chapter  5
20 Pages

Wessex Tales

The West Country Background to Jane Austen
WithPat Rogers

In Jane Austen's day, Wessex had not really been invented as a modern concept. Antiquarian works devoted a great deal of space to the ancient West Saxon kingdom. For most readers, the phrase "Jane Austen and the West Country" will evoke the world of holiday resorts. Mention her name along with that of Somerset, and the instant response will be "Bath." Some may also recall scattered references in Austen's youthful works: Love and Freindship, for example, has a letter from Laura that links the dissipation of London and the stinking fish of Southampton to "the unmeaning Luxuries of Bath". Jane Austen only mentions Bagshot twice in her letters, but it was a coaching stop she must have known well, and on her London trips she would have had to brave the desert-like conditions of the Heath. Moreover, several pointers exist to show that Austen viewed the West Country as an especially remote and secluded part of England.