Monday, September 5, 2011

LYME REGIS - PART ONE - WHY I WANTED TO VISIT

Click on the pictures for the larger view.

Ever since I first read Jane Austen's novels starting at the age of 16, I've wanted to visit Lyme Regis on the southwest coast of England. In Austen's novel, Persuasion, during a visit to Lyme Regis and a walk along the Cobb, Louisa Musgrove, a character in the novel, slips and falls and suffers a serious injury on the treacherous (at least to me, and with reason considering what happened to Louisa!) stone steps on the side of the Cobb. The fall drastically alters the plotline in a manner as to give the readers the conclusion to the novel which is thought by many to be the only proper ending. 'It was (you may say) satisfactory.'* Poor Louisa, notwithstanding.

In my many visits to England, I never made it to Lyme Regis until this past July, when my friend Cathy and I made our trip by car to the West Country. Needless to say, my visit there was one of the high points of my trip to England. I was nearly beside myself with joy and disbelief that I was finally there.

The picture to the left is a scan of an illustration of Louisa's fall from a limited edition copy of Persuasion, signed by the illustrator, Tony Buonpastore. I bought the book for the introduction by Louis Auchincloss, many of whose novels of upper-class New York I'd read. At first, I didn't care for the illustrations, but they've grown on me.

From Persuasion:
There was too much wind to make the high part of the new Cobb pleasant for the ladies, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower, and all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa; she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth. In all their walks, he had had to jump her from the stiles; the sensation was delightful to her. The hardness of the pavement for her feet, made him less willing upon the present occasion; he did it, however. She was safely down, and instantly, to show her enjoyment, ran up the steps to be jumped down again. He advised her against it, thought the jar too great; but no, he reasoned and talked in vain, she smiled and said, "I am determined I will:" he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless! There was no wound, no blood, no visible bruise; but her eyes were closed, she breathed not, her face was like death. The horror of the moment to all who stood around!
Well, not to appear heartless, Louisa was not quite lifeless. She only appeared to be. As Lady Catherine de Bourgh said in another of Austen's novels, 'Obstinate, headstrong girl!'

After seeing the movie 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' and reading John Fowles novel of the same title from which the story in the movie was taken, I was even more desirous of a visit to Lyme Regis to see and walk the Cobb. The film and the book caught hold of my imagination and stayed with me through many years. In 1982, when Grandpère and I made our first and very romantic two-week trip (We'd never been away from our three children for that long!) to England, we both wanted to go to Lyme Regis, him also because he was intrigued by the movie, but we never made it there.

A few months before I went to England this year, I went to a book fair at my grandson's school and saw the novel Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. Listed amongst her other published books was The Girl With the Pearl Earring, which I thought I had read and liked, so I bought the book. But I discovered that I had not read the other book but had rather seen the movie based on the novel of the imagined life of the girl in the gorgeous Vermeer painting of the same name. Are you still with me?

Remarkable Creatures is a fictionalized account of the life of Mary Anning, born in 1799, a fossil hunter from a poor family in Lyme Regis. Mary began to search for fossils at an early age, with her father and older brother, Joseph, both uneducated, as her teachers. Otherwise, Mary was entirely self-taught, and she had 'the eye' for finding fossils. Mary discovered the first plesiosaur fossil skeleton and made other major finds, such as the first specimen of Ichthyosaurus to be known in London scientific circles, which she and her brother found when she was only 10 or 12 years old. Although many of her discoveries are in museums, she is often not credited for her finds.

The small ammonite fossils, called curies (curiosities), which she and her brother collected, cleaned, polished, and then sold to visitors to Lyme Regis helped the family survive after the death of their father.

Mary was not the only person to have 'the eye'. As we walked on the beach at Lyme Regis, Cathy looked down and found the fossil pictured below right at our feet, and she so very kindly gave the stone to me as a memento of our visit. How generous of her! Thank you, Cathy. I treasure my curie. We never saw another fossil on the beach for the rest of our time there, and I've read that we were very fortunate to find any fossil at all during tourist season.


Like the long-winded lady that I am, I've run on to make this post quite lengthy, but I've told you only about books, movies, and fossil-hunting and precious little about Lyme Regis, so I've decided to tell the story in two parts (three if you count my silly post). Besides, I have more pictures of the beach and the town that I want to post, so the account of our visit to Lyme Regis is to be continued....

The University of California at Berkeley provides a brief biography of Mary Anning.

*'The Journey of the Magi' - T. S. Eliot

Image of Mary Anning from Wikipedia.

Image of Fowles' book from Wikipedia.

24 comments:

  1. I wrote my master's thesis on Fowles' "French Lieutenant's Woman" and "Daniel Martin," and because of the former, I've always wanted to go to Lyme Regis, too.

    I'm ashamed to say I was so poorly educated in literature I never made the obvious connection to "Persuasion" (I'm too lazy to use tags). It would have added several pages to my discussion of the novel, but I got my degree anyway, and besides the damned thing was typewritten. I use it now (the thesis) as an example to my students of life in the Stone Age, and only remember typing page after page, carefully checking bottom and side margins (and even then it was almost rejected because of the margins).

    None of my professors mentioned it either, however. The Austen connection, I mean. Then again, none of them were conversant with Fowles outside of what I told them, so maybe it's a parable about graduate schools, eh?

    So, anyway, windbag that I am: thanks for stirring pleasant memories!

    "Dillymem" It's like a secret language, or something....

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  2. Oh Rmj, I remember the damnable research papers typed on typewriters, with the constant watch of the margins. Back when I had no money, I even paid a time or two to have my papers typed by a person with more typing skills than mine.

    I was so grateful to the few English professors who required us to write original papers, with our own thoughts and critiques. I probably wrote a good deal of nonsense, but I didn't have to concern myself with proper placement and correct form of the damned footnotes and references.

    I never worked out why typing skills were so very important to a degree. I suppose it was that you were expected to continue to write research papers, but I can tell you, I never did. And now, students have it so easy.

    That I read the novel about Mary Anning only a few months before my trip was pure coincidence. And then, the gift of the fossil was a lovely lagniappe.

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  3. Fun post, Mimi. I like to hear about your literary excursions!

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  4. JCF, thanks. I enjoy writing about my literary excursions, and the writing helps to keep the old brain cells from atrophy, or so I hope.

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  5. Well, Mimi, you know I am jealous that you went to Lyme Regis because you know how I feel about Jane Austen. I look forward to the next installment.

    A creative writing major myself, I made my beer money typing papers for many of my other classmates in college. My dad had made me take typing in high school (he bribed me, actually) and it did come in handy.

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  6. Penny, I know, I know! It's possible that Jane Austen and Mary Anning met. Perhaps Jane bought a curie or two from Mary while she was in Lyme Regis, but we'll never know.

    I took a semester of typing, too, and I'm glad that I did, but I didn't really have a gift for it. I managed well enough, and now, with computers, at least I'm not doing hunt and peck with two fingers.

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  7. When did Jane Austen visit Lyme Regis? I see records for her visiting in 1804 but Mary Anning would have only been 5 then.

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  8. Erp, the possible meeting was a bit of a flight of fancy on my part, but, although Mary was a mere slip of a girl, it could have happened. :-)

    According to one report:

    The Austen family visits to Lyme take place in that notorious period from which Cassandra Austen destroyed so many letters. The drought is actually broken by a letter to Cassandra from Lyme dated Friday, September 14, 1804. The family has been to the South Devon coast before, and possibly stayed in Lyme Regis in 1803. In the 1804 holiday, however, a large family group visited Lyme. At one point, Jane stays in Lyme with her parents, while Cassandra travels on to Weymouth with Henry and Eliza.

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  9. Mimi, it was my pleasure to give you the fossil and I'm so pleased I found it - it was exactly the right size for you to carry back home too :)

    I haven't read Persuasion in years but must reread it in honour of our visit. It's hard not to warm to the ending, I think. I want to get hold of a biography of Mary Anning too. She was such an interesting woman and not nearly enough of a household name.

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  10. And it is not as though Lyme Regis was a huge town at the time.

    The early women scientists did have a tough time (and working class women scientists such as Mary Anning even more so). Caroline Herschel at least got a salary for her work (which was almost unheard of even for male scientists); Etheldred Benett got some foreign recognition (apparently they didn't realize she was female); Mary Somerville eventually had a college named after her (both she and Caroline Herschel were made honorary [but not real] members of the Royal Astronomical Society).

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  11. Cathy, I thank you again for the fossil, which I treasure. It measures approximately 2¼ in. by 2½ in., which was the perfect size to fit in my carry-on bag. I wonder what the security agents thought about an old lady carrying home a rock.

    Erp, the population of Lyme Regis in the mid-19th century was 2852.

    From what I hear from female scientists, the battle for equality is not over even today, although great progress has been made.

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  12. Lyme Regis is still not a big town today, a tourist town but also a favourite for retired people despite the rather steep hill in the High Street.

    The best time for fossil hunting there is after the autumn storms have broken up another section of the cliffs. After a large storm there's no plain dog walking along the beach without stumbling across fossils.
    I like the one Cathy found, I'm glad you posted a picture of it here!

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  14. (Sorry - deleted the first post due to s typing error!)

    There's the old joke of the wedding couple who spend their honeymoon night in a Lyme Regis hotel. Dining in the hotel restaurant that evening, and before retiring to the honeymoon suite for their first night of love together, the bride studies the menu and is delighted to see that her favourite vegetable, sweetcorn, is listed. "Look, darling," she says to her new husband, "they've got sweetcorn!" Her beloved looks lovingly into her eyes and asks, "Would you like it on the cob?" She thinks for a moment and then replies, "No, I don't think so. Let's wait until we're in our bedroom."

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  15. Saintly,
    Jane Austin would be shocked to the core!

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  16. Oh, good one, Saintly!

    Delightful post, Mimi. That you don't tell all your tales at once makes us appreciate them more and gives me consolation since I still have not related two thirds of my trip to Italy. Your posts are such fun.

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  17. Well, I deleted the Kamagra and Viagra offers. I wish they'd leave me alone.

    SR, for shame. And you a priest!

    Erika, I am shocked to the core!

    Paul, thank you.

    What are you waiting for to post more pictures of your trip to Italy? It's time for more statues of gorgeous naked men. And you a priest, too!

    How is Wounded Bird like flypaper?

    It attracts naughty priests instead of flies.

    Yes, I'm leaving the stage.

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  18. Love the comments as much as the post. SR that was good. I assume that means I qualify as a naughty priest as well.

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  19. Such a fun and informative post! I am a Jane Austin fan as well and took a class a year ago on her books it was so lovely to re-read them and discuss the again.

    I've honestly never heard of Mary Anning, and need to discover more about her! She sounds fascinating! I have to say I really enjoy your ramblings, since they are so informative so please do continue with them. :-)

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  20. Ciss B, thank you. I'd never heard of Mary either before I read the novel, but I was much intrigued once I came to know about her.

    I've read all six of Austen's novels over and over, countless times. I find her writing clears my palate and my mind, and I take joy in her wit, her skill in the art of penning dialogue, her clarity of style...I could go on, but I won't.

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  21. May I plead laziness? How about too busy planning and cooking Italian food? I slowed down when it was time to go online for photos of things I was not allowed to photograph. Nude statues will return, I promise. Some clothed ones too, I imagine.

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  22. Paul, you're not lazy. You have a job, and the travel post will call for a good deal of your time, as did this post not on Lyme Regis. Although I'm retired, I hesitate to start a post that I know will require time to gather and post pictures and do original writing, rather than simply link and quote.

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  23. 2800 in mid-19th century probably meant considerably less in the first decade of the 19th century (I did some hunting it was 1248 in 1788 and 2621 in 1831).

    An interesting little piece on the history of Lyme Regis with maps.
    http://www.dorsetforyou.com/media.jsp?mediaid=163749&filetype=pdf
    It seems the town had a dip in the mid-1700s as its old industry vanished and the new one of seaside resort hadn't yet started.

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