A lovely way to become familiar with Bath and its history is to immerse yourself in stories set in the beautiful city, or written by authors who lived and wrote in Bath. 

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen

The connection between Jane Austen and Bath is well-known, and both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey are set in Bath.

Persuasion is a touching and enchanting novel about a second chance in love, after a failed engagement, for Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth as the two find themselves thrown together again, in the social world of early nineteenth-century Bath. Bath is an incredibly romantic city and Jane Austen’s novels are the perfect romantic read.

Sydney Gardens

Image - Sydney Gardens

2. Vathek by William Beckford

Beckford lived at the Fonthill Estate in Wiltshire and later moved to Lansdown Crescent, Bath. His eighteenth-century Gothic novel, Vathek, written in 1782, is full of ghosts and spirits and heavily influenced by Orientalism, which was a European obsession in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

In the story, Vathek is a monarch who builds a high tower so that he can survey all the kingdoms of the world. But his ego and ruthlessness bring about his own damnation. Interestingly, Beckford himself supervised the ambitious design and construction of a great 270-foot central tower to Fonthill Abbey, on the Fonthill Estate, but it collapsed after only a few years.

After moving to Bath, he then commissioned H. E. Goodridge, a local architect, to build him a new 154-foot tower overlooking Bath. Known as Beckford’s Tower, this one still stands and is one of Bath’s many architectural attractions.

Beckford's Tower in the mist

Image - Beckford's Tower

3. The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollett

This humorous and satirical novel uses the very different perspectives of the various characters to describe the places they visit, which includes Bath as a real highlight of the book.

The character Lydia says “Bath… to be sure, is an earthly paradise. The Square, The Circus, and the Parades, put you in mind of the sumptuous palaces represented in prints and pictures; and the new buildings, such as Princes-row, Harlequin’s-row, Bladud’s-row, and twenty other rows, look like so many enchanted castles, raised on hanging terraces.”

4. The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling by Henry Fielding

Another eighteenth-century novel, The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling is, again, a comic novel, which became a bestseller in its first year of being published. It is considered Fielding’s greatest book, and like Jane Austen’s novels, is concerned with English life and character, and differing social backgrounds.

The novel follows the story of a young man’s search for his place in the world, is full of bawdy exuberance, and amorous escapades, and is very funny. Henry Fielding was born in Somerset and is believed to have written part of this novel while living in Bath.

He was a regular visitor to Prior Park, home of Ralph Allen, and one of the main characters, Squire Allworthy, was modelled on Ralph Allen, his friend and financial supporter.

Prior Park palladian bridge on a sunny day

Image - Prior Park Landscape Garden

5. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

The Pickwick Papers is Dickens’ first novel, and Chapter 35, “In which Mr. Pickwick thinks he had better go to Bath; and goes accordingly”, is full of great references to the highlights of Bath and vividly brings to life Georgian Bath society.  

It was written for publication as a serial, and first published as monthly instalments. It became wildly popular and there were theatrical adaptations before the series was even completed. It was the first of its kind, in being a huge publishing phenomenon. Pickwick merchandise began to appear for sale, with Pickwick cigars, songbooks and even little china figures.

Dickens managed to work the serious subject of the justice system into this comic novel which revolves around various travels in the English countryside, by a host of colourful characters. It has some hilarious passages and you will find yourself laughing out loud.

6. The Westcott Chronicles of Bath

These bestselling novels draw on Bath's rich history to create tales of greed, privilege and corruption. First novel Go Swift & Far is set in the post-war gloom and austerity period of the city. Demolish and rebuild or preserve and protect at all costs? The second novel An Unfolding Soul shines a light on little-known aspects of the city’s colourful past. Business, politics and history are interwoven in this page-turning tale.

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