Every year about this time, I feel compelled to expound on the glories of spring in some way or another. Today is a beautiful day in the great Pacific Northwest. The sun’s out, the birds are singing, and it’s the perfect temperature – not too hot or too cold. I’ve got all the windows of the house open for fresh air and, if the breeze blows the right direction, I can smell this fragrant azalea that’s blooming outside my front door.
I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world and in a semi-rural area where tall evergreen trees and tangled undergrowth still dominate the landscape. On days like this, there’s no place I’d rather be. Fanny Price felt the same way about the lush greenery of Mansfield Park.
It was sad to Fanny to lose all the pleasures of spring. She had not known before what pleasures she had to lose in passing March and April in a town. She had not known before how much the beginnings and progress of vegetation had delighted her – what animation both of body and mind she had derived from watching the advance of that season which cannot, in spite of its capriciousness, be unlovely, and seeing its increasing beauties, from the earliest flowers in the warmest divisions of her aunt’s garden, to the opening of leaves of her uncle’s plantations, and the glory of his woods. (Mansfield Park, chapter 45)
She’d been sent back to Portsmouth where confinement, bad air, bad smells, substituted for liberty, freshness, fragrance, and verdure. The contrast made her appreciate the delights of her adopted home all the more. Fanny Price’s preference for country life over town reflects her author’s own bias. Jane Austen spent five unhappy years in Bath, where the family moved after her father retired and was obliged to give up the Steventon rectory in Hampshire.
From Persuasion, here’s more evidence of Jane Austen’s dislike of town, Bath specifically:
Anne entered [Bath] with a sinking heart, anticipating an imprisonment of many months, and anxiously saying to herself, “Oh! When shall I leave you again?”
In The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, where Anne’s character is a representation of Jane’s own life and views, I expanded on this thought. On her return to Bath from a seaside holiday, Jane is thinking…
The setting itself gave me no comfort, for I had learnt to dislike Bath. Not least among its detractions for me was the familiar din that greeted us immediately upon our arrival – the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newsmen, muffin-men, and milk-men… For me, it was a sad thing indeed to exchange the natural music of wind and wave for the mechanical clatter of town.
I visited Bath once a few years ago and didn’t find it at all unpleasant. But I guess I wouldn’t want to live there – or in any other city – permanently either. I much prefer the country. That’s another thing Jane Austen and I have in common.
Well, the wind chimes outside my window have just stirred, generating their natural music and reminding me that I shouldn’t be sitting inside at my computer, not on such a perfect spring day. I think I’ll go out for a walk or take some more pictures of flowers to share.