George Justice, Editor

A Do-It-Yourself Guide through the Landscape of Austen

In the Steps of Jane Austen:
Walking Tours of Austen’s England

By Anne-Marie Edwards.
Jones Books, 2003. xx + 188 pages.
65 B/W illustrations. Paperback. $18.95.

Reviewed by Barbara Britton Wenner.

In Jane Austen’s England, Maggie Lane asks and answers the question, “How much of England did Jane Austen know?” She knew more of southern England than her beloved Hampshire. Lane tells us that Jane Austen’s “travels took her through fourteen counties, some of them repeatedly; she knew three cities intimately, and she was acquainted with many stretches of the English coastline.” Anne-Marie Edwards in her book, In the Steps of Jane Austen, provides just the guide for the serious Janeite.

A pair of sturdy walking shoes, a walking stick, and a rain jacket, along with Edwards’ book, were all I needed to feel part of the landscape which Jane Austen used so imaginatively. Renting a car and having someone with the nerve to drive in England help considerably too. My goal was to see the landscapes of Persuasion, and after talking my husband into negotiating the narrows roads from Winchester to the Channel coast, we arrived at Lyme Regis car park. I turned to Chapter 9, “Lyme Regis—‘Summers by the Sea,’” and basically followed Edwards’ detailed route of what she calls a four-mile walk. Suggestion: Give yourself a half day for this excursion. This walk feels longer than four miles because it is full of sights, from the Cobb, and the famous “Granny’s Teeth,” to Marine Parade along the colorful shore of Lyme up to Charmouth Fields and then over the river Lym on quaint Horne Bridge and back down Colway Lane to the town again.

Without Edwards’ guide, we would have missed a number of important sights. Amazingly, Lyme looks much as it did when the Austens spent holidays there. The lodging house where they were said to have stayed is gone, but the possible model for Captain Harville’s cottage remains—now Jane’s Take-Away—as do the two inns mentioned in Persuasion.

In the Steps of Jane Austen is the first American edition of Edwards’ work; however, the book was first published in 1979 in England and has gone through three editions there. I expect, with the number of Americans who traveled to the Homecoming AGM in October 2003, many will want to return on their own and visualize what Jane Austen’s England was really like. If you don’t have the energy for a seven-mile tour around Steventon and North Waltham, which happens to cross under the very busy A30 and M3, you might try part of the tour, perhaps from the Steventon church to the site of the rectory and back.

Although many of the walks assume that the traveler is arriving by car, you can take a train to Bath Spa, walk to the Abbey and begin your tour there. Of course, you can always go on a guided tour, but there’s something very satisfying about “discovering” the several places where the Austens stayed in Bath. Again, be forewarned that the streets are hilly and the stairs many, but you can give yourself permission (as I did) to cut out parts of the walk. Edwards devotes two chapters to Bath, one called “Jane Visits Bath” and the other entitled “Residence in Bath.” The first focuses on connections between what Austen observes in the Bath landscape during her early visits there and what she describes in Northanger Abbey. The second deals with the social changes which Austen finds in Bath some 13 years after she has written Northanger Abbey, changes which influence the landscape of Persuasion. The potential tourist must be forewarned: the walking tour suggested in Chapter 7 is quite challenging and requires a hardy walker.
Walks in London, Winchester, Southampton, and Chawton can also be reached without a car. Other walks around Godmersham, Goodnestone, and Box Hill will probably require a vehicle, although a bus does go to the first two. From my own experience with In the Steps of Jane Austen, I find that the maps are fairly simple and accurate, and the discussions in each chapter explain succinctly what the tourist might encounter of the actual places where Jane Austen went during her lifetime. In fact, Edwards’ book remains a useful reference for the armchair Janeite who wants to imagine the landscape. The traveler who wants to see in considerable detail the sites of Austen’s life and works and the returning pilgrim (like myself) who has taken several of the walking tours and intends to take more on the next visit will find In the Steps of Jane Austen an essential reference for their personal libraries.

Barbara Britton Wenner is an associate professor of English at the University of Cincinnati. She has a book, Prospect and Refuge in the Landscape of Jane Austen, forthcoming from Ashgate Press.

JASNA News v.20, no. 3, Winter 2004, p. 22

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