Lyme Regis: A place I really wanted to see for different reasons. I heard it was a lovely sea town where you could get very good fish. And since I have had no fish until then, I was looking forward to treating myself with a good portion of fish and chips. But first of all, I wanted to see Lyme since it plays a role in the live of Jane Austen as well as in one of her novels – Persuasion. Lyme is where Louisa Musgrove jumps carelessly off the steps of the harbour wall and then suffers from a concussion. I must admit I am a great fan of Jane’s writing and I read all of her six major novels and two of her unfinished works. If I had to choose my favourite, it would be Persuasion – at least these days. My opinion tends to change on that matter.
Therefore, I took a bus from Beer to Lyme Regis and started my Jane Austen walk passing a former hotel where she is believed to have stayed for a couple of days. I treated myself with a tiny piece of fudge – which only a few moments later was stolen by a nasty seagull right out of my hands!! – and strolled along the town’s harbour wall – called the Cobb. I desperately wanted to see the steps which Louisa jumped off! On my way there, I passed the Jane Austen Memorial Garden. They planted a whole lot of roses there and I am sure Jane would have liked it. It is neither too big nor too fancy – it is simple and very lovely.
Anyway, do you know that feeling when you get somewhat nervous and excited when you are about to see an idol of yours? Say a singer or an actor or something? This happens to me when it comes to authors and apparently I also tend to feel this excitement when I am heading to a location which has been the source of inspiration for one of them. I started feeling excited when I got the first glimpse of the Cobb and could see the above mentioned steps from a distance. Imagining that Jane Austen has spent time just here where I was now, made my heart jump a little. So, I was walking along the Cobb recalling the scenes in the novel and in those lovely BBC adaptations.
The scene where Louisa jumps off the steps might be the key scene in the whole novel – at least it is in my opinion. Those of you who might not know why she jumps off the steps, I will tell you: Of course to make impression on a certain gentleman! I will try to give you a short insight into the novel:
Anne Elliot is the main character, the hero, in Persuasion. Due to financial reasons she and her family have to move out of their house. Her family decides to move to Bath and make Anne stay in Uppercross to stay with her always ill sister. The new owners of Kellynch Hall will be Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia. When Anne is told these news she cannot stop her heart from beating faster since Sophia’s brother is Frederick Wentworth. Anne has known him in earlier years and was deeply in love with him. In those days also Wentworth was only but enchanted by Anne and asked her to marry him about seven years ago. Anyway, since he was not of any fortune, Anne let herself be persuaded by Lady Russel, a friend of the family, to turn his offer down. This she deeply regrets over the years and she does not meet anybody she could ever love as she loved/loves Wentworth.
By the time the Crofts move in, Mr Wentworth, though, has gained reputation and wealth in the Navy. The slowly introduced tension and excitement of the upcoming meeting between the two go sky high. The slow and quiet life of Anne’s is turned upside down having new exciting acquaintances around and waiting while not waiting to meet Mr Wentworth. For me, this is one of the most intense scenes in literature I have read so far. It is when they meet that my breathing stops. (And I always marvel at how contemporary Austen’s writing still is – who does not know these feelings of love, excitement, disappointment, etc.?) Now, while Anne obviously is still in love, Mr Wentworth still feels the pain of having been disappointed and let down by the woman he used to love. He makes clear that he could not love a woman who is in any sense unsure about her own decisions and who lets herself easily be persuaded by others. It happens that Louisa and Henrietta, two young girls acquainted to Anne, intend to gain Mr Wentworth’s courtesy and affection and everybody is speculating for which of the two girls Mr Wentworth will decide. :’ (
While Anne tries to be as sensible as possible to him, he appears to be rather rejecting and formal. One day, though, Anne, Louisa, Henrietta, Mr Wentworth and a few others travel to visit a former brother officer of Mr Wentworth’s, Captain Harville, in LYME REGIS. When strolling on top of the Cobb and climbing down one of the stairs, Louisa Musgrove gets the idea to – instead of descending them down carefully just as everybody else – jump off one of the highest steps. She asks Mr Wentworth to catch her which he successfully does. But then she runs up a second time – everybody screaming after her not too jump, it is too high – and Mr Wentworth is not quick enough to catch her this time. Instead, she falls on the stone floor and blacks out.
In this situation, it is Anne who keeps a cool head and acts with a clear mind. Mr. Wentworth starts running for a doctor, but Anne calls him back and sends Mr Harville who must know better where to find one. In my opinion, this is the major scene where Mr Wentworth has to admit that Anne is the most reasonable, honest, good-hearted, intelligent and caring woman he has met and will ever meet. From this point on he starts talking to her more frequently, respects her ideas and arguments and considers the other girls to be rather childish. Still, those scenes are covered with a veil of discipline and shyness between the two since none of them really knows how the other one feels after all those years. It is is tension which makes me shudder of excitement, love, hope and impatience.
Of course there are a lot more story lines in Persuasion, but obviously the one between Anne and Mr Wentworth is the major one. I won’t tell you how the rest of the novel goes on, but as it is a Jane Austen novel, one can more or less imagine the ups and downs the characters have to go through.
Standing in front of one of those Cobb stairs in Lyme Regis definitely gave me a feeling of love, full of gratefulness for Jane Austen having written such touching novels.
Private fun fact: About two days before I travelled to England, my mom found an old box with random things of mine. Among them was the DVD of one of the BBC adaptations of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and that very day I got a message via Couchsurfing from an Anna Elliott! : ) I love it when such things happen!