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Novel delights in trip round Austen country.

RECENT film and TV dramas of Jane Austen's novels have sparked popular interest in the works of the great 19th century authoress.

Places where Jane lived and film locations have become part of a tourist trail easily reached from the Midlands.

Even great writers take holidays and one of the favourite places of Jane and her family was the seaside resort of Lyme Regis in Dorset.

Jane Austen was very familiar with Lyme - a turning-point in the plot of her novel Persuasion takes place on its famous Cobb. Two centuries later the character of the town has been preserved and visitors can still see "Louisa's steps".

Lyme Regis was one of her holiday destinations while Jane was living in Bath, as was the Devon town of Plymouth. The director of Sense and Sensibility, Ang Lee, felt that the incredible green landscape of Devon perfectly matched Jane Austen's descriptions of rural England and used Saltram House near Plymouth as a location.

In 1802 Jane Austen went to Dawlish which later became the honeymoon destination of Lucy Steele and Robert Ferrars when she wrote Sense and Sensibility.

For literary travellers wanting to recapture the early 19th-century atmosphere a prime target is Bath, where Jane lived from 1801 to 1806.

The social splendour of the city gave inspiration for all her books. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were both partly set in Bath.

Jane attended fashionable gatherings at the Pump Room and shopped in the upmarket Milsom Street area. Ignore the cars parked in Royal Crescent and nothing much has changed since she was around.

Close by are the refurbished but empty Assembly Rooms, which need a TV production to liven them up with characters in full 18th-century finery. That's what happened for the filming of Persuasion, which used the Rooms as a location. Next best thing is to go downstairs to a Museum of Costume, where dresses from Jane Austen's period are beautifully displayed.

Ten miles east of Bath is the picture-postcard village of Lacock, which is incredibly well preserved. Visitors have to park outside and use their legs. The village was used for filming both Emma and Pride and Prejudice. There were no TV aerials or satellite dishes to be removed - all such 20th-century clutter is discreetly hidden.

Not far away near Yeovil is Montacute House where the Elizabethan mansion and gardens were used for numerous scenes in Sense and Sensibility. The local village was also featured.

In the same film, the State Rooms of Wilton House near Salisbury were used as location for a huge banquet, while the architectural pride of Wilton House - the "double cube room" designed by Inigo Jones - became a candle-lit ballroom with 100 costumed dancers.

Even regardless of Jane Austen, Wilton is one of Britain's finest stately homes and has earned a share in 20th-century history. General Eisenhower stayed there for several months in 1944 when the mansion became Southern Command HQ. The ballroom took on a new role as Combined Operations Room for planning part of the D-Day Landings.

In the mediaeval heart of Salisbury is Mompesson House in the Cathedral Close - another star of a Jane Austen adaptation. In Sense and Sensibility this 18th-century gentleman's residence doubled as Mrs Jennings' London home.

Following in the footsteps of Jane Austen is still a good recipe for a memorable break. All these locations deserve an Oscar to themselves.
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Author:Butler, Reg
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 14, 1999
Words:561
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