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In Jane Austen's Persuasion, slightly after Anne first arrives at Camden Place (where her father and sister have moved to), Lady Russell comes to pay a visit as well, where she has to deal with people being treated differently than she would like. We are given this passage on the matter:

Lady Russell's composed mind and polite manners were put to some trial on this point, in her intercourse in Camden Place. The sight of Mrs. Clay in such favour, and of Anne so overlooked, was a perpetual provocation to her there; and vexed her as much when she was away, as a person in Bath who drinks the water, gets all the new publications, and has a very large acquaintance, has time to be vexed.
Persuasion, chapter 16

I'm not entirely sure what "as a person [...] who drinks the water" is supposed to mean. Is this a play on words with the name of the city of Bath? Is this a reference to a certain type of societal company? What does it have to do with having "time to be vexed"?

What does this phrase about "drinks the water" mean?

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    I live in Bath. People still come and both drink and bathe in the waters. The latter is much more pleasant than the former :)
    – Matt Thrower
    Commented Apr 29 at 7:44

1 Answer 1

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Bath, where Jane Austen lived for several years had been known for its springs since Roman times. The Romans built thermae in Bath, but what Austen is referring to is drinking the water in the Grand Pump Room. (The current building was constructed in 1786–1790 and replaced an older one.)

"Drinking the water" is something that is also mentioned in Austen's Northanger Abbey. In The Jane Austen Diet: Austen's Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness (2019), Bryan Kozlowski mentions several other Jane Austen characters who drink the water:

Some are there for serious health reasons, such as Admiral Croft or Mr. Allen, "drinking his glass of water" to relieve his "gouty condition". Others enjoy it as an added health bonus. Mrs. Elton of Emma remembers her mineral water regiment in glowing terms: "Let me recommend Bath to you ... where the waters do agree, it is quite wonderful the relief they give." (...) Are there modern benefits in becoming, like Anne Elliot, "a person in Bath who drinks the water"?

Drinking mineral water has no direct connection with being vexed, but if all you need to spend your time on is drinking water and getting the latest gossip (either from "the new publications" or your acquaintances), you get many opportunities to get vexed.

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    For your last sentence, I took the opposite meaning from Austen's phrasing. "The sight...vexed her as much.. as a person in Bath who [is busy with all these other activities] has time to be vexed", i.e. her busy schedule distracted her and put a cap on how vexed she could get.
    – MJ713
    Commented Apr 28 at 23:22
  • I don't see how one can not talk about taking the waters here. The waters could be drunk or bathed in. “Taking the waters” is still a tradition Throughout Bath’s history, it was believed that bathing in the hot springs as well as drinking the waters had health benefits. In Northanger Abbey, one of the main characters is sent to Bath “for his health.” smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/…
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 28 at 23:30
  • @Lambie (1) I mention the Roman thermae at the beginning of my answer. (2) The question is about "a person in Bath who drinks the water", not about bathing.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Apr 29 at 8:03
  • "Taking the waters" at a spa may both drinking the water and bathing in it. It may also include other ancillary facilities or treatments such as foods, ointments, lotions, or whatever else may be on offer.
    – barbecue
    Commented Apr 29 at 12:53
  • @barbecue The quote says "a person in Bath who drinks the water", not "a person in Bath who takes the water".
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Apr 29 at 13:41

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