“Well, Miss Elliot…I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”
“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
This is an excerpt from my favourite Jane Austen’s novel – Persuasion. In fact, this very conversation between Captain Harville and Anne Elliot, the protagonist, is why I like this novel so much. Just to clarify – this was written in 1816, so the gender dynamics in access to education has changed a lot since then but the points about who has the advantage of telling stories and whose stories are heard are still very relevant. Now that was my gender student side coming up, which I will try to keep in check as this blog post is essentially about my weekend trip to Bath and Stonehenge with my friend Cassie. Of course, Jane Austen is also involved as the above conversation and many other events in her novels have taken place in Bath. So let’s start.
We arrived in Bath at around 2pm in the afternoon. On our drive there we caught a quick glance of the city from a relatively high altitude – all the buildings stood like a neatly organised dominoes in a fixed order and geometry, as though the city had been designed by someone with a bit of OCD. No complaints though as the outcome is truly remarkable. The whole city exudes an aura of an historical past through its architecture. On the note of remembering the past, I want to bring in the Jane Austen Centre.
This Centre is located at No. 40 Gay Street and it’s quite exciting to be greeted and shown around by staff members dressed like characters from her novels. The entrance leads you to a souvenir shop which has all sorts of ‘Austenian merchandise’ such as ‘I love Mr Darcy’ canvas bags (apparently one of the best sellers), ostrich feather quill and nibbed pens, lace parasols and so on. However, if you fancy something more than souvenirs, you can buy a ticket to the exhibition. Students get a special discount and you only have to pay £6.00. The exhibition begins with an introductory talk on Jane Austen’s family life and literary work, following which you go on a house tour. Besides looking at the author’s portraits or imagining her moving around in a similar house a few centuries ago, you can do lots of fun things – why not try some Georgian fashion, dress up like the next Elizabeth Benett or Mr Darcy and take selfies, or write heartfelt letters with quill and ink or just read rules on being a gentleman or a lady (it’s quite a tall order)!
For first time visitors like us, I must say Bath is fairly easy to navigate around with many map stands in place. We went to the Circus, stood outside the Grand Pump Room and the famous Roman Baths (as there was some £14.00 entrance fee) but the highlights of the day were the Christmas Market and the Bath Abbey Cathedral. With choir music filtering through the cathedral walls and the city centre lighting up with Christmas decorations, it would have been just perfect if only we were able to make one big subtraction – human crowd. Physical mobility literally came down to two steps per minute but it was definitely worth it – thanks to an assortment of creative and eye-catching market stalls and delicious chilli hot dogs.
Now going back to where we first started our day– Stonehenge. It’s about two hours’ drive from London and initially I thought, ‘It’s just stones and isn’t it enough that I already have it as my PC wallpaper?’ So I was really skeptical about this early morning trip but now I can only say that it’s an unmissable experience. The ticket price is around £13.00 and you also get this amazing audio guide which brings the stones to life with fascinating stories about its creation, meanings and discovery. The whole experience is so simple – stones, green landscape and sheep (lots of them); yet this very simplicity is what makes it so beautiful. It feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of crowded cities and unnecessarily busy lives. So I highly recommend this morning walk that will leave you relaxed, curious and fascinated.