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Seduction and Seducers in English Spa Towns: Jane Austen's Opportunity of Place.

JANE AUSTEN IS CLEARLY AWARE of the traditional cautions that sexual predators will use the remoteness of spa towns and seaside resorts to take advantage of unguarded women. The cautions are not without cause. Growing up in Miami, Florida, my teenage friends and I looked disdainfully on the boys who dropped in for spring break, made lots of promises, and disappeared at the end of a week. Or at least that's how I'd like to remember those years. "Disdain" might indeed be too strong a word. I had friends who lost their virginity to tourists and--just like little Eliza Williams--were convinced they had found the loves of their lives. Forty-five years later I prefer to think we were smart enough not to be flattered by admirers on the beach, but I am pretty sure even those of us who deflected seduction welcomed the ego boost of attention from a stranger. Austen's fiction reflects a similar ambiguity and an insightful understanding of female sexuality, as well as the contradictory hubris and insecurity of men. Tourist destinations construct an easy context for seduction, but Austen is not an alarmist. She is more an observer of the opportunity of place.

We know that Jane Austen was aware of the potential dangers of spa towns, particularly to women, since she gives us glimpses of victimized women like Colonel Brandon's ward, Eliza, seduced and impregnated by Willoughby in Bath, and the vocabulary of villainy is the foundation of Edward Denham's personality in Sanditon. As Maggie Lane observes, Bath's "common level of dirt and smells" hovers in the near background of Persuasion, Austen's least positive account of the city (40). But why doesn't her fiction expose the seedy, dangerous side of Bath and other seaside and spa towns? Gill Ballinger notes that the modern tourist industry in the city of Bath has created a positive mythology about Jane Austen's experiences in Bath, one that ignores both her personal dislike and critical portrayals of the city in her fiction. "Cultural heritage" organizations, Ballinger observes, have a financial investment in nostalgia, regardless of its historical accuracy. By turning the history of Austen in Bath into tearooms and fancy dress balls, the tourist industry obscures Austen's own nuanced and skeptical reading of the city in both life and fiction. In arguing that Austen is not alarmist, I am not saying that she participates in such nostalgia or misrepresents Bath and other spa towns. Austen examines the way certain places provide opportunities for danger, but her interest is in the way her characters react and respond to these opportunities. She rejects the sentimental exaggeration of risk found in plots like Richardson's Clarissa by emphasizing mental response over physical threat.

My argument must therefore start with Sanditon and the potential threat of the seaside spa in Jane Austen's final, incomplete work. Sir Edward Denham, the penniless nephew of Lady Denham by her second husband, identifies with Samuel Richardson's rogue, Robert Lovelace. His desire to join the ranks of the mythic seducers, however, is like that of a teenager who puts on the airs of a bad boy but still lets his mother clean his room and buy his underwear. "Sir Edward's great object in life was to be seductive," Austen tells us: "With such personal advantages as he knew himself to possess, and such talents as he did also give himself credit for, he regarded it as his duty.--He felt that he was formed to be a dangerous man--quite in the line of the Lovelaces" (Later Manuscripts 183-84). Edward Denham is a pretender, a ridiculous reader of poetry and novels, a man who is clearly unhappy with his life and status, and he conjures a fantasy of dominance and power to compensate for a life of dependency and no real purpose. Richardson's Lovelace lures Clarissa Harlowe to London by offering refuge from her authoritarian and abusive family. He takes advantage of her when she is most friendless and alone, drugging her and ultimately raping her. Richardson implies that London's urban dangers abet Lovelace in his violence.

We can only guess at Austen's intentions for her plot in the never-completed Sanditon, but Edward Denham's sense of himself, "formed to be a dangerous man," hardly seems terrifying. His intended object, Clara Brereton, is no Clarissa. Austen's narrator tells us that Clara "saw through him and had not the least intention of being seduced" (184). As Edward Denham plays out the fantasy of carrying Clara off to "Tombuctoo" (184), he is confronted by the constraints of his poverty. As a man who has hardly traveled beyond the outer fields of Sanditon, Edward Denham must admit to himself that seduction could be a rather expensive hobby. But the reference to "Tombuctoo" is curious. Since the first non-Islamic European reached Timbuktu only after Austen's death, (1) the reference could simply be rhetorical: Edward fantasizes about taking Clara very far away. But the metonymical invocation of "Tombuctoo"--rather than the more general sense of the alternate expression, "to the ends of the earth"--makes us focus on a place name. Since Edward can't afford an African voyage, "Sanditon" must substitute for "Tombuctoo." As a tourist destination, Sanditon thus takes on "ends of the earth" qualities. Clara is away from home and separated from most of her family and protectors, essential circumstances for seduction.

As the novel opens, Sanditon is an aspiring spa town, a seaside resort that hopes to grow as a tourist and health-seeker destination. This novel would have been Austen's greatest exploration of nineteenth-century Britain's growing capitalist economy: the house-poor Denhams are even more destitute than Sir Walter Elliot, who can hold onto his estate only by leasing it. If Persuasion celebrates the innovation and energy of naval men who earn livings rather than inherit wealth, Sanditon draws a picture of an even bleaker future for those whose titles and ancestors have lost their social significance along with their wealth. But Sanditon also points to a future of investment and growth. Mr. Parker may be a boring booster of his town, inept in his sense of geography and roads, but he knows that Sanditon's future depends on an influx of capital through goods and services sold to tourists. However sorry Emma Woodhouse and others may be to witness a growth in social status through earned wealth rather than inheritance and blood, Austen's full body of work recognizes that economic change is inevitable. And this recognition is most evident in places like Sanditon.

Edward Denham--"whom circumstances," the narrator tells us, "had confined very much to one spot" (183)--identifies with seducers because he belongs to a village in which most people are transient. The very nature of the spa town or seaside resort is to provide visitors with their own, temporary fantasy. Come to Sanditon, or Bath, or Brighton, or Lyme, or Weymouth, and set aside your everyday cares. Devote yourself to your health, to your pleasure, or to your desire. Let down your guard. This is a place to enjoy yourself, or even better, enjoy being someone other than yourself.

The quality of a spa town's being a place that invites visitors to be someone other than themselves may be understood in comparison with a fantasy practice rather than a fantasy place: the masquerade. In Jane Austen's "Jack and Alice," a short work of juvenilia estimated to have been written around 1790, a character at a masquerade ball dressed in a costume as the Roman goddess Flora reclines on a couch and sighs to her sister, '"Oh Cecilia, I wish I really was what I pretend to be'" (Juvenilia 15). Who has not had a similar thought? Everyday lives are messy and tedious; actions have consequences; bills come due. Every flaw that we perceive in ourselves disappears when we pretend to be someone else. In our fantasies, romantic partners never fail to recognize our worth, and they treat us with dignity and delight. At a masquerade ball, attendees can take risks without being judged; they can act out of character; they can suspend rules of propriety and family expectations. Disguises let dancers flirt with someone else's lover or betray their own. In Freudian terms, the masquerade allows the id to lead, cushioning the threat of guilt with this reminder: nobody knows me, and no one will find out what I have done.

Depictions of masquerade in literature directly preceding Jane Austen show the riskiness of social disguise. In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock warns his daughter to shun the pre-Lenten carnival masquerade with its "shallow foppery" and "feasting" (2.5.36-38); but Jessica uses the opportunity to disguise herself as a boy, steal money from her father, and run away with her Christian lover, Lorenzo. In The Rover, Aphra Behn's smart and eager Hellena escapes into the masquerade revelry of carnival in defiance of her father's intention to place her in a convent, exchanging sexually suggestive witticisms with a handsome man, unrestrained by the real-life expectations of her family and social class. The excess and extraordinary behavior of pre-Lenten carnivals found in great Catholic places like Venice, Rio, the Caribbean, and New Orleans are followed--if not balanced--by six weeks of fasting and deprivation. But Samuel Richardson focuses on the Protestant appropriation of masquerade when he references masquerade balls. Masquerade balls are not restricted to particular seasons, and although a night of pretense and unrestraint may invoke regret the following day, such penitence is private, not public and communal.

We know that Jane Austen processed Richardson's particularly negative view of masquerade balls because she focuses on Harriet Byron's masquerade victimization in the parody drama she wrote with her niece Anna of Richardson's third novel, Sir Charles Grandison. With great misgivings, Harriet attends a masquerade costumed as an Arcadian princess; her dress drapes closer to her body and is more sexually suggestive than any clothing she would choose for herself. When she is separated from her friends and kidnapped by a man who resents her for rejecting him, Harriet's costume seems to give outsiders permission to treat her disrespectfully and undermines her credibility when she claims she has been abducted and imprisoned against her will. Austen's comic version of Harriet Byron collapses the novel's lengthy diatribes against masked balls into a single denunciation of "those odious masquerades" (Southam 45). But Jane Austen is less alarmist. When teenage writer Austen slips a masquerade into "Jack and Alice," its consequences are not dire: excessive drinking by some of the guests and a few lingering fantasies that unrequited love might resolve into real romance.

I am linking "masquerade" with "spa town" to make these claims about Austen as a novelist and moralist. Her fiction makes a distinct break with her predecessors, especially Richardson. Whereas Richardson locates moral failure in one's environment--Harriet is a good girl who puts herself at risk by attending a masquerade ball--Austen implies that place is neutral. Edward Denham's assumption that he is positioned at Sanditon to step into the "line of the Lovelaces" is shown--even in the sliver of the novel that we have--to be a ridiculous fantasy. The real concerns of the village of Sanditon are its economic uncertainty, its erratic business plan, and its limited resources for entertaining or curing the hypochondriacs, heiresses, and young ladies coming of age who happen to find their way into its new tourist economy.

This rejection of a "morality of place" is not a position Austen arrived at only at the end of her life and writing career. She takes a swipe at her beloved Samuel Richardson in Northanger Abbey, the early Bath novel. Austen encourages her readers to smile and forgive Catherine Morland's tendency to let the fiction she reads frame her expectations of life. She is, after all, a seventeen-year-old who has spent her life in a country village in a big family, entertained by a few neighbors, a healthy dose of outdoor sports, and whatever novels she can get her hands on that will flush out the drudgery of her mother's occasional reading assignments in books of sermons and conduct. Sanditon's Charlotte Heywood initially finds Sir Edward Denham attractive and agreeable, but her quickly revised impression is the reader's guide: she "could not but think him a man of feeling--till he began to stagger her by the number of his quotations, and the bewilderment of some of his sentences" (174). In contrast, Northanger Abbey's Henry Tilney indulges Catherine's naivete, at least until it threatens to harm her, or until she decides to play junior detective and accuse General Tilney of murdering his wife.

The morality of place that frames the lives of the fictional heroines after whom Catherine models herself, however, is deconstructed by Catherine's practical mother when Catherine prepares for her visit to Bath. The literary historical context is this: Sir Charles Grandison is one of Mrs. Morland's favorite novels, and in that novel, after Sir Hargrave Pollexfen kidnaps Harriet Byron, he forces her away to a remote farmhouse, ties her up, physically assaults her, and tries to force her into a sham marriage. Unlike her daughter, however, Mrs. Morland distinguishes fictional threats from real ones.
   When the hour of departure drew near, the maternal anxiety of Mrs.
   Morland will be naturally supposed to be most severe. A thousand
   alarming presentiments of evil to her beloved Catherine from this
   terrific separation must oppress her heart with sadness, and drown
   her in tears for the last day or two of their being together; and
   advice of the most important and applicable nature must of course
   flow from her wise lips in their parting conference in her closet.
   Cautions against the violence of such noblemen and baronets as
   delight in forcing young ladies away to some remote farm-house,
   must, at such a moment, relieve the fulness of her heart. Who would
   not think so? But Mrs. Morland knew so little of lords and
   baronets, that she entertained no notion of their general
   mischievousness, and was wholly unsuspicious of danger to her
   daughter from their machinations. Her cautions were confined to the
   following points. "I beg, Catherine, you will always wrap yourself
   up very warm about the throat, when you come from the Rooms at
   night; and I wish you would try to keep some account of the money
   you spend;--I will give you this little book on purpose." (10-11)

Cold viruses and poor economy are the villains of Mrs. Morland's world. Indeed, fictional Lovelaces or Pollexfens are not lying in wait for Catherine in Bath. But Bath is still a place where people can temporarily "pretend to be" someone else. John Thorpe imagines himself not a rogue but a player, ingratiating himself with General Tilney through exaggerated accounts of whom he knows and how much they are worth. John's pushiness frequently makes Catherine uncomfortable; he scares her when he refuses to stop his gig after Catherine realizes he has lied about the Tilneys' cancellation of their walk with her. But Catherine "escapes" John Thorpe's plotting by suspending her literary sensibility. When John implies that he and Catherine should follow James and Isabella's lead and get married, Catherine misses his point by taking his words at face value. '"I say,'" says John, '"we may try the truth of this same old song.'" '"May we?'" asks Catherine; "'--but I never sing'" (125).

Isabella Thorpe is less fortunate. Or rather, she makes her own fortune. Isabella's engagement with James, weakened by her disappointment in the modest living offered to the couple by Mr. Morland, is easily eclipsed by Frederick Tilney's flirtation. While Austen's narration leaves much personal description between the lines, we witness a developing physical intimacy between the two, on a trajectory toward a sexual liaison. When James leaves Bath, Isabella initially announces that she will sit on the sidelines during the evening dance, but Captain Tilney '"would take no denial.... [I]t was not that he wanted merely to dance, he wanted to be with me. Oh! such nonsense'" (136-37).

Austen does not disguise Isabella's participation in her seduction. When Catherine first meets Frederick Tilney, she observes that "his admiration of her was not of a very dangerous kind; ... He cannot be the instigator of the three villains in horsemen's great coats, by whom she will hereafter be forced into a travelling-chaise and four, which will drive off with incredible speed" (133). Bath does not increase Catherine's vulnerability, but Bath, like the masquerade, is a place that can loosen social scruples. When Catherine tries to correct Isabella's impression that she committed herself to John Thorpe before he left Bath, Isabella suggests that Catherine has participated in a '"little harmless flirtation'" with her brother before deciding that Henry Tilney had more to offer. '"I am the last person in the world to judge you severely,"' Isabella assures Catherine, but her specious generosity accurately describes her own inconstancy: '"What one means one day, you know, one may not mean the next. Circumstances change, opinions alter'" (148).

This instability is especially true in Bath. '"Though Frederick does not leave Bath with us,'" Henry explains to Catherine, '"he will probably remain but a very short time, perhaps only a few days behind us. His leave of absence will soon expire, and he must return to his regiment.--And what will then be their acquaintance?--The mess-room will drink Isabella Thorpe for a fortnight, and she will laugh with your brother over poor Tilney's passion for a month'" (156). The second clause is a lie: James is brutalized by Isabella's flirtation with Frederick. But the scene in the mess-hall conjures the stereotype of sexual bragging without consequences. What happens in Bath might not exactly stay in Bath, but it turns into legend rather than responsibility.

We can infer Isabella's sexual intimacy with Frederick by her subsequent severing of her engagement to James, followed by her desperate plea to reestablish it when it is clear that Captain Tilney has no intention of marrying her. Bath for Isabella is a city of commerce and negotiation, a place to engage in an ambitious trade for marriage with a limited number of eligible men who can promise economic security. Sexual favors are part of that trade--and fiction from "The Wife of Bath" to Moll Flanders has situated such sexuality in Bath. The other vice of Bath, of course, is gambling. Isabella Thorpe wagers intimacy for marriage, but she loses not only her try for Captain Tilney but also the modest stock that initially won her James Morland's interest.

A similar wager takes place just off stage in Sense and Sensibility. Prior to his appearance in the novel, Willoughby seduces Colonel Brandon's ward in Bath. Like Catherine Morland, little Eliza has a well-meaning but ineffective temporary guardian when she travels to Bath with her friend. The friend's father--even more distracted than Mr. Allen--proves oblivious to Eliza's flirtation with Willoughby until the two disappear together. Eliza's pregnancy leaves no doubt of their sexual relationship, but everyone knows--witness Mrs. Bennet rejoicing in Lydia's marriage--that a little prenuptial sex is easily made right by wedding vows. Eliza expected Willoughby's affection to turn into commitment, but in Willoughby's mind, spa towns are places apart, spaces free of consequences and retribution. '"He had left the girl whose youth and innocence he had seduced,'" Colonel Brandon tells Elinor, '"in a situation of the utmost distress, with no creditable home, no help, no friends, ignorant of his address! He had left her promising to return; he neither returned, nor wrote, nor relieved her"' (237-38).

If Willoughby is considered "in the line of the Lovelaces," the line has taken a dramatic turn. Elinor asks Colonel Brandon if he had seen Willoughby since traveling to Bath and rescuing his ward and her baby. "'Yes,'" he tells her, '"once I have. One meeting was unavoidable,'" implying he confronted Willoughby in a duel. "'[W]e met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad'" (239). Robert Lovelace, too, is challenged to duel with Clarissa Harlowe's cousin upon his return to England. When Lovelace receives his fatal wound, he cries out, "LET THIS EXPIATEI" (530). Lovelaces are called to moral accountability. Willoughby walks away and marries the wealthy Sophia Grey.

Jane Austen's personal knowledge of spa towns greatly exceeds Bath. She writes to Cassandra from Lyme in 1804, during the period her family lived in Bath but prior to Mr. Austen's death. In Lyme, Austen describes both the pleasures and the disagreeableness of vacation spots: she goes sea-bathing several times, then suffers from illness, a fever, she sarcastically writes, that "has been all the fashion this week in Lyme" (14 September 1804). She attends balls but is left without a partner several times and in other sets is paired with men with whom she would not associate outside of Lyme.

In 1804, Cassandra is visiting with other family members in the seaside village Weymouth. Jane writes, teasing her sister about arriving too late on an occasion when her party hoped to see the royal family departing on their yacht. George Ill's frequent visits to Weymouth included attempts to rest and recover from the illness that left him mentally unbalanced. Austen chooses Weymouth as the location for Emma Woodhouse's fabricated scandal, pairing Jane Fairfax with Mr. Dixon, and it is the vacation spot where Mansfield. Park's Mr. Yates is disappointed in his first attempt to act in a private theatrical of Lovers' Vows. But Austen's letter makes fun of the town's mundane problems rather than its celebrity culture or gossip: "Your account of Weymouth," she tells Cassandra, "contains nothing which strikes me so forcibly as there being no Ice in the Town; for every other vexation I was in some measure prepared" (14 September 1804).

In her fiction, Austen counts on her readers' awareness of the temptations of resort communities like Brighton when Elizabeth Bennet considers Lydia's invitation from Mrs. Forster as "the death warrant of all possibility of common sense" (PP 255). Although he attributes less significance to it, both Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet recognize that Lydia's behavior at Brighton will be a public display. For Mr. Bennet, there are two senses of public: one is the public of consequence; the other is transitory. Lydia may make a fool of herself at Brighton, but there will be no lingering effects: "At Brighton she will be of less importance even as a common flirt than she has been here. The officers will find women better worth their notice'" (257).

Wickham's liaison with Lydia initially resembles Frederick Tilney's dalliance with Isabella Thorpe and Willoughby's affair with Eliza Williams. He is looking for pleasure; she is wagering for commitment. None of the men plans to sustain his relationship. Relationships are for real life; Brighton and Bath let people pretend to be what they are not. Wickham's debts and social deficits were coming due, even though the militia's departure for Brighton allowed him to keep them hidden a little longer. Elizabeth, Jane, and the reader know about Wickham's predatory history with Georgiana Darcy in Ramsgate, another seaside town, but we are all diverted from assuming he would attempt to seduce another young girl by Mr. Bennet's logic: there are many women with greater resources than Lydia from whom George Wickham could benefit.

The logic of economic benefit, however, eludes the mythology of the spa town. Wickham and Lydia act in the present. While Lydia might assume she will become "Mrs. Wickham," she is in no hurry to legalize their union; and when they are finally discovered in London, Wickham admits that it was never his intention to marry Lydia. If you expect what happens in Brighton to stay in Brighton, however, you might need to stay there, too.

Although Mrs. Bennet finally gets a married daughter, she is very familiar with the dark side of elopement stories. A daughter seduced must be avenged: "And now here's Mr. Bennet gone away, and I know he will fight Wickham, wherever he meets him, and then he will be killed, and what is to become of us all?'" (317). When she learns her husband is returning to Longbourn alive, she is hardly comforted: '"What, is he coming home, and without poor Lydia! ... Who is to fight Wickham, and make him marry her, if he comes away?'" (329).

Once again, the line of the Lovelaces is bent. There is no moral punishment or expiation for crime. Wickham gets his debts paid and his reputation restored. Both Willoughby and Wickham are condemned to marriages without genuine love, but that is a romanticized injury. They are able to leave the consequences of their behavior behind them.

In Jane Austen's most spa-intensive novel, Persuasion, explicit seduction narratives are behind her as her characters visit Lyme Regis and Bath. In Persuasion, the "line of the Lovelaces," who seduce ignorant if willing young women in spa towns, has no one upon whom to prey. The youngest unmarried women are the Musgrove sisters, and Jane Austen does not set them up for seduction. Henrietta's attachment to her clergyman cousin preserves her honor and her character. And although Louisa's physical thrill at being jumped down the steps at the Cobb suggests her ripe sexuality, Captain Wentworth indulges her reluctantly.

When he first arrives to visit his sister, Captain Wentworth toys with the idea of a meaningless relationship, assuming it will satisfy his desire to settle down:
   It was now his object to marry. He was rich, and being turned
   on shore, fully intended to settle as soon as he could be properly
   tempted; actually looking round, ready to fall in love with all the
   speed which a clear head and a quick taste could allow. He had a
   heart for either of the Miss Musgroves, if they could catch it; a
   heart, in short, for any pleasing young woman who came in his
   way, excepting Anne Elliot. This was his only secret exception,
   when he said to his sister, in answer to her suppositions,

   "Yes, here I am, Sophia, quite ready to make a foolish match.
   Any body between fifteen and thirty may have me for asking. A
   little beauty, and a few smiles, and a few compliments to the navy,
   and I am a lost man. Should not this be enough for a sailor, who
   has had no society among women to make him nice?" (66)

Wentworth's bitterness and disappointment have given him the rhetoric of a rogue. In fact, his language echoes Petruchio, who announces at the start of The Taming of the Shrew that he seeks to marry not for love but for advantage: "And I have thrust myself into this maze,/Haply to wive and thrive as best I may" (1.2.54-55). But Captain Wentworth cannot act on his shallow resolution. His flirtation with Louisa lacks substance, and in spite of himself he is repeatedly drawn toward Anne. He watches Anne comfort little Charles when he dislocates his shoulder; he assists her into the Crofts' carriage when she is wearied by a walk in the sun; and he turns to Anne to direct the emergency response when Louisa takes her near fatal leap and injures her head on the pavement of the lower Cobb.

What Persuasion lacks in stereotypical rogues, however, it makes up for in roguish psychology in Lyme and Bath. On the morning of their second day in Lyme, Anne, Henrietta, Louisa, and Captain Wentworth are passed by a man who turns out to be Anne's cousin, William Elliot. Although Wentworth has attached himself to Louisa, when William Elliot looks admiringly at Anne, Wentworth himself re-visions Anne. Rene Girard calls this "triangulated desire": Frederick Wentworth's desire for Anne is invigorated by William Elliot's intense stare.

Anne's silent exchange with her cousin feels wonderful: "as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of" (112). This is the essence of spatown passion, transitory but extraordinary. It is nothing on which to base a relationship, but it is satisfying in the moment. The intensity of the interchange burns a strong memory, and all three characters---William Elliot, Anne Elliot, and Frederick Wentworth--recognize each other and remember the exchange when they meet again in Bath. When William Elliot enters Anne's father's house in Camden Place, he looks "completely astonished, but not more astonished than pleased" (154). When Mr. Elliot walks into Molland's confectionary on Milsom Street, where Frederick Wentworth has just offered to get a sedan chair for Anne or give her his umbrella for protection against the rain, the narrator notes, "Captain Wentworth recollected him perfectly. There was no difference between him and the man who had stood on the steps at Lyme, admiring Anne as she passed" (192).

Mr. Elliot is a psychological rogue because he is guarded--he is "rational, discreet, polished,--but he was not open" (175). Anne thinks she distrusts him because she prefers men with "open-hearted" characters, but he is playing a role. While he is not a physical seducer, he is perhaps the character most caught up in spa-space role-playing. This would explain Mrs. Clay's ability to switch around the players in her "choose your own adventure" narrative, turning the manipulative Mr. Elliot into her own manipulated object.

It should not surprise readers of Jane Austen that she is more interested in the complex psychology of seduction than in the unrealistic binaries of mustache-twirling villains and naive, innocent victims. This emphasis is precisely the reason her fiction has endured. She does not gloss over cruelty and disorder, but she locates the opportunity of place more in an individual's will than in the corrupt reputation of his location.

Jane Austen's personal descriptions of spa towns focus on the mundane. When the Austen family moves to Bath in 1801, she notes not the rising "price of butcher's meat" (LM 170) lamented in Sanditon but the cost of cucumbers--a shilling apiece (5-6 May 1801). Like her characters, she enjoys increased access in Bath to fabric, gowns, and hats. Her letters to Cassandra sarcastically point out how ordinary people defy romance stereotypes. "Miss Langley," she writes "is like any other short girl with a broad nose & wide mouth, fashionable dress, & exposed bosom" (12-13 May 1801). Marianne Dashwood may have taken offense at Sir John Middleton's language when he suggested she would "'be setting [her] cap'" at Willoughby (53), but Austen, in Bath, playfully uses the phrase to characterize her own potential for flirting in the spa town: "I am prevented from setting my black cap at Mr Maitland by his having a wife & ten Children" (21-22 May 1801). In a postscript to that same 1801 letter, Austen describes a visitor, Mr. Pickford, as "raffish in his appearance," but his "raffish" or rakish demeanor makes him an interesting rather than a threatening parlor guest.

Exposed bosoms, deflected flirtation, and one rakish-looking man are just about the extent of Austen's epistolary hints that spa towns like Bath raise the possibility of seduction. This does not mean that Austen was unaware of the private and risque behavior of tourists and visitors. Willoughby and Wickham clearly take advantage of the remoteness of Bath and Ramsgate and Brighton to attempt or succeed in seduction. Although Maria Rushworth and Henry Crawford consummate their affair in London, Maria's honeymoon in Brighton, where we can suppose she spent more time with her sister, Julia, than with her new husband, might have inspired her to abandon her six-month marriage without regard to the consequences.

Nevertheless, Austen's last fictional tourist destination, Sanditon, will not rival London as a "sin city." If there is indeed a line of Lovelaces, Sir Edward Denham does not even make the cut. Clara Brereton could have been the perfect victim: having accepted Lady Denham's invitation to the village, she is cut off from the protection of family, she is dependent and poor, and she is easily isolated in a town whose population swells only through the arrival of strangers. But Clara Brereton, like Mrs. Morland and ultimately even Catherine Morland, will not let place dictate fear. Seducers like Sir Edward are insecure and immature men, whose fantasies have been displaced by the cares of everyday life. Players like John Thorpe can do harm, but in Jane Austen's world they are ultimately deflected by rational women. Jane Austen's earliest biographers, her brother and nephew, list Samuel Richardson as her favorite author, and she apparently enjoyed his characters, long-winded plots, melodramatic conflict, and urban romance. But in her own fiction she puts an end to the line of the Lovelaces. Visitors to spa and tourist towns have more to fear from respiratory ailments or the cost of tea and sugar. It is not the place that makes the rogue, as Captain Wentworth's behavior proves, but each individual seducer's psychological appropriation of the opportunity that Bath, Lyme, or Brighton represents.


(1.) Alexander Gordon Laing is credited as the first explorer from Europe to reach Timbuktu, by traveling across the Sahara in 1826. He was murdered on his departure (Hammer 4). John Murray published Laing's earlier travel diary in 1825. In their notes to Later Manuscripts, Todd and Bree suggest that Sir Edward is probably invoking a literary convention of seducers carrying women off to distant lands, such as the "wilds of Canada" in Mary Brunton's Self Control (668).

Celia Easton is Professor of English and Dean of Academic Planning and Advising at the State University of New York at Geneseo. She is a former regional coordinator of Rochester's Central and Western New York Region of JASNA and never wearies of Austen's continued relevance in daily life.


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Girard, Rene. Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976.

Hammer, Joshua. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. New York: Simon, 2016.

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Caption: Comforts of Bath, Plate 6 (1798), by Thomas Rowlandson.
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Title Annotation:AGM 2018: Kansas City, Missouri; Jane Austen's "Persuasion"
Author:Easton, Celia A.
Publication:Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Previous Article:In Defense of Inconstancy: The Rewards of "Second Attachments" in Persuasion.
Next Article:"What the Stranger's Eye Will Seek": Visiting and Revisiting the Watering Places in Persuasion.

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