Today in my Austen class we took a tour of flirtation around the city, and discussed courtship in Georgian Bath. Some of you are probably chuckling at how frilly that sounds, but it was actually quite interesting!
First we went to the Pump Rooms, which was where the Georgians went for tea, people watching, and socializing. The Pump Rooms are still a tea room to this day, which hopefully I will get to experience before I leave Bath....minus the prowling ;-)
After the Pump Rooms we walked by the Royal Mineral Water Hospital. Bath was a place of healing in Georgian times, and the waters were thought to have such wonderful qualities that they build a whole hospital around them!
Next we walked up the hill to the Upper Rooms, which is where many scenes from Northanger Abbey take place. If you are familiar with the novel, it is where Catherine meets Mr. Tilney, and has her first debut in Bath. The Upper Rooms were the place to come to dance, meet young men, play cards, drink tea, gossip, and flirt! Basically just a regency version of a modern day club with a very large age range.
The Pump Rooms were followed by the Circus, which is one of the signature places in Bath. Designed by John Wood, Sr., and finished by his son, the architecture of the Circus is heavily influenced by both Roman grandeur and Bath's pagan roots. Supposedly the first king of England was born with a terrible and disfiguring skin condition. His father deemed him unfit to rule because of it and disinherited him and sent him off to be a pig-herder. One day he was out with his pigs and they discovered a mud hole while in pursuit of acorns, and began rolling in it, as pigs are wont to do. He noticed that the mud and water seemed to improve any skin problems they had so he went out on a whim and tried it on his own skin. Lo and behold, the mud and water from the hot springs below began to heal his skin! He returned to his father, who was overjoyed, and he eventually took the throne and founded the city of Bath around the hot springs he found there. The acorns seen at the base of the roof on the buildings of the crescent are meant to signify the pigs of the King, and the subsequent founding of the city!
After the Circus we hit the Royal Crescent, a place which has come to define Bath, and was also designed by John Wood. The lawns there are beautiful, and look right down on the Victoria Gardens, which is a beautiful park. We walked from the Royal Crescent down a small path through the gardens where Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth walk in Persuasion, and where I am sure many a real life couple flirted and, in modern day language, "DTR-ed." There was a little Georgian garden off the path which we check out as well. The people who own in it have faithfully kept it in the Georgian tradition, which is characterized by more muted and natural colors (the Georgian didn't have bright exotic transplants yet), and contained wildness.
If you are familiar with Austen then you know that her novels do contain many flirtations. Back then, women were meant to be charming and engaging, yet never too funny. It was very unladylike to see a man without any chaperones, and so flirting was hard to pull off with constant supervision. That being said, it could be done behind a fan in a crowded room such as the Upper Rooms, or while hanging back from a walking group. Places like the garden we saw were very helpful arenas for flirtation because a couple could be relatively alone, and yet in full view of a drawing room window. Even at a time when most marriages were semi-arranged or out of convenience, flirting was still exciting, and in a place like Bath, where people came simple to see and be seen, it was quite rampant.
We ended our tour at the Royal Theatre, which is now a Mason house. We were content to just see the outside, but a sweet man invited us in for a quick look around, and for free! The theatre is still very much intact, they have just taken down the boxes to convert it into a meeting room. Super cool! This was where Catherine looked across to catch Tilney's eye, and he slighted her. Hard to get...oldest trick in the book.
After my classes, my friend Ali and I headed back to the crescent to read and enjoy the evening sun, as it was pretty drizzly earlier during our tour. It seemed everyone was out walking their amazing dogs (seriously, I have never seen such a range of breeds as I have here), and we spotted this guy. How handsome is he?!