Did Jane Austen Really ‘Dread’ Coming to Brighton?

Jane Austen

People say that Jane Austen dreaded coming to Brighton, but the academic behind a new display at the Royal Pavilion exploring Austen’s relationship with coastal towns say that is simply not true.

Jane Austen by the Sea will mark the bicentenary of her death, and look at the seaside context of Austen’s books, as well as paint a picture Brighton in the early 1800s when it was a fashionable resort.

Experts say that, despite featuring in novels like Pride and Prejudice, there is no clear evidence that Austen actually visited Brighton at all.

Curator Dr Alexandra Loske said: “For many years, Austen has been quoted as having written: ‘I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Brighton as much as you can do..’, but her sentence actually referred to Bookham, a village in Surrey, rather than Brighton.

“The misquote appeared in the early ‘Brabourne’ edition of Austen’s letters from 1884 after the editor deciphered the placename wrongly, and his mistake was repeatedly copied and cited; however we now know that Austen may not have felt as negatively about the town as has been thought.”

Old Steine Brighton from the North 1796 Jacob Spornberg

Old Steine Brighton from the North 1796 Jacob Spornberg (Copyright Jim Pike for RPM)

George IV, who created Brighton’s Royal Pavilion and spent long periods living in the town when he was Prince Regent, was a fan of Austen’s – and although she didn’t seem to approve of his lifestyle she was encouraged to dedicate Emma to him in 1815.

In turn he kept a full set of her novels in each of his palaces, and Jane Austen by the Sea will present the King’s personal, specially-bound copy of Emma at the Royal Pavilion for the first time.

The display will also present a mourning brooch containing a lock of Jane Austen’s hair, one of her music books, and important rare manuscripts and letters.

Dr Loske, who is a tutor at the University of Sussex as well as a curator at the Royal Pavilion, said: “When Jane Austen died 200 years ago she left an unfinished novel, Sanditon, set in a seaside town in Sussex. We’re thrilled to be able to exhibit a three-volume manuscript copy, in the hand of Jane’s sister Cassandra, here on the Sussex coast, as part of our exploration of Austen’s interest in its emerging bathing resorts.

“We’ll also be looking at Brighton as Jane Austen and her readers might have known it, and exploring why ‘watering places’ like this became so fashionable: from coastal attire, tourist entertainments and the new pastimes of sea-bathing and Turkish baths to the town’s Royal connections and military presence.”

George IVs copy of Emma

The display will feature George IVs copy of Emma – Royal Collection Trust (Copyright Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017)

Exhibition coordinator Fiona Redford said: “Brighton offered huge potential for Austen’s wry, tongue-in-cheek humour. She used the town as a backdrop for some of the more reckless, frivolous and silly characters in her novels, which could be viewed as a thinly-masked statement. We’ll explore parallels between the way she wrote about Brighton and work by contemporary caricaturists, who also highlighted the foibles and follies of the day.”

Jane Austen by the Sea will be on display from 7 June – 8 January 2018 as part of Royal Pavilion & Museums’ 2017 Regency Season, which will also include the exhibition Constable and Brighton (8 April to 8 October 2017) and the display Visions of the Royal Pavilion Estate (14 March to 3 Sept 2017) – both at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

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