Friday, August 7, 2009

Having a Ball at the Beach, Part 1: Lyme Regis

You’ve probably noticed the theme: ice cream, air conditioning, bathing. We are definitely in summer mode on NineteenTeen! And what could be better for summer than your very own faux-nineteenth century fan? Remember, every post in August is a chance to win. Just put in a comment, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for that day. Marissa will draw for Tuesdays, and I get to draw for Fridays.

Each year, thousands of Americans pack up and head for the beach for a summer vacation. That isn’t anything new. Beginning in the eighteenth century and continuing into the nineteenth, many English families took an annual trip to the seashore too. At first it was only the wealthy who went, but as the century wore on, even the middle class families picked up stakes in July or August and hurried off to folic on the shore.

But going to the seashore didn’t necessarily mean swimming. We’ve talked about how bathing in seawater was an activity more meant to improve your health than to cool off or show off your swimming suit. Some people actually enjoyed looking out at the grandeur of the sea. But most of them flocked to the seashore to continue that grand pastime of seeing other people and being seen by other people.

A favorite haunt of Jane Austen's was Lyme Regis on the western coast of England. She wrote in Persuasion, “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 knew what she was talking about. She visited Lyme Regis many times with her family in the early part of the century.

One of the most picturesque features of Lyme Regis is The Cobb, a huge, curving breakwater supposedly built in the 13th century from massive oak beams and boulders. It was possible to walk on part of it, but it was the daring young lady who tried. Part way along The Cobb is a steep staircase called Granny’s Teeth. One of Jane’s characters capered down those steps and fell to her death.

Lyme Regis featured a grand hall where Assembly Balls were held; a lovely seaside promenade called The Walk where you could, well, walk and show off your outfits; and shops, tea rooms, and bookstores where you could enjoy a good gossip. As a dear friend likes to say, “Wherever you go, there you are!”

So, what do you think? Are you a girl after Jane’s heart who would dare walk The Cobb and gaze at the wild sea? Or would you be found promenading to your heart’s content and gazing at the other people doing the same on a sunny day along the shore?


Sarah O. said...

I love tourism history, it's fascinating (I study it!). I just want to say, though, that Lousia Musgrove doesn't die, she just suffers from a pretty nasty concussion that requires a long convalescence! It is pretty funny in the book when all the locals pass it around that she is dead and they gather around to watch her like a side-show act.

Dara said...

I think I'd be promenading :) As much as I like looking at the ocean, the water is a bit petrifying to me so I would probably be too scared to walk The Cobb.

And I was also going to mention what Sarah did--Louisa Musgrove fell and nearly died but she did recover and ended up marrying Captain Harville. :)

Regina Scott said...

Oh, thank you, ladies! That's what I get for quickly looking it up! Maybe I better read the whole book again. Oh, golly, what a fate to be forced to read the divine Jane Austen again. ;-)

QNPoohBear said...

Show me the spot where Louisa Musgrove fell! Thanks for the picture. I'd love to visit but like Anne, I'd be sensible and walk down the steps instead of jumping, no matter who yummy the gentleman whose arms are waiting! Without that crucial scene though, the whole novel may have ended up differently. Imagine the horrors?

Ellen Booraem said...

Er...Louisa married Captain Benwick. (Mrs. Harville might have had something to say about it otherwise.)

Love the post, though. And LOVED seeing the actual steps where it all happened!

Sarah said...

Ooh, good point QNPoohbear.

I too would just walk down the steps. I don't want to pull a Louisa.

Addie said...

Sounds like so much fun! I'll have to visit someday.