Event Title

Tea With Mr. Darcy: Bath’s Jane Austen Centre, Commodification, and Audience

Date

April 2022

Location

Schewel 217

Description

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath serves as one of several prominent literary tourist destinations in England aimed at Austen fans, though unlike her house in Chawton, it does not connect directly to any particular place that Austen lived. Nor, unlike Chawton and the British Library, does it feature material artifacts directly owned by or connected to Austen. Rather, the Jane Austen House serves an aggregatory function, acting at once as a source of basic information about Austen’s life, a resource on Regency history, a celebration of Austen’s characters, and an acknowledgement of well-loved adaptations of her works. Aiming at a broad target audience, the Jane Austen Center’s immersive function – the tagline on its website as of November 2021 is “Step into Jane Austen’s world” – has been criticized for promoting a romantically nostalgic, one-sided image of Austen’s works that ignores their political sophistication, as well as misrepresenting Austen’s relationship to Bath. I argue that these criticisms stem from the critically underexplored problem of the Centre’s audience expectations. Its misrepresentations of Austen’s life and relationships, as well as its choice to blur the fictional and real “worlds” of Austen, stem from marketing to an imaginary, unsophisticated reader of Austen’s work.

Presentation Type

Presentation

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Tea With Mr. Darcy: Bath’s Jane Austen Centre, Commodification, and Audience

Schewel 217

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath serves as one of several prominent literary tourist destinations in England aimed at Austen fans, though unlike her house in Chawton, it does not connect directly to any particular place that Austen lived. Nor, unlike Chawton and the British Library, does it feature material artifacts directly owned by or connected to Austen. Rather, the Jane Austen House serves an aggregatory function, acting at once as a source of basic information about Austen’s life, a resource on Regency history, a celebration of Austen’s characters, and an acknowledgement of well-loved adaptations of her works. Aiming at a broad target audience, the Jane Austen Center’s immersive function – the tagline on its website as of November 2021 is “Step into Jane Austen’s world” – has been criticized for promoting a romantically nostalgic, one-sided image of Austen’s works that ignores their political sophistication, as well as misrepresenting Austen’s relationship to Bath. I argue that these criticisms stem from the critically underexplored problem of the Centre’s audience expectations. Its misrepresentations of Austen’s life and relationships, as well as its choice to blur the fictional and real “worlds” of Austen, stem from marketing to an imaginary, unsophisticated reader of Austen’s work.