Tuesday, 13 August 2019

A review of JANE AUSTEN’S ENGLAND: A TRAVEL GUIDE by Karin Quint






Jane Austen’s England by Karin Quint was first published in ,Dutch, in 2014. It was published in, English,  in 2017 as a limited edition for Karin's backers who crowdfunded the project to translate her book into English. Now,  in 2019, the paperback version in English has come out. The text was written by Karin Quint in Dutch and translated into English by Karen Holt. Karin, took most of the photographs but there are acknowledgements to various other photographers.

On the first page, after the publishing details, we are presented with a full page picture of the sign fastened to the outer wall of Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. A fitting metaphor for what is to follow in this book. An apt start to a guide book about Jane Austen’s England. A guide book based on the theme of Jane Austen in a way portrays England  as a museum, through its old houses, its countryside . its villages and its roads as well as its inhabitants. The reverse side of this page is a full page picture looking along the Cob seawall at Lyme Regis in Dorset with Charmouth cliffs  in the distance. This is the setting of one of the most dramatic scenes in an Austen novel. It is where Louisa Musgrove falls and suffers  concussion in the novel Persuasion and all the dramatic action that follows from that incident. Apart from the scene in Persuasion the actual portrayal of the picture, a hard stone wall depicting ruggedness, stability and protection from the elements, a calm sea, blue skies and soft, thin, horses tails clouds is a mixture of beauty, softness and strength. A few Austen characters and relationships come to mind. The pictures, bright and colourful, are well considered.

The contents page has 14 sections, each colour coded. The pages are edged with the colour highlighting each section. A guide book is not something to be read cover to cover like a novel, it’s a book to be used in sections and parts and not necessarily in order. You might want to focus on ,”London and surroundings,” or perhaps ,”Hampshire and surroundings.” The colour coding for each part helps you keep to the section you want to focus on. This is a great way to organize the book. It is clear and simple to negotiate.

I like Karin’s short introduction. She relates how she became interested in Jane Austen at first in her early twenties, finding a copy of Pride and Prejudice and falling in love with Austen. So many Jane Austen blogs and Facebook sites have articles about how and why and when people got hooked on Austen. It is a  fascinating subject to explore. We all should think about why we like something, why we believe in something. Some self analysis does us good I think. In her introduction Karin goes on to explain how people who knew of her interest in Austen and knew about her Austen travels in Britain began to ask her for advice on visiting Jane Austen sites  and hence the guide book was born.

Before Karin begins to take us around Britain in search of everything Jane Austen, she provides us with ,” Jane Austen’s Life,” an overview of Jane’s life. It informs the person who knows nothing or very little. It  is an enjoyable  read for those who know Austen’s life well too.  Karin gives us her opinions and writes in a style where you can imagine her talking to you. At times I was answering Karin, agreeing as well as disagreeing. It is a warm and personal style.  “She had a sharp and ironic sense of humour.” “ Even worse, she was ambitious.” Karin is explaining here why she thinks Austen might have put off potential suitors. I like this emotive style.

The picture of The Cob at Lyme followed by the contents page.

There is a section about ,”England in Austen’s Time,” which gives us the background history to what was happening in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries and it's role in the world while, of course her characters were  flirting, conversing and relating to each other. Some of it Austen alludes to within her writing. The plantations in the West Indies mentioned in Mansfield Park for instance.  In. Persuasion, Royal Naval Captains Harville, Benwick and Wentworth are ashore and on leave free to pursue relationships, released from serving at sea after the defeat of Napoleon. Karin finishes this section with a discussion of ,”The position of women.” It is impossible to say Jane Austen was a feminist but she certainly portrayed strong women with minds of their own. Karin writes about the role of,” old maids,” those who never marry, in a positive and life affirming way. Of course Austen herself was set on becoming an ,”old maid,” If she hadn’t died at the age of 41. Karin also informs us about the first feminists such as Mary Wollstencroft. Does this make this guide book a feminist guide book?  

In the main body of the guide book, there are nine regional sections.  “Hampshire and surroundings,” which is the area Austen was born, lived most of her life and died in, “Reading,Oxford, Cheltenham and surroundings,” “London and surroundings,” “Kent, Surrey and surroundings,” ”Bath, Salisbury and surroundings,” “The southwest coast,” ”Central England,” ”The Peak District and Surroundings,” and “Yorkshire.” I like the way Karin uses the word ,surroundings, in many of these titles. It shows she has a broader understanding of the wider importance of an area and the  interlinking of places. Using this guide book we don’t just get an understanding of a single place Jane Austen would have visited but an understanding of an area as she herself would have done. “Yorkshire,”a single word  title, made me laugh. Perhaps Karin has an understanding of the mindset of a Yorkshire person? Yorkshire men and women think they live in ,” Gods own Country,” and are different from the rest of us anyway.

Karin uses quotes from Jane's letters describing her experiences in a place. She quotes from Jane's poetry and provides memorable quotes from her novels where they reference a place; the party from Highbury on Boxhill for instance or Fanny Prices Portsmouth  or Catherine Morland's Bath.  Beechan Cliff, featured in Northanger Abbey, is a place  that when you yourself stand at the top of the high hill and look back northwards over Bath you get an overview of Bath itself. A symbol for what Karin is providing for us in this guide.

A map showing the area around Oxford that Jane Austen visited. This type of map  provides a great overview of an area and shows the relation of different places to each other.

I must admit I do like a good lively discussion. There are a few places in this guide when I want to argue with Karin and I suppose, in my head, I do. One example is this: Karin does not think much of the one novel Jane began while living in Bath and abandoned, The Watsons. I feel she tries to dismiss it. However, I do not have the same opinion. The Watsons is a forensic analysis of that social phenomena, The Ball. The situation at the Watson's ball is a microcosm of the whole of Surrey society.  This is what Bath was too, on a much larger scale of course, a temporary place for all strata’s of society to intermingle. Often this mixing of society brought about a loosening of morals. Maybe this is why Austen both hated Bath and at the same time it provided her a place that offered  many dramatic encounters.  The Watsons is an important piece of writing in understanding Jane Austen's viewpoint about society. There you go, I have got that off my chest, Karin. See what I mean by Karin’s style encouraging discussion and sometimes creating a descent into an argument.   I feel better now!

Sometimes, where applicable, Karin uses quotations to start a description of a place. Take Alton for example. Karin quotes a letter Jane wrote to Cassandra, in 1813. “ I walked to Alton and dirt excepted, found it delightful.” So we have Jane telling us about Alton. Then we have Karin providing us with information and this section continues with a  discussion about the people and places Jane knew and visited or where she shopped at in Alton. I like Karin’s chatty style” A bit up the road at number 31 is The |Old House with Lenten cottage next to it.” Then again Karin writes, “ Back in the High Street at The Swan Hotel..” And so we are taken around Alton in a  friendly way with a personal tone. I like that. It makes the reader, and certainly me, feel comfortable and at home as though we are walking along with a friend. This style permeates the guide book.

Once in a while a whole page is devoted to an historical or topical subject. In the section, “The South Coast,” as an example, a pink shaded page, pink being the colour code for this section,Karin writes about  Mapperton manor house, in Dorset, which was used in the 1996 film adaptation  of  Emma. In the,” London and surroundings,” section a pale blue shaded page is devoted to discussing the controversy over several alleged portraits  made of Jane in her lifetime. These coloured sections add extra depth and detail and discussion to our experience of this guide.

A smaller local map of Winchester. I don't think this type of map provides enough detail.

There are seventeen maps interspersed throughout the guide book. These are of varying quality. The maps such as the, “Kent Surrey surroundings,”  show a large area of the South East of England. This type of map shows many of the key locations in an area and they provide an important overview of an area. However the maps such as the Winchester map, on page 65 focusing on a small area in Winchester where Jane sites are located is too vague. I have learned from experience in some of the great cities of the world using this type of map does not help me get around, The main streets are named but many of the smaller thoroughfares are just vague lines on the paper. When you are actually on the ground, in the very location, these type of maps do not help. I suppose using google maps on your phone or buying a local map in a newsagent is what you should do. However, I really do feel that a guide book of this high quality should have more detailed maps showing local areas. A fold out map would work. 

Following the main body of the guide book there are three more sections, The first is named “Three Jane Austen Road Trips. “ The road trips are detailed and well presented. Two feature  the locations used in two different adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, (1995 and 2005). They describe trips for both films of five days in length each. The mileage covered is worked out and the time spent on each day   at a given place or on a given walk is suggested. The third trip describes seven days in Hampshire visiting Jane sites. These three trips will give any visitor a more than thorough introduction and immersion into the world of Jane Austen, especially the Hampshire tour I think.

The section at the back, named, “Film locations,” provides what it says on the label.It lists the names of places featured in ten different films covering all of Jane's finished novels including adaptations of  Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.Then of course there are the ,”spin off, “ adaptations, “Becoming Jane ,” “Miss Austen Regrets,”” Lost in Austen,” and I could name them all but I am sure you know them  yourselves. Nobody will be disappointed. Nothing is left out. However, having said that, Sanditon is on the horizon. Karin is going to have to make another visit to England and reference the locations for the new film. Lady Susan is missing too but that came out before the first Dutch edition, so can’t be helped. It is difficult to keep up! The page references  next to the film locations provide page numbers directing the reader to where in the  body of the main text that place is explored.  You can cross reference  the locations within the book.

One of the shaded pages providing extra detailed information on a given topic.

The third section in this final part is titled, “Further reading and information.” This is where I get embarrassed and realise the paucity of my Austen reading. Out of the six reference books I must admit I only have three of them. I do have others not mentioned. It is at this point I make myself promises to delve further into reading about Jane Austen.

The final pages of the book include tourist information such as hotels and bed and breakfast in each location covered in the book. There is also a list of research resources. Yes, I really must read more. Some short biographical notes about Janes immediate family which also has biographical information about , what Karin terms, her secondary family,  such as Jane’s good friend Martha Lloyd. This section could of course be extended. Two pages at the back provide us with a clearly displayed  family tree and lastly, after some heartfelt acknowledgements to people who have supported Karin, a clearly laid out index.

This is a lovely book and I will refer to it often I am sure. As with any Janeite, I am on a journey, deepening my knowledge and interest in Jane Austen as the years go by. This book has helped me one more step along the way. There are places in it that I know well but probably more places are featured  that I have only heard about and now feel emboldened to make an effort and go and see. A first timer to the world of Austen will become an expert in Jane Austen in no time reading Karin’s enjoyable guide. An old hand like myself can only be reinvigorated and reinspired. An expert or somebody who wants to delve deep is provided with a guide to just that.

Reference: JANE AUSTEN’S ENGLAND A Travel Guide by Karin Quint published by ACC Art Books (2019)


3 comments:

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  2. Love the article. Happy New Year, Tony!

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    1. Thanks for your comment. All the best, Tony

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