Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jane Austen and romance in Lyme?

There is a story handed down by members of Jane Austen's family that the author fell in love with a young man during one of her West Country holidays about the year1802. Her niece Caroline wrote of it in her old age having had it passed to her by Jane's sister Cassandra, although Caroline thought that perhaps the romance had happened in Devonshire, not Lyme. No names were recorded but the story goes that he returned Jane's affection and that he promised to meet her again. Sadly, it was not to be; the sisters heard later of his untimely death. I've often wondered if this young man inspired Persuasion and because Jane wrote so lovingly of Lyme, whether in fact her romance did take place in Lyme.
The Austens stayed in Lyme in 1803 and again in 1804, this time with Jane's brother Henry and his wife Eliza. The photograph below shows Pyne House on the left, where it is believed that Jane Austen stayed. The little house is on the main road down to the sea, on Broad Street, a short walk away from the promenade and the Cobb. The Austens were in Lyme for a September holiday and there is evidence to suggest that they stayed as late as November. Again, in Persuasion, Anne Elliot and the party from Uppercross visit Lyme in November and the description of Lyme - " After securing accommodations, and ordering a dinner at one of the inns, the next thing to be done was unquestionably to walk directly down to the sea. They were come too late in the year for any amusement or variety which Lyme as a public place, might offer. The rooms were shut up, the lodgers almost all gone, scarcely any family but of the residents left;" - suggests that Jane was writing from first-hand knowledge.

Jane Odiwe


Amanda said...

What a gorgeous painting, Jane. I love the colours, particularly the fresh yellow of her dress.
I've often wondered if Persuasion was based on a real life experience as well. I think other candidates for the 'lost love' could be Tom Lefroy and Harris Bigg-Wither.

Anonymous said...

It could be that she was in Devon - Jane stayed in Colyton (Devon) at the parsonage (can't remember which year it was though, will have to check). Anyway, Colyton is very close to Lyme Regis. Also, she spent some time in Sidmouth (Devon). Goodness, she did get around a bit!


Jan Jones said...

I agree with you, Jane. That description of Lyme in November for me unquestionably has the ring of personal experience to it.

I also agree with Amanda re your painting. Quite beautiful.

Jane Odiwe said...

Jane wrote to Cassandra in November 1800 about the possibility of visiting an old pupil of her father's who was the vicar of Colyton during the following summer so I suppose they probably visited all of that area. I have been to Colyton and visited the rectory-I'm sure I must have a photo somewhere for a future post!
I'm glad you liked the painting Amanda-I'm certain she had her share of romance to draw on for inspiration for her books.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thanks Jan-I haven't published this picture before. I painted it a few years ago and came across it in a pile of drawings. The backgroun is based on a print of Lyme.