Kent

Did Jane Austen hate Ramsgate?

Composite image of Jane Austen portrait, Ramsgate picture from 1806, and person reading Pride and Prejudice
Image caption Historian Norman Thomas said that in Austen's time, seaside resorts were considered by some to be "socially dangerous"

The writings of Jane Austen suggest she "hated" Ramsgate and considered the seaside resort to be a place of disrepute, a Kent historian has claimed.

The celebrated author made reference to the port, in the Thanet district of Kent, in Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park.

Local historian Norman Thomas said that in Austen's time, seaside resorts were considered by some to be "socially dangerous" places.

"The general thrust is that Ramsgate is the sort of place where foolish immoral people get up to foolish immoral things," he said.

In Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, 15-year-old Georgiana Darcy is taken to the town by her companion Mrs Younge and persuaded to elope with Mr Wickham, who has his eye on the teenager's fortune.

But Mr Darcy, her older brother, unexpectedly joins them and Mr Wickham makes a swift exit.

'Immoral things'

And in 1814's Mansfield Park, Tom Bertram travels to Ramsgate to visit his friends the Sneyds, who are staying in Albion Place.

He finds them on the pier with Mrs Sneyd "surrounded by men".

In an 1813 letter to her brother Charles's wife, Austen also wrote: "Ed Hussey talks of fixing at Ramsgate - Bad Taste!"

Mr Thomas asked why the author chose Ramsgate as the object of her "disdain", when it was "comparatively more respectable" than nearby Margate.

Her brother, Admiral Francis Austen, an officer with the Royal Navy, was stationed there in 1803 and married a local woman, Mary Gibson. Austen is known to have visited.

"We know Jane loved her brother very much," Mr Thomas said.

"It could be that she sort of blamed Ramsgate and its women for stealing him away from the family.

"She actually wrote a poem called 'Post Haste from Thanet' to celebrate the marriage of her brother Frank to this Ramsgate woman.

"And then you start to think, well maybe consciously or unconsciously, she identified Ramsgate as the place where she lost her brother.

"Maybe she thought this wasn't the best of marriages...

"I think she then offered a moral warning in the later novels that Ramsgate was a place where if you went, be very careful because you might end up getting mixed up with unsuitable company."

But some experts disagree with Mr Thomas's claims.

'Humorous remarks'

Kathryn Sutherland, professor of English at St Anne's College, Oxford University, said: "There seems to be one outright remark against Ramsgate in Austen's letters (14-15 October 1813), describing Edward Hussey's plan to 'fix' himself at Ramsgate as 'Bad Taste'.

Image caption Norman Thomas claimed Austen disliked Ramsgate

"But the reference is clearly facetious.

"If you look at a letter of 14 September 1804, written from Lyme Regis, you find Austen making similarly facetious remarks about other places.

"These are all humorous remarks to her sister Cassandra."

Prof Sutherland said Austen regarded sea-side towns, such as Ramsgate and Brighton, as places where there were opportunities for seduction or less guarded behaviour.

"But in Mansfield Park, Maria Rushworth appears to be seduced into adultery at Twickenham, and no-one suggests Jane Austen disliked Twickenham," she said.

"So, I tend to think we should exercise the same humour in reading Austen as she exercised in writing - and not take remarks out of context or to mean more than they probably do."

Ann Channon, from Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, where Austen spent the last eight years of her life, said she was not sure that the writer disliked Ramsgate.

"Although I can see why that may appear to be so in her writings," she added.

Mrs Channon said Ramsgate was a popular resort and would have been a gathering place for people with some wealth to visit, a place to see and be seen.

"Off the back of this you would have every type of character feeding from the effect of the wealthy in a more profligate manner, with so many opportunities for profiting from naive people," she said.

"With this atmosphere there would come more freedom and bad behaviour - as seen in Pride and Prejudice.

"There was a growing belief that the seaside was good for health problems and the spas which had been so popular were on the wane.

"This is why Jane Austen was leading the way with her ideas in her last unfinished novel 'Sanditon' by setting it at the seaside."

She said it was thought that the Ramsgate area may have been the setting for the novel.

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