Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Playing the Tourist: Portsmouth

One of the reasons Mansfield Park might be one of Austen's most maligned or I should say misunderstood books is that it comes closest to actually having political commentary. All her books deal with the minutiae of life and relationships and are practically devoid of timely commentary and many fans believe that this lack of grounding in a specific era has led her books to be timeless. Seriously, just look to Clueless and you'll see what I mean. But Mansfield Park openly references slavery, war, and, in the TV Movie adaptation with Billie Piper, has a logical reference to Admiral Nelson. In fact, when Fanny returns "home" to Portsmouth we are shown a very bleaker world than Austen has ever shown before, especially when contrasted with the life Fanny was living at Mansfield Park. But while Fanny comes to realize that the home she remembered is no longer home Portsmouth is very important and dare I say a must see location for the Janeite because it was home to the navy! Ah, the British Navy. Not only integral to two of Austen's books, but lets face it, the reason why Britain had an Empire. It's from Portsmouth that Admiral Nelson sailed to victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar. You can actually tour the HMS Victory, seen above leaving Portsmouth, where Nelson's blood still stains the boards. 

This island city was during Austen's life the most fortified city in the world and, much like Bath, has many of the buildings and fortifications that where around when Austen was alive. You can still walk the ramparts, though a dashing Henry Crawford is sadly not supplied. Also the ramparts are more popular now as a resting spot for beach goers than as the last line of defense should the French come calling. A wonderful holiday respite that I have a feeling Austen might not approve of. I mean, look at the indecorous state of those tourists! But getting back to Regency England and the Navy, you really need to revel in the Navy, throw in some Horatio Hornblower DVDs and actually watch the documentaries (yes, there are documentaries, not just Ioan) to get not just the importance of the Navy but to realize that a fair chunk of Portsmouth is a period in English history preserved from when they ruled the waves. You can take in the docks, look at where they built the ships, but more importantly, you must stop at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which has the National Museum of the Royal Navy, the HMS Victory, and so much more! Austen, who wrote timeless novels might find it odd to see this city almost trapped in aspic, but at least for those wanting to see her world it's perfectly preserved.


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