Revel in the old romantics at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England.
It was an event that would have had Sir William Lucas tapping his toes and Elizabeth Bennet swooning at the sight of romance flitting from each corner of the Bobin’s egg blue and eggshell white ballroom. Ornate chandeliers danced crystalized reflections of light across a hardwood dance floor, where gloved men dressed in tails escorted their gowned partners through the room.
Words like “nidgetty” and “agreeable” could be heard spoken in strong British accents between harmonic music numbers, where the calling master proclaimed each dance before the dancers took to the floor. Scents of fine wine and florals perfumed the air as the warm flicker of candles cast a soft glow on the smiling faces of the ladies, who seemed to blush ever so slightly between delicate drapes of ringlets and jewels as their beaus fawned over them throughout the evening.
Scene from an 1800s courting ball? Hardly. These dancers included investment bankers from Brooklyn and graphic designers from California who momentarily shed their modern clothes and flee their 21st-century lifestyles to shroud themselves in the world of regency clothing and English countryside romance for a week at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England.
Just a few events that take place during the September Jane Austen Festival include workshops that range from playing the harp and bonnet making to dancing and archery. Guests can take part in etiquette workshops, food events, or just simply meet up for a cup of tea to discuss a favorite Jane Austen novel.
The Jane Austen Festival has been the can’t-miss event for Janeites and Austen aficionados around the world since the festival welcomed its first bonneted and waistcoated visitors back in 2001. Over the past 16 years, the festival has grown to include more than 80 Austen-tacious events over a span of 10 days. The festival kicks off each year with a spectacular Grand Regency Costumed Promenade, where more than 500 Jane Austen fans dress in their finest period costumes to literally walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen along the hallowed streets of Bath. Promenading along the Royal Crescent has been a tradition long celebrated, dating back to the times where Jane Austen made her home in the city. Not only did Austen call Bath her home from 1801 to 1806, but she also set two of her six published novels in the city, including Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. It was here that Jane famously wrote the lines:
They arrived in Bath. Catherine was all eager delight; her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.
16 YEARS OF TRADITION
This year, the festival runs from Sept. 9 to 18, where the events throughout the 10 days vary in cost and grandeur, ranging from complimentary readings of Austen’s greatest novels sponsored by Oxford University Press to workshops and even day trips to venture off to where Jane Austen grew up in Lyme Regis or explore the grounds of her beloved home in Hampshire.
“The Masked Ball is the most exclusive and sought after ticket,” explains Jackie Herring, festival director for the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. “At £ 100 per person per ticket, the ball is totally unique and is set around the Roman Baths and in the Pump Rooms.”
For anyone who cannot wait until the grand gala in September, the festival offers another chance to get dressed up and dance the traditional regency steps during the annual Summer Ball in Bath. Although the event doesn’t occur on the same weekend as the full festival (this year’s ball will be held Saturday, June 25), it’s still very much an event that tops the social calendars for any festival attendee, as it offers guests the chance to meet up prior to the September fete and scour the scene … or even have the chance to meet a modern day Mr. Darcy!
Other events that take place during the September days include walks, talks, minibus tours, musical recitals, concerts, and workshops that range from playing the harp and bonnet making to regency dancing and archery. Guests can take part in etiquette workshops, food events, or just simply meet up for a cup of tea to discuss a favorite novel of Jane’s. Throughout most of the weekend, dressing in Regency attire is optional, aside from the Promenade and the Masked Ball of course, but many festival attendees wear regency costume all week and get into character more so each day as they delve into the life and times of Jane Austen.
Sleeping arrangements for festival goers are aplenty, but the most sought-after beds in all of Bath are at Jane Austen’s Home (four luxury apartments spread throughout the 18th-century Georgian house where Jane actually lived during the early 1800s), Royal Crescent Hotel (Jane’s favorite place to promenade in front of while she lived in Bath), and Brittons Farm Estate (located 10 minutes outside of Bath, where Jane retreated often during her life in Bath). janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk.
Want to live a weekend à la Jane without crossing the pond? Vermont’s Governor’s House in Hyde Park hotel offers regular Jane Austen Weekends throughout the year. Set in a beautiful mansion, guests of the character weekends spend their days taking afternoon tea, listening to Mozart, gossiping over needlework and pondering Austen’s prose. Although period dress is optional, most guests choose to live in the moment and don their best regency wear for all the weekend’s activities, including fly fishing, horseback riding, croquet, fencing, book discussions, brunch and more. Jane Austen Weekend rates start at $365 for singles, $335 per person for doubles, $300 per person for triples, and include two nights’ lodging, Friday evening’s talk over dessert and coffee, full breakfast Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon tea, Saturday dinner and book discussion, early Sunday Continental breakfast, and the Jane Austen quiz with Sunday brunch. onehundredmain.com
All photos courtesy Jane Austen Festival