His Royal Highness
The Prince Regent,
This work is,
By His Royal Highness’s permission,
By his Royal Highness’s
This is the humiliating wording Prince Regent George IV “requested” the author Jane Austen use for the dedication of the first editions of her novel Emma. Although it should have been an honor to have such a fan, Austen was hardly thrilled to have to appease the acting monarch and to make matters worse, she had to pay out of pocket for the leather binding of the three-book set sent to the palace. Like many British citizens of the Regency period, Austen despised George IV. So she did what she did best… took her revenge with the pen. Unfortunately, she passed away before she could finish.
As the middle class of the Georgian period had begun to show up in the spa town of Bath, wanting to be seen and considered among the elites of society, the true aristocracy began to move their holidays elsewhere. For those seeking cures and treatments by taking the waters of Bath’s thermal springs, the seaside town of Brighton seemed the next best option. A Dr. Richard Russel had written about the wonders of “the seaside cures”. He believed bathing in the salt water, drinking seawater mixed with other elements, and living so that one could take the vapors would cure ailments. Fashionable society turned the former fishing village into a place of pleasure where regimental social rules were abandoned.
Today Brighton still caters to pleasure seeking visitors so you can experience the city very similarly to the way Austen and her peers might have. The historic Brighton Pier hosts an indoor casino and outdoor carnival rides, as well as requisite fish and chip stands. You can spend a very pleasurable evening out on the pier. In the city streets, Brighton seemed to be like the Las Vegas of England. Hen parties crowded the streets in the evenings. Groups of young adults celebrating their friends made a general nuisance of themselves from about dinner time on into the early morning hours. Those able to rouse themselves for daylight hours can also experience shopping in The Lanes. This is the historic quarter of town which consists of a maze of skinny alley ways crowded with an eclectic assortment of shops. If you’re not too hung over, you’ll be able to find some treasures here. For example, one shop only sells Rubber Ducks while another sells everything made out of chocolate.
Brighton Royal “Pleasure Palace” Pavilion
As the mental health of the reigning monarch, George III, had declined, his son Prince George IV was named Regent in 1811 to act in his father’s stead until the time that the crown would pass to him. The future king George IV loved pomp, lavish displays, drinking, gambling, and womanizing. Wanting to be at the center of fashionable life where people came to enjoy themselves, he had a Royal Pavilion, which came to be known as “The Pleasure Palace”, constructed in Brighton. The exterior is styled as a westernized interpretation of Indian architecture. The interior architecture and decor is a westernized interpretation of Chinese style, and he used theatrics and illusions to make everything look as grand as possible. The stair rails are painted to look like real bamboo. The stunning dining room chandelier hangs from a dragon made of timber which is painted silver and glazed with red and green. Although some aristocrats flocked to Brighton because of the court of George IV, overall he was regarded as a terrible ruler.
Thanks to Queen Victoria’s acquiescence, you can tour the Pavilion today, still styled in all its Georgian gaudiness. Victoria, understandably, disliked the Pleasure Palace and sold it during her reign, stripping the inside of various furnishings. Ten years later, the Brighton palace, turned Georgian museum, got its first curator who begged the queen to return furnishings. She did, and today the Pavilion is the only one of eight royal palaces privately owned. I highly recommend a walk-through with an audio guide. You’ll learn all about the Prince Regent and life at the palace during his reign. You’ll also begin to understand Jane Austen’s dislike for this pompous fan and his society.
Sanditon by Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s final unfinished manuscript, Sanditon, opens in a fictional seaside fishing village turned seaside resort by the name of Sanditon, which seems suspiciously similar to Brighton. Austen’s fictional socialites of Sanditon arrive with real or, mostly, imagined ailments. As was her style, Austen mercilessly parodies aristocratic society. Neither the idle rich, romantic adventurer, restless hypochondriac, or medical quack escape her mocking. Unfortunately, Austen fell ill during the writing of this manuscript and never recovered, leaving her last manuscript a 12-chapter introduction to the characters of a story of which we will never know the plot. Many fans have written their own endings, but I am certain that had Austen finished it, the novel would most certainly have included a subtle, yet harsh caricature of the future king and his courtiers.
Austen by the Sea Exhibit
As England was celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death when I visited last July/August, The Pavilion had a temporary exhibit about Austen’s tenuous connection to Brighton through Sanditon. Although the author may have been too sick to visit, her brother Henry was stationed at Brighton in 1793 and it is supposed her representation was created based on facts he may have shared. The Austen by the Sea exhibit contained the author’s writing desk (usually on display at the British Library), a lock of hair, and the three leather-bound Emma novels with the dedication to the Prince Regent George IV.