George Justice, Editor

Travels with Jane  
Where’s Where in Jane Austen…and What Happens There

By Patrick Wilson.
Jane Austen Society of Australia, 2002. viii + 67.
7 maps. Paper. $A 15.

Reviewed by Lisa Blansett.

Jane Austen had a spot-on understanding of how place signifies and how numerous meanings accrue to location. Patrick Wilson and the Jane Austen Society of Australia have undertaken to provide an alphabetical gazetteer of place names in Austen with description of the settings and explanation of events that make the locations so meaningful. This very accessible work identifies the correlation between Austen’s intention and her choice of setting, whether a panoramic landscape from Beechen Cliff or the chilly nursery reserved for Fanny Price at Mansfield Park. The text covers both real and fictional places, from country houses to the names of tiny shops. Entries for locations in the six major novels are included, as are the places noted in her Juvenilia and shorter (finished or unfinished) works. Each novel is given its own map, so that one might imagine, for example, how impossible it would have been for Frank Churchill to travel from Yorkshire to Surrey via Bath.

The reader’s journey across the Austenian landscape makes stops at the author’s detailed explanatory notes, which provide the reader with a clear sense of both the function of the location and a taste of how Austen characterized the setting. Many of the entries closely paraphrase Austen, incorporating the diction and rhythm that make Austen such a joyful read. Where Austen reveals that Mansfield Park at first holds no charm for Fanny (“The grandeur of the house astonished, but could not console her”), Wilson echoes, “The grandeur of Mansfield, a spacious and modern-built house set in a real park five miles around, astonishes but cannot console the young Fanny Price.”

The explanatory notes furnish details extracted from narration and dialogue, pulling together the scattered details into a single description: “The Middleton estate in Devonshire, about four miles north of Exeter. It is about 200 miles, or three days journey, west of London and not much less distant from Norland Park, the Dashwood estate in Sussex. The large and handsome house, which Mr. Palmer complains does not have a billiard room, stands in Barton Valley, a pleasant, fertile spot, well wooded and rich in pasture. The country abounds in beautiful walks with high downs and unequalled hills, although Edward Ferrars believes that the bottoms must be dirty in winter.”

The text will undoubtedly be of use for the usual suspects—quiz makers or trivia mongers—but will also provide a ready reference for “the interested.”  This group will include a broad range of Janeites who are on the hunt for new ways to deepen their understanding of and knowledge about Austen’s works. The multiple cross-references allow for a composite study of London or Bath, where the sites’ myriad meanings (seat of entertainment, site of lewd yearnings, locus of sin, center of commerce) may be compared and interpreted. The forgetful will find the name of that forgotten place, the postcolonial critic can compare the references to colonial locales (Antigua, Barbados, Bahamas, West Indies), the armchair traveler can marvel at the hills, dales, and downs, the love and the loss, the pride and the prejudice played out on the landscapes.

While the guide lacks nothing, the truly obsessed Janeite might desire a combined map of Austen sites as well as a final index that would reverse the extant alphabetical taxonomy by organizing the works with a list of the locations grouped with each work.

Where’s Where in Jane Austen…and What Happens There offers a carriage ride down memory lane for seasoned readers or an orientation to the new traveler. In it the reader will find ample to educate—even for Harriet Smith!

Lisa Blansett is a scholar of 18th Century British literature who frequently peeks over into the 19th Century for good books.

JASNA News v.19, no. 1, Spring 2003, p. 14

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