Jane Austen Cruises the Baltic Sea
This summer my dad had a medical conference on a Baltic cruise ship, which when you think about it is an awesome place to talk about skin cancer. I tagged along and so did Jane, thinking I could make a post or two out of it, and just about anything I can make a post out of is an activity worth doing. Next up: Chernobyl Power Plant #4.
Jane Austen in Copenhagen, Denmark
Our trip began by flying into Denmark, a country Jane would have at least been aware of, so we’re way ahead of our last trip, which was to Nepal. Before airplanes, Denmark was the gateway to the Baltic Sea, and they made a lot of money on tolls for ships trading lumber and Royal amber, which washes up on Baltic shores. In Jane’s time, Copehagen itself was attacked by and almost burned to the ground to prevent it from being a launching pad for the French army. Lord Nelson attacked it in 1801. Funny story: There was some problems with visibility and signals being sent from land to stop attacking. When criticized about it, Nelson said, ”I only have one eye — I have the right to be blind sometimes,” and then, holding his telescope to his blind eye, said “I really do not see the signal!” I heard this a couple times on my trip from different sources so I hope it’s true. The battle ended in a truce. In the second battle of Copenhagen (1807), Copenhagen burned again, most of the Danish fleet was captured, and the ground troops were led by Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington. We’ll be hearing from him again. So if Jane had wanted to travel there in her later years, she might not have received a warm welcome as a Brit in Copenhagen. I will also assume all this town-burning took place before they had a chance to put a 7-11 on every corner as those are all still standing, and I do mean every corner, and they don’t even have any slurpees.
Jane Austen in Warnemünde, Germany
Jane didn’t go to Germany. We docked on Saturday, which is Shabbos for me, so I couldn’t carry anything off the boat or do any touring beyond walking around the tourist trap of Warnemunde while everyone else went to Berlin. The “Germany” we think of had not yet formed in Regency times. Prussia was a military power, and the German States existed, but not as a “country” in the traditional sense of the term. Several German states briefly became “The Confederacy of the Rhine” under Napoleon, a fact I had to learn when writing Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape, which has a character living in Bavaria in 1812.
Anyway I couldn’t take any pictures so I only have a photo culled from the internet, but everyone was very nice and I was allowed, according to my rabbi, to walk a distance of 3 km from the ship before having to turn around and get back on. The Jewish laws of being on a ship on Shabbos are incredibly complex so let’s not get into them, though if I can somehow link it to something in Jane Austen’s life, I certainly will.
Jane Austen on a ship in Klaipeda, Lithuania
Also known as the day I accidentally left the action figure on the boat. Klaipeda is a famous port founded by German knights who went about their knightly way of making the Lithuanian peasants collect amber for them and executing them if they tried to keep any for themselves. The 19th century was a confusing time for the Baltic states, as tsarist Russia was constantly trying to decide if they should be part of Poland or not part of Poland and also if Poland should just be Russia or not. Lithuania belonged to the briefly-existing Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in Austen’s time until that broke up and it came directly under Russian control. In 1812, the populace greeted the invading Napoleon as a savior and some of them joined his army until his withdrawal from Russia, where the normal state of crushing poverty under the Russians resumed.
Jane Austen in Riga, Latvia
During Austen’s time Latvia was under Russian control. After a brief break, it was also under Russian control during the 20th century, but an entirely different kind of control that was pretty bad, all things considered, as our Latvia guide wanted to tell us. Riga itself was an important port in the Baltics and changed hands more times than any tour guide has bothered to memorize, because only dorks like me ask that much about it. With Napoleon’s invasion in 1812, the Russians thought it was so important not to let Riga fall into old Boney’s hands that they burned it to the ground before he could get there and do it himself. I should point out that the strategy worked, and Bonaparte left Riga alone. The locals probably had other opinions in the grand scheme of things, but they also had probably learned to stop building their homes out of wood in the many previous sackings of Riga.
Next Month: Jane is confused by the Estonian language, visits some portraits of old friends in Russia, and sails to Sweden.