I am a huge fan of two Janes; Jane Austen and Jane Eyre. These two women hold a very special place in my heart ever since I found out about them decades ago. And both of them have been an inspiration in two ways— in life and in literature.
How can you not admire Jane Austen, the woman who wrote the world’s most beautiful romance novels, and yet has probably never experienced a true romance herself? How could you not worship Jane Eyre, not only as Charlotte Brontë’s stunning literary achievement, but also as a character who is the very example of perfect femininity; a woman who owns her vulnerability, but who is nevertheless strong and resilient?
I am also an unapologetic fan of BBC’s period drama adaptations, my favorite being Persuasion (the 2007 one with Rupert Penry Jones and Sally Hawkins); North and South (with Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby), Jane Eyre (with the brilliant Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens) and Pride and Prejudice (the Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth version from 1995). Suffice it to say that I named the male protagonist in my own novel The Plant Whisperer, Colin 🙂 (naming him Darcy would probably be going overboard :D).
So, when a chance to visit England came up, I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I wanted not only to see but to experience first hand the places I associated with the two Janes I admired my whole life.
BATH: The Royal Crescent Street
The Royal Crescent is a row of thirty terraced houses laid out in a bow shape. Designed by the architect John Wood the Younger, it is often found on the lists of the most beautiful streets in England, and rightfully so.
The houses are built in Bath stone and have as much as five chimneys each. It is easy to imagine every room in the house with its own fireplace. Behind the walls, I could almost see people back in the Regent era sitting in the drawing room, playing
But it wasn’t its marvelous architecture that tempted me to visit it. It was one of the most memorable moments from BBC’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the one when Anne Elliot runs through the streets of Bath to find Capt. Frederick Wentworth, so she can finally accept his marriage proposal. Of course, she catches up with him in Royal Crescent Street.
This was the first BBC’s period drama I have ever seen, and I hadn’t read Persuasion beforehand. The scene was so intense I couldn’t even breathe as I watched it unfold, suffering along Anne’s every labored step through the streets of Bath. That was the moment I fell in love with Bath, Royal Crescent, and Anne Elliot.
BATH: Jane Austen Museum
Jane Austen Museum doesn’t feel like a museum at all. It feels like a home; a place where Jane Austen’s fans can come, find out more about her and catch a glimpse of her life, as well as the lives of her characters.
The Museum’s personnel is dressed in the Regency era outfits, and are named after Austen’s characters. Therefore, Capt. Wentworth himself showed us around the house and told us interesting facts about both Jane and her characters. (Did you know that Darcy’s £10 000 a year is the equivalent of around £700-800 000 a year today?! And that Jane Austen had a brother who was worth a whopping £15 000 a year? I was also surprised to hear that Jane had a literary agent, who was actually one of her brothers. Good thing he never sent her a rejection letter 🙂 )
There’s a section in the Museum where you can try on some of the Regent period style clothes, and you can take a picture next to the wax statue of Mr. Darcy or Jane Austen herself.
You can also try writing with a quill. As a writer, I found this particularly interesting. It is impossible to write more than three to four letters before having to dip the quill back in ink. I have absolutely no idea how anyone could have written a book that way! It’s hard enough writing on Mac with all the modern day apps, tools, and features. I stand in awe at the amount of willpower it must have taken Jane to write that many novels using only a quill!
DERBYSHIRE: Chatsworth House, aka Pemberly
There is a scene in BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth Bennet first sets eyes on Pemberly; when she realizes—stunned and amazed—that she could have been its mistress, had she accepted Darcy’s proposal.
I must say that the first time I entirely understood her emotion of awe was when the house revealed itself after the last bend on the road.
Surrounded by green pastures with sheep and lamb grazing on them, it was truly a heartstopping sight. But it was only with walking the corridors and the rooms of the house, as well as the magnificent gardens surrounding it, that the true opulence and luxury of the house sank in. It is an architectonic and gardening wonder.
DERBYSHIRE: Haddon Hall, aka Thornfield Hall
Not ten miles from Chatsworth lies the mysterious and gorgeous Haddon Hall. Built in the eleventh century, it is the oldest currently inhabited stately home in England.
Almost entire BBC’s Jane Eyre was filmed here, so it felt a lot like being on the movie set. As I passed from one room to another, the scenes replayed in my mind’s eye. It was an out-of-body experience for this Jane Eyre fangirl.
The house is darker, much older than Chatsworth (five hundred years older, to be exact), but there was something about it that touched my heart in a very special, profound way.
In a thousand years since it has been built, Haddon Hall stood the test of time, weather and historical events that threatened it. Over the entire millennium, it has only ever been owned by two families; the Vernons, and the Manners. Lord Edward Manners currently lives there with his family. I can’t even imagine what it is like for his children to be growing up in a castle such as Haddon Hall, with all its mysterious passages, grey walls, and crackling woodwork.
The mesmerizingly beautiful chapel (the very one where Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester start to exchange vows when they’re brutally stopped), depicts much of England’s clerical history, which is every bit as interesting as Jane Eyre’s synopsis (well, almost every bit as interesting :)).
Chasing after places that I have always associated with my two