Bath came out in its finest and most flamboyant last weekend. Or, as I should rather say, the world came to Bath in its finest and most flamboyant. I was celebrating a momentous birthday with my family on Saturday, and was delighted and perplexed to see several taffeta and silk-attired ladies sailing past me, all bonneted up and carrying jaunty velvet bags suspended from long, white gloves. The gentlemen were tall-hatted, striding along in polished boots and starched white trousers. It was quite a sight, amongst the wrapped and strapped tourists and locals, ruddy Bath rugby afficianados and weekend workers. It was a sight to behold.
Immediately though, I felt conflicted. Skeptical, even. I am of the generation that waited as a youth, every dark Sunday night to watch Jennifer E and Colin Firth enact their restrained yet smouldering encounters on the screen. I have read many of Lady Jane Austen’s novels, and enjoyed them. All of them. So part of me revelled in seeing beaus and belles treading the cobbles of my city, arm in arm. Another part of me reviled it all, though. I saw damask-gloved digits stroking the perspex screens of IPads, and immaculate, ringletted hair pressed to mobile phones, all to arrange meetups or triangulate dinner dates. Gone were the casual encounters at the ribbon shop, or glimpsed observances of illicit encounters. Much was wireless. Nay moreso. The world was suffused by google.
Nevertheless, despite the insidious invasion of technology I went to bed that night thinking about the resplendent Austen weekenders. I was intrigued. Beguiled, even. A prominent part of me longed to take part. So it was that Sunday revealed to me perhaps the great glamour of the event. My family and I had Sunday lunch at a riverside restaurant (Austen would describe it as a dainty, fluvial Chophouse), built above the sleepy, winding river Avon. As we ate, I caught a glimpse of a rowingboat, gracefully carrying two Mr Darcyesque gentlemen to the jetty beneath the eatery. Both were bedecked in doublet and britches, replete with cane and sparkling wire-rimmed glasses. They looked marvellous, and had not a digital screen between them. On that balmy Sunday afternoon they truly looked the part.
So I reverted to my earlier admiration. The aforementioned gentlemen met up with others, all equally authentic, to partake of a midday meal. Yes, part of me did still rail at the bizarreness of them paying by credit card, and the supping of wines flown from Antipodean climes to hazy Somerset. I was conflicted once again. Until. Until I looked closer and observed a wondrous thing. One of the rowing-boated gentlemen was in fact a lady!
Bedecked in masculine finery was a beautiful and lively woman, clearly revelling in her chosen pastime. In our gender-flexible world, here was a lover of antiquity plunging in to one of the most stratified and stringent of Britain’s societal modes. I loved it. Wholeheartedly. A fusion of past and present times, gzalvanksed by a love of Literature and history. Though what utterly won me was the couple pictured in this article’s ine image. Taking a gentle turn at sunset around Georgian Bath, taking the air. They were masterfully, entirely in their element, and took my request for a photograph in their stride, as you can see. Henceforth, I am a big fan of the Austen weekend, and applaud the weekenders. Like Mr Darcy, I may have struggled against my nature to love it, but now love, love love the Austeners. Most ardently.
© Tom Tide 2016