Jane Austen Persuasion and 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. 

Seeking inspiration

During Austen’s second visit to Dorset with her family, some of which later went onto Weymouth, leaving Jane, her mother and father at Lyme. During this time, Jane wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra dated 14th September 1804. 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

Jane Austen wrote her novel Persuasion in 1815–16 and it was the last book that she completed before she sadly died a few years later. The book was published posthumously and is said to be the most autobiographical of all her novels. 

It is the story of Anne Elliot, a young woman persuaded not to marry the man she loves (young Naval officer Frederick Wentworth) as he has not yet made his fortune.  

During the Napoleonic Wars, Wentworth is promoted and becomes wealthy and well-known for his service. 

Years later, Anne and Captain Wentworth meet again as their friends and family holiday together in a dramatic trip to Lyme Regis (known as Lyme in the book) and are reunited forever. 

In Persuasion, Austen 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." 

The novel has been adapted several times into TV mini-series and films, many of which have used Lyme Regis as a filming location. It is currently being adapted into two feature films. One starring Dakota Johnson will premiere on Netflix in 2022 and be a “modern and witty” take on the novel. The second film from Searchlight Pictures will stick closer to the storyline of the book with Succession’s Sarah Snook playing Anne. Both will be period dramas. 

Locations to visit

If you want to follow in Austen’s footsteps, The Cobb is a good starting place. 

The Cobb is where Persuasion’s Anne Elliot, Captain Wentworth and their party take a stroll out to sea. The steps connecting the upper part of the Cobb to the lower part, made from protruding stones, are known locally as ‘Granny’s Teeth’. It is this location that best fits the description where Louisa Musgrove falls and suffers a concussion while being helped down steps by Captain Wentworth. 

Lyme Bay features in Persuasion and Austen will most likely have spent some time here during her visits to the town. In Regency England, there would have been bathing machines on the beaches to protect the modesty of lady swimmers. Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra telling her about using one of the bathing machines at Lyme. 

Above the blue door of Pyne House on Broad Street the plaque reads “This is the most likely lodging of Jane Austen, whose visits to Lyme in 1803 and 1804 gave birth to her novel Persuasion”. The building isn’t open to the public, but it makes a nice photo opportunity for Austen fans. 

Built as a memorial to Jane in 1975, you can visit the Jane Austen Garden located at the end of Marine Parade near the putting green. From this small garden there are lovely views over the beach and bay. There is a café next door appropriately called Jane’s Café. 

Head over to Lyme Regis Museum to see their Jane Austen collection. They have several items in the collection which have been handed down or loaned from the Austen family themselves.

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