‘A very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.'
Jane Austen, Persuasion
Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, a young woman who is persuaded not to marry the man she loves, because he has not yet made his fortune. During the Napoleonic Wars, the young man Captain Wentworth is successful and is rewarded for his role. Years later, they meet again as their friends and family holiday together with them at Lyme Regis. During the trip, one of Anne’s extended family, Louisa Musgrove falls from some steps on the Cobb. It is after this dramatic trip to Lyme Regis that the young couple is reunited forever.
Jane Austen's visits to Lyme Regis
Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis on two known occasions, in 1803 and 1804 and it seems that she grew to love the place.
In Persuasion, she describes “the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the Walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company...are what the stranger's eye will seek."
On the whole, Austen seems to have been enthralled by the area as she goes on to describe ‘The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more, its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands, make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth, declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood.’
Jane Austen's second visit to Lyme Regis
During Austen’s second visit she is with her family, half of which later went on to Weymouth, leaving Jane, her mother and father at Lyme. It was during this period of separation that Jane wrote a letter from Lyme dated 14th September 1804 to her sister Cassandra. It is from this that we know most about her visit to Lyme Regis on that occasion. When describing a trip to the Assembly Rooms, she writes:
‘The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for Thursday. My father staid contentedly till half-past nine (we went a little after eight), and then walked home with James and a lanthorn, though I believe the lanthorn was not lit, as the moon was up, but sometimes this lanthorn may be a great convenience to him. My mother and I staid about an hour later.’
Ever the avid note-taker, it was during Jane’s two known visits to Lyme Regis that she would have collated material for her last novel Persuasion. Persuasion was published posthumously and is said to be the most autobiographical of all her novels.
Tours of Jane Austen’s Lyme Regis are available.