Every morning now brought its regular duties – shops were to be visited; some new part of the town to be looked at; and the Pump-room to be attended, where they paraded up and down for an hour, looking at everybody and speaking to no one.
This passage describes Catherine Morland’s early days in Bath (chapter 3 of Northanger Abbey). She was on a grand adventure, leaving her quiet village to sample the delights of a fashionable spa town as the particular guest of the Morlands’ wealthy neighbors, the Allens. The only flaw in the pleasure scheme was their lack of acquaintance in Bath. Mrs. Allen, as you may recall, continually bemoans that circumstance. It was no trivial complaint either, since one couldn’t talk to (let alone dance with) a person until one had been properly introduced. Hence, the above comment about looking at everybody and speaking to no one.
Because of its place in both Jane Austen’s writings (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) and in her real life (having lived there herself for a time), I couldn’t wait to go to Bath when I was in England two years ago. Although my visit was all too brief, I took in as much as I could, particularly wanting to see locations mentioned in her two books and to get a feel for the town, since I was setting my own novel (For Myself Alone) partially there. The Pump-room features prominently in both. At the heart of the community, it was the place to see and been seen, and to discover who else was currently in residence. Whether one was in town for health or holiday, the Pump-room had to be attended.
In For Myself Alone, my heroine, Josephine Walker, gives her impressions of the Pump-room:
Crowds of fashionable people pass daily through its portals seeking the healing waters and the company of their peers. Reputedly, so many valuable acquaintances are renewed and favorable alliances formed within its hallowed walls that each visit holds as much promise for social as medicinal advantage. Thus, with high expectations, we joined the throng of pilgrims drawn to the Pump-room. As Papa bathed in the warm, spring-fed pool below, Mama and I filled our time by parading up and down the main room in concert with all the others similarly left with no more-useful employment. The scale of the place gave even this ordinary exercise a feeling of grandeur.
Other than the fact that it’s now set up for serving high tea, the room has not changed much since Jane Austen trod the floors two hundred years ago. It was a thrill to walk the same polished hard woods and sample the same foul-smelling water water from the King’s Fountain as she did then. So remember, if you get to Bath, you simply must attend the Pump-room too.