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 first published in English  in 2017 as a limited edition for Karin's backers crowdfunding the project to translate her book into English and now  in 2019, the paperback version in English has just 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 for some of the pictures. 
The first page, after the publishing details, we are presented with a full page picture of the sign on the outer wall of Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. A fitting 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 itself as a museum, through its old houses, its countryside . its villages and its roads as well as its inhabitants, as a vast museum to Jane Austen. A fitting metaphor for what is to follow in this book. The reverse side of this page is a full page picture looking along the Cob seawall at Lyme Regis in Dorset with Charmouth cliffs on the other side of the bay 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 , a mixture of beauty, softness and strength. A few Austen characters and relationships come to mind. Very often in this guide book the pictures, bright and colourful, are well considered.
The contents page has 14 sections, each colour coded. Within the book itself, the pages for each section are edged by the colour of the section they are part of. 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 parts you want to focus on. This is a great way to organize the book I think. It is clear and simple to negotiate.
I like Karin’s short introduction. She tells us how she became interested in Jane Austen at first in her early twentys, finding a copy of Pride and Prejudice and falling in love with Austen ever since. 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 two sections,” Jane Austen’s Life,” and ,”England in Austen’s Time.” Karin provides the reader with a thorough overview of Jane Austen’s life. It informs the person who knows nothing or very little but it  is enjoyable to read for the person who knows Austen’s life well. Karin’s style is personal and enjoyable to read. She gives us her opinion and writes in a style where you can imagine her talking to you. I felt at times, reading various parts of this guide book, I was answering Karin, agreeing and disagreeing inside my thoughts and head. We were having a conversation together.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.

The section about ,”England in Austen’s Time,” gives us the background history to what Britain was getting up to in the world while her characters flirt, converse and relate to each other. Some of it Austen alludes to within her writing. The plantations in the west Indies mentioned in Mansfield Park for instance. Other scenes are able to happen because of events in the wider world. I am thinking here of Royal Naval Captains Harville, Benwick and Wentworth ashore on leave to pursue relationships on land 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,” I f 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?  Karin and her type of guide book rises all the time in my estimation as her voice within this guide progresses.
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 within an area that Jane’s experience of visiting an area must have encompassed. 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. Perhaos 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 form the rest of us anyway.
Karin uses quotes from Janes letters where they are applicable to a place and when Jane describes her experinces in that place. She quotes from Janes 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 Morlands Bath. I am thinking Beechan Cliff especially. A place  that when you yourself stand at the top 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 main part of the action takes place at a ball held at an inn in Dorking High Street, possibly The White Horse. Jane Austen goes into great detail about the local families, members of the gentry and  aristocracy that are expected to attend and do attend. Everybody from the poor Watsons, to the better off Edwards and a long list of country families are mentioned. When you think about it the situation at this ball is a microcosm of the whole of society itself. Set in Surrey all strata’s of society attend and observe each other and in many cases socialize together. This is what Bath was too, on a much larger scale of course, a temporary place for all strata’s of society to intermingle before going back to their usual existences within their own social groups. Often this brought about a loosening of morals. When you are not known in a place and everybody else is uknown to each other and only get to meet for a fleeting time, things can happen. Maybe this is why Austen both hated Bath and at the same time it provided her a place that offered  many dramatic encounters. There are balls in Pride and Prejudice, Emma and in Northangar Abbey and they have their importance to the way those novel work. They provide situations for the characters to interrelate in ways they can’t in other situations. “The Watsons,” is a little  different though. The ball in The Watsons is an extensive analysis of the social phenomena that was the ball. It is an important piece of writing. Although Jane abandoned it I think she used what she analysed in The Watsons perhaps in Emma to a certain extent. 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 thorough discussion about the people and places Jane knew and visited or 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 background. In the section, “The South Coast,” as an example, a pink shaded page, pink being the colour code for this section, tells us about how Mapperton manor house, in Dorset, whichwas used in the 1996 film adaptaion  of  Emma and then Karin informs us about other films Mapperton has been featured in. In,” 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,” on  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 Winchestr 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. I can’t see myself walking around a place I don’t know with one of these style maps to help me.
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. The mileage covered is worked out and the time taken on each day  spent at a given place or on a given walk is suggested.A short description of each days trip is given too. 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 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 Janes 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, “ adaptaions, “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. Not one 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. Ah 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 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. However, it is at this point I make myself promises to delve further into reading about Jane Austen.
The final pages of the book cover tourist information that include hotels and bed and breakfast in each location covered in the book. There is also a list of research resources. Yes, I must read more. I have said that already . Some short biographical notes about Janes immediate family and  about , what Karin terms her secondary family, people 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 through clearly paid out index.

This is a lovely book and I will refer to it often I am sure. As with any Janite, 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 them. 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)


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