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Moving down–and downhill–fast


The Royal Crescent, Bath, Somerset

Jane Austen’s family spent time and rented rooms and floors of rooms from time to time in Bath, Somerset, England. The refurbished Roman baths provided entertainment and a promise of healing any and all ills, while the Royal Crescent and other stone “terraces” (apartment complexes) provided high-status accommodations where the Austen family could promenade in the parks and along the walks and pathways.

But, though Jane’s family enjoyed pride and status for some years, her clergyman father George died in 1805, and the family suddenly couldn’t afford to live in nice apartments or rooms at the top of the hill.

Their first descent from their hilltop residence was to

Their final descent was to some rooms on Trim Street, a block-long street (more of a lane, really) down by the railway station and the Avon River, where I walked on a recent Monday afternoon. Even in 2014, Trim looked industrial and rather grim.

Moving down a financial and social ladder can look different in different places. In some towns it might be moving across railroad tracks or rivers or perhaps into a trailer park. Americans might choose to show status by moving into a new housing development or into gentrified condos in a downtown setting. In a country where square-footage matters, downsizing could be seen by some to be a lowering of status.

In Jane Austen’s time, a family losing status had to move down the hill into the Avon Valley, where inhabitants had to suffer the acrid smells and pollution of Bath’s numerous factories, where tradesmen and factory workers lived, and where not a lot of promenading was going on.

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