Eighteenth century social ambition
Wed 26 April, 2023
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm BST
This is the fifth in a series of six talks about the UNESCO World Heritage status of the city of Bath. To see the whole series click here.
“Our cousins in Laura Place, — Our cousin, Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret”, were talked of to everybody…
Lady Russell confessed that she had expected something better; but yet “it was an acquaintance worth having” … Anne smiled and said,
“My idea of good company … is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”
Jane Austen, Persuasion
So wrote Jane Austen in Persuasion, capturing the desperate sycophancy of the baronet Sir Walter Elliot and his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, on the one hand, and the more measured calculation of the widowed Lady Russell on the other. While Austen’s satirical pen mocked displays of social ambition of this sort, it would be historically inaccurate to assume that this sort of socialising dominated society in eighteenth-century Bath. Bath’s residents and the visiting Company may well have socialised with purpose — but their purposes varied widely.
This talk will provide a more rounded understanding of sociability in Bath by considering some of the personal, social, intellectual, cultural, and political purposes of socialising. Although not everyone would have defined ‘good company’ in exactly the same way as Austen, the paper argues that one of the reasons that Bath was such a draw for eighteenth-century contemporaries was because it offered the prospective of ‘good company’ and ‘a great deal of conversation’ to many people, however defined.
Professor Elaine Chalus (FRHistS), Professor of British History, University of Liverpool