The 17th Jane Austen Festival in Bath, UK
8th to 17th September 2017
Jane Austen was born on 16th December 1775 in the small village of Steventon in Hampshire where she lived for the first twenty-five years of her life. The family was a large one, Jane was the seventh child of eight, and a happy one where her passion for writing was encouraged. Austen’s first full length novel Northanger Abbey, was written after visiting Bath in 1797; she visited the city on several occasions and lived there from 1801 until 1806. Jane’s parents were married at St Swithin’s Church in Bath where both her father and grandfather are buried. The first of Austen’s works to be published was Sense & Sensibility in 1811, followed by her most famous work Pride & Prejudice in 1813, her longest Mansfield Park in 1814, Emma in 1815, and Persuasion with Northanger Abbey posthumously in 1817. Bath is mentioned in all the novels and much of the plot in the last two published novels takes place in the city.
The first Jane Austen Festival organised by the Jane Austen Centre in Gay Street, Bath, took place in September 2001 with ten events over a weekend. Seventeen years later the Jane Austen Festival has expanded to ten days, during the course of which it now attracts more than 4000 participants from all over the world.
2017 is an important year of anniversaries, apart from being the bicentenary of Austen’s demise (18th July 1817) it also marks 200 years since the publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The Festival concentrates on Northanger Abbey and all locations in Bath mentioned in the novel are included in events.
To celebrate the life of this much-loved author, there are eighty plus events over the ten days of the Festival. Favourites such as the Regency dance workshops, minibus tours and walks, the Regency town house events of breakfast and afternoon tea are in the programme. The Natural Theatre company return with their hit street theatre Austen Undone! and a brand new improvised theatrical More pride, More prejudice!
Also included is the world famous and record breaking Regency Costumed Charity Promenade which this year is raising funds for the Cancer Care Campaign at the Royal United Hospital in Bath. The unique and spectacular Masked Ball with its reception by the Roman Baths and dancing in the Pump Room is quite an experience and takes place on the final Friday. On the opening day and set in the magnificent 18th Century Guildhall, is the Bicentenary Country Dance where smart but not necessarily Regency dress is worn, an ideal opportunity for anyone not familiar with Regency dance to get a taste. There are plenty of new events and new venues including, St Michael’s Church in Broad Street, Waterstones in Milsom Street, Slug and Lettuce at Edgar Buildings and some that have been used in the past, The Old Theatre Royal (The Masonic Hall) and Percy Community Centre.
St Michael’s Church in Broad Street is the location for ‘The story of Pride & Prejudice with music by Carl Davis.’ Specially created for bicentenary year, this intimate performance interwoven with Carl Davis’ magical score, from the 1995 BBC production is performed by acclaimed musicians, Ashley Wass on piano and violinist Matthew Trusler.
The Festival often has quirky events – Graham Short, ‘the hands of genius’ who has caused much excitement with his engravings on £5 notes instructs on how he prepares himself before creating his minute works of art. Perhaps not so quirky but equally fascinating is the workshop led by Stephen Duckett (former Butler of Blenheim Palace) on the art of letter writing, how to prepare the nib, fold the letter and then seal it with wax. ‘Chatter Broth’ and ‘Grave Robbers are afoot’ are just two evening events with a difference, one on tea the other about a rather gruesome 18th Century pastime!
Jane Austen loved music and dancing: ‘There were twenty dances and I danced them all…’ In celebration, there is a ‘Day of Dance’ in the Upper Rooms, that Austen knew well, better known today as the Assembly Rooms. The ‘Day of Dance and Music’ (Thursday 14th September) opens in the morning with a beginner’s dance workshop, followed by an improver’s workshop, then a performance by the Jane Austen Dancers. In the evening the Austen Trio perform music from Austen’s own music books in the Tea Room where she attended concerts.
Northanger Abbey is being read aloud and thanks go to Waterstones in Milsom Street, for hosting the readings amongst the books upstairs. The character, General Tilney had lodgings in Milsom Street, could the café with its very special panelling have been Austen’s choice of location?
Several of the walks traverse the length of Great Pulteney Street, where the Allens had their lodgings. However, the most spectacular outside location is the Royal Crescent, here spectators and Promenaders can ‘breath the air of better quality’ as it is from the lawn on Saturday 9th September that the Regency Costumed Charity Promenade departs.
The Old Theatre Royal that Catherine Morland attended, is the venue for a Festival reunion with Adrian Lukis (Mr Wickham) and friends in ‘An Evening with Jane Austen’. Earlier in the day this atmospheric building hosts an audience with Simon Langton the Director of the BBC 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Other credits include: Smiley’s People, The Whistle Blower, Casanova, Rebecca, Foyle’s War, Poirot and Rosemary & Thyme.
The Festival finale is at Edgar Buildings, the lodgings of the Thorpes, though we won’t be looking at Isabella’s new hat, we will be studying Jane Austen’s Will. Earlier in 2017 Festival Director, Jackie Herring, was given the rare opportunity to study, handle and photograph the original of Austen’s Will. Jane Austen left two legacies of £50 but what she gave to the world was far more valuable and the Festival aims to make 2017 a fitting celebration of her lamentably short life.
Full programme details available on the Festival website www.janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk
‘The Jane Austen Festival photographer Owen Benson’