There’s no denying the power of Jane Austen. Her writing changed the face of fiction. Her sharp wit and strong female characters influenced a generation. And even two centuries after her death, fans still flock to her native country to celebrate her life, loves, and of course, her literature.
In recognition of the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death, several cities throughout England are paying homage to the author’s creativity and talent through exhibitions, talks, walks, writing competitions, and performances. Her face has even been etched onto a few £10 notes and £2 coins currently in circulation!
So go ahead, tie on your bonnet and lace up your boots! Here's how to truly experience Jane Austen’s England…
1. Revel at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England
Photo credit: Angie Orth
Every September, hundreds of admirers descend on the city of Bath—where the author lived from 1801 to 1806—for 10 days of Austen-inspired events, including theatricals, musical soirees, food tasting, discussions, and more. But the highlight is definitely the fashion! From floating Regency-style dresses with their distinctive empire line cut, to ornately decorated masks (there’s even a mask-making workshop on the program’s itinerary), it’s hard not to ooh and aah at every corner. Fun fact: the event even holds the world record for “the largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costumes.”
The 2017 festival will take place September 8 – 17.
How to get there: Bath is a 90-minute journey from London by rail.
2. Wander through Jane Austen’s house in Hampshire, England
Austen spent the final eight years of her life (1809-1817) living in Chawton, a Hampshire village located between Winchester and London. It was here where she revised three manuscripts and created four new ones, including two of her most celebrated titles: “Persuasion” and “Emma.” Today, the 17th century home serves as a public museum that provides an in-depth look into her literary career, and showcases artefacts from her everyday life. In celebration of the bicentenary, the museum has created a special exhibition that runs through Dec. 15 entitled “Jane Austen in 41 Objects,” which tells the story of the author’s life and legacy through 41 different objects.
How to get there: Hampshire is a 75-minute journey from London by rail. Trains run regularly from London Waterloo to Alton, two miles from the museum.
3. Learn English country dancing in London, England
The heroes and heroines in Jane Austen’s novels enjoyed nothing more than a jig around the dance floor. But who says they should have all the fun?! To try some ringlet-bouncing country dancing for yourself, quick step your way to Mrs. Bennet’s ballroom classes, held in Fulham on Tuesdays and in Surbiton on Wednesdays. Although costumes aren’t required, the studio recommends wearing flexible soft-soled shoes and comfy lightweight clothes. Feeling extra festive? Stash a fan in your carry on. They're a great way to cool down between dances—and send secret messages to prospective suitors! In Jane’s day, if a lady held her fan half-closed and up to her lips, it signalled “I would like to kiss you.”
Good to know: Classes are open to anyone 18 years or older. It’s not a course, so guests can join at any time and there’s no need to pay in advance.
4. Follow in the novelist’s footsteps in Lyme Regis, England
Jane Austen may have only visited this quaint coastal town on the South Coast of England only twice, in 1803 and 1804, but it seems her love for Lyme Regis never faltered. In various letters to her sister, Cassandra, Austen recounts fond walks along the seafront, and even references the city in “Persuasion,” which is considered the most autobiographical of all her novels. Stroll along the Cobb to see the steps where protagonist Louisa Musgrove fell on the famous harbour wall, before stopping by the local inns mentioned in her writing. And of course, be sure to admire the same invigorating, sea-spray views that captivated Austen.
How to get there: Lyme Regis is two hours from Bath, via a combination of bus and train.
5. Visit the stately home from Pride and Prejudice in Chatsworth, England
If this stunning property conjures images of Mr. Darcy’s estate in “Pride and Prejudice,” you’re not alone. Many scholars believe that Austen based her idea of Pemberley on Chatsworth House, and wrote the story during her time in Bakewell. In fact, the swanky manor bears such a striking resemblance that it served as a shooting location for the 1995 film adaptation. Today, the property serves as home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, but offers visitors 105 acres of gardens to explore, 30 lavish rooms to admire, and one of Europe's largest collections of art.
How to get there: From London, take the train to Sheffield and then transfer to the bus from the Sheffield Interchange (across the road) directly to Chatsworth. Buses run approximately every hour.
6. Take tea with Mr. Darcy in Bath, England
The Regency Tea Room—part of the must-visit Jane Austen Centre—is the perfect place to enjoy afternoon tea like Jane and her heroines. For the ultimate Austen experience, order the popular “Tea with Mr Darcy,” which includes finger sandwiches, homemade cakes, a warm scone served with Dorset clotted cream and seasonal jam, and a pot of tea. Although guests are able to visit the tea room for free, it’s worth splashing out for a ticket to the centre to see a life-sized wax statue of Jane—created by a forensic artist—plus a selection of Regency costumes to try on.
For a sweet treat to enjoy on the train ride home, swing by Sally Lunn’s for a sugary Bath Bun. Rumor has it they were one of the author’s favorites!
How to get there: By train, Bath is a 90-minute journey from London.