry back then — although I had not discovered my love for Austen then so perhaps it was there — and I did not seek it out. But per online reading, and listening to other Janeites, Bath now puts forth a strong tie-in and history with Austen if only to encourage this literary tourism. Whether Austen loved her time in Bath or not will continue to be debated.
In this letter — it is a various newsy update for her older sister Cassandra, away in Andover. Austen gives Cassandra a full report of being on the move and their recent Regency Road trip: “Our journey here was perfectly free from accident or Event; we changed Horses at the end of every stage, & paid at almost every Turnpike: –we had charming weather, hardly any Dust, & were exceedingly agreeable, as we did not speak above once in three miles.” (Austen’s own grammar and capitalization.)
Austen quickly transitions to updates about family members and their health: “We were above three hours coming from thence to Paragon, & it was half past seven by Your Clocks before we entered the house. Frank, whose black head was in waiting in the Hall window, received us very kindly; and his Master & Mistress did not show less cordiality.–They both look well, tho’ my Aunt has a violent cough.” (Austen’s own capitalization an emphasis.)
The letter then jumps around first to a friend update: “Well– & so the Good news is confirmed, & Martha triumphs.” Per the notes, this seems to have been possibly a legal victory of some sort for Martha Lloyd.
Austen then continues, “My Uncle & Aunt seem quite surprised that you & my father were not coming sooner.” She then continues to report some bad news: “–when I got into the Chaise at Devizes I discovered that your Drawing Ruler was broke in two;–it is just at the Top where the crosspiece is fastened on.–I beg pardon.” (Austen’s own punctuation and capitalization.)
This letter continues mainly with descriptions of Bath for her older sister including the search for lodging and the price of food, then moving onto the business of dress making. “Mrs. Mussell has got my Gown, & I will endeavour to explain what her intentions are.–It is to be a round Gown, with a Jacket & a Frock front, like Cath: Bigg’s to be open at the side.” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)
More details are included as Austen moves along to report millinery matters: “My mother has ordered a new Bonnet, & so have I;–both white chip, trimmed with white ribbon.” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)
Austen includes a lot more detail including updates about Bath as well: “Bath is getting very empty that I am afraid of doing too little.–Black gauze Cloaks are worn as much as anything.”
Perhaps since it was the end of the season Austen was concerned about making connections and friends for she added this postscript as well: ” We have had Mrs. Lillingstone & the Chamberlains to call on us.–My Mother was very much struck with the odd looks of the two latter; I have only seen her. Mrs. Busby drinks tea & plays at Cribbage here tomorrow; & on friday I believe we got to the Chamberlains.–Last night we walked by the Canal.” (Austen’s own spelling, punctuation and emphasis.)
All cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.