I invited Aurora Berkestam Drysén to be our special reporter from Bath during The Jane Austen Festival. She accepted to be our eyes and ears there during the week of the celebrations. Read her journal and admire her great pictures. Doesn't she really fit the role of an Austen heroine?
|Promenaders walking along Milsom Street|
For many of today’s Janeites around the world stepping into a Jane Austen novel, transporting themselves back to the time when she lived, dressing in the style of clothes she would have been familiar with (and which we are too, thanks to the countless television adaptations and movies we’ve watched!), conversing or gossiping with other girls in bonnets and dancing at balls, is something we dream of. To my knowledge it is, unfortunately, not possible to really step into the pages of a novel (or else I believe I would have done that a long time ago!), but there are things you can do to at least get as close to it as possible. And for me the Jane Austen Festival in Bath has proven to be such a thing.
The annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath in England is famous amongst Janeites, and every year it attracts hundreds of visitors from near and far, all with one thing in common, a love for this great author and her work. For some 7 to 9 days the city of Bath is filled with people running around in Regency clothes, attending events that range from walking tours and costume talks to musical soirees and grand balls.
I have had the great pleasure and privilege to be able to attend this wonderful event four years in a row now. I have written a little journal here of what it was like this year, to share with anyone who wishes to go but was not able to do so (and for anyone else who feels like reading it too of course).
13th of September, 2012 – at home in Sweden
It’s the evening before I leave for Bath, the bags are finally packed and everything made ready. As always it is a struggle to fit everything I need into the, for this occasion, far too small bags! Airlines with their luggage restrictions show NO respect for people who want to travel with bonnets, hats, ball gowns, thick woolen coats and all the other essentials of a Regency lady’s wardrobe!
14th of September 2012 – Bath, Somerset, England
I have arrived. Stepping off the train at the Bath station always fills me with excitement. I’m in Jane Austen’s city (never mind the fact that she didn’t actually like it!), and as this is my 6th visit to the city I feel quite at home here now.
15th of September
The room at the B&B where I’m staying with some friends quickly goes from being relatively tidy to a big mess with dresses, feathers, shoes, hair pins and ribbons strewn all around as we hurry to get ready for the big day. This is the first proper day of the festival, and it starts off with the grand Regency Promenade.
Arriving at Queen’s Square, where the promenade was to start this year, the sight of hundreds of people all dressed up in costume greeted us. A sight to gladden the heart of any Janeite! We soon started to make our way through the streets of Bath, 400-500 of us (I heard different accounts on how many we were) in a long procession. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be a celebrity with paparazzi swarming around you a good occasion to get a feel of what it must be like is this promenade! Bath is a tourist city and during this promenade the streets are literally lined with people with cameras, all wanting a picture of (or even better, together with) the people in “funny clothes”.
17th of September
|Aurora and Mr Wickham!|
Yesterday was a busy day, just like the one preceding that, which started off with us all dressing up in our costumes again to go off on another ‘mini promenade’. Any excuse to dress up in costume together with others is fine by me! Then there was just time for a quick lunch before the Regency embroidery workshop I had a ticket for was to start. A big room filled with ladies (and one gentleman!) all chatting away, drinking tea and eating cake while attempting to be accomplished and perfecting their skills at embroidering. One thing we were all in agreement of afterwards was that it was far too short! Those two hours just flew by!
In the evening Bath was graced with a visit from the actor Adrian Lukis. Not the most famous of actors perhaps, but in these circles he is quite well known, though more so by the name Mr Wickham! That’s right, Mr Wickham from BBC’s 1995 version of Pride & Prejudice did a reading of many of the famous dialogues from Jane Austen’s novels, together with the actress Caroline Langrishe. It was quite exciting to see the ‘real’ Mr Wickham, and though of course he has aged a little in the last 17 years there was no mistaking him! I’m sure he enjoyed his evening as much as any of us, I doubt he gets that kind of female attention everywhere he goes!
So after yesterday’s busy schedule I have enjoyed a much more relaxed day with ‘only’ one event to attend. A talk about corsets. I love corsets, (can’t deny it) so this was a talk just to suite my taste!
It seems wherever you go in England there are always plenty of great houses and grand estates around for you to visit. And the area around Bath is no exception! There are many places you can go for a little day trip. This year the great house that I and many of the other visitors to the festival decided to go to was Stourhead, 45 minutes outside of Bath. Its connection to Jane Austen is through the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice which used the temple of Apollo at Stourhead as one of the locations for the movie. This of course is very exciting to anyone who loves this movie, but even if you, like me, are not massively enthusiastic about the Keira Knightley version, the place is still great to visit. The garden is positively to die for, and oh to have such a library would be a dream come true!
In the evening, back in Bath again I rounded off the day with a music recital that was most superbly done! The two talented young ladies Chloë and Clara of Regency Recitals entertained us with beautiful songs from Jane Austen’s time in a most wonderful way.
20th of September
The days are rushing past quickly, all filled with lovely events. These last two days I have been busy attending talks (on important subject such as gloves and shoes as well as how to create your own Regency wardrobe without spending a fortune on it), a lovely concert as well as a musical performance of Sense & Sensibility from a visiting American theatre company which was wonderfully done, both touching and so funny that we were often doubled over with laughter in our seats. And today a dance workshop was on my schedule. Oh the joys of dancing, few things can beat it! Though it did get fearfully hot in the room and I was more than a little glad to have brought my fan along.
I have just now returned from ‘A noisy game of Lottery Tickets’, an evening event where we had the opportunity to try out many of the games that were popular back in the days. I’m the first person to admit I’m not usually much for games, but I had the most lovely evening almost winning at teetotum, playing badminton in a tiny little room and concentrating hard on the oh so difficult game of cup-and-ball. The highlight of the evening for me however was when the whole company present all burst singing “Rule Britannia” at the top of their voices. Even though many of us were not British and didn’t know all the words of the song it was still great fun, and though I’m Swedish and not a Brit I couldn’t help but feel very patriotic!
A Masquerade Ball… the very expression is enough to fill me with excitement! And a masquerade ball in the famous Pump Rooms even more so! For the second time this ball was arranged at this beautiful venue. Arriving at the ball all dressed in your Regency finery, being announced by the master of ceremonies as you step into the room, enjoying a welcome drink by the ancient Roman Baths together with all the other people in costumes and masks, everything lit by torches and Baths abbey towering above you is a magical experience. I love this ball, the dancing is fun and the food splendid, but the reception by the Roman Baths is in my eyes the best part of it!
22th of September
The festival is officially over. But for some of us one event still remains. This event is not actually part of the Jane Austen Festival but rather arranged by the company Farthingales, and it is the Grand Regency Ball in the Assembly Rooms. The Assembly Rooms are stunning, and a ball here is special because in these rooms they often would have had balls, and they are familiar to us today from the movie adaptations of Persuasion.
Unfortunately I took ill with a very violent cold the night before, but I couldn’t let this stop me from attending a ball now could I? Feeling far from great, and with a very un-ladylike runny nose, I still had a wonderfully good time.
26th of September 2012 – At home in Sweden
Back at home, back in the 21st century again, tired but happy. It’s been the most wonderful trip! My room is full of dirty laundry and bags in need of unpacking, but I’m already starting to dream of next year’s festival and my head is full of ideas for new outfits to make. Best get started, only a year to go!
Aurora Berkestam Drysén
Aurora Berkestam Drysén is a 22 year old die-hard Jane Austen fan from Sweden who loves nothing better than traveling the world attending balls and other historic events in various countries, dressing up in costumes (which she makes herself, since this is another of her greatest passions) and meeting with other similarly obsessed people. She has her blog, The Secret Dreamworld of a Jane Austen Fan, where she writes about books, movies, her travels, her costumes and, of course, Jane Austen. To visit Aurora’s blog go to www.myaustendreamworld.com, or to follow her on Twitter http://twitter.com/MyAustenDream.