Places in Austen novels and their Real-Life Counterparts
“It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ride of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!”
Who hasn’t wished at some point to visit Pemberley and see what it was like?
Many of the places in Austen novels are as important as anything else – characters are often losing their homes through lack of money, or gaining a good home through marriage. Having a secure roof over your head was one of the main appeals of marriage for a Regency woman, and it often indicated who you could, or would, marry.
For Jane Austen herself, homes were also a problem. As she never married herself, she never had a home of her own. However, she moved many times with her family – from Steventon, to Bath, to Southampton, and finally Chawton. Many of the places she lived or visited can be seen in her novels. Here are just three of them.
In Persuasion, the Elliot family travel to Bath, as they are in financial trouble and can no longer afford to live in their home, Kellynch Hall. Although they are mostly excited, Anne Elliot is unsure if she will enjoy living there.
This is partly based on Jane Austen’s own experience of Bath, where she lived between 1801 and 1806. When they first moved to Bath, the Austen family were able to live in Sydney Place with a Baronet, a Lady and a Major General for neighbours. However, as Jane’s father’s health declined, they were forced to move further and further down in society, eventually to Trim Street, where Jane had once written to her sister that their mother ‘assures that you that she will do everything in her power to avoid Trim Street’. It was a small, old, dingy house on a narrow and smelly street.
Jane was not a fan of living in Bath, due to the constant demands of society. In 1801 she wrote to her sister, Cassandra, ‘another stupid party last night; perhaps if larger they might be less intolerable, but here there were only just enough to make one card table, with six people to look over, & talk nonsense to each other.’
Jane Austen’s poor experiences of Bath are seen in Persuasion, as Anne Elliot persists in disliking the town, finding it oppressive, noisy and gloomy.
Pride and Prejudice: Pemberley
There is a local legend in Bakewell, Derbyshire that Jane Austen stayed at the Rutland Arms, which is where she revised Pride and Prejudice.
Whether this is true or not is debatable, but there is a general agreement that Pemberley, the country seat of probably Austen’s most famous character Mr Darcy, was based on Chatsworth House. It is situated in the Peak District, and has been used as a stand-in for Pemberley in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and the 2013 television adaptation of P. D. James’ Pride and Prejudice continuation, Death Comes to Pemberley.
While there is no evidence that Jane Austen ever visited Derbyshire or Chatsworth, the claim on Pemberley is given legitimacy by Austen’s choice of name for her hero. Earl Fitzwilliam was a real Earl in the Regency period, and was known as a good man who reduced rents for his tenants, supplied cheap food, and gave elderly people free coal and blankets. Earl Fitzwilliam married Lady Charlotte Ponsonby, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, whose country-seat was Chatsworth House. If Colonel Fitzwilliam was a nod to Earl Fitzwilliam, then it would be common knowledge in the Regency period that his cousins may have lived at Chatsworth House.
Emma: Box Hill
This is probably the only backdrop in any of Jane Austen’s novels that can be pinned down to a definite place! Box Hill, in Surrey, lies in the North Downs, and is still a popular tourist spot, with over three-quarters of a million people visiting every year to admire the views.
It is entirely possible that Austen could have visited Box Hill in her lifetime, as family friends the Cooke family, lived in Great Bookham in Surrey, and the Austen’s visited them regularly. Picnicking was also becoming more popular during the nineteenth century, and were often lavish affairs with servants, food, and outdoor furniture.
If Austen ever picnicked at Box Hill, herself, though, it hopefully went better than the events in Emma, although Austen’s letter of 1799 to her sister states, ‘I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Bookham as much as you can do, but I am not without hopes that something may happen to prevent it’, so perhaps not!
If you’ve enjoyed this post why not check out our Jane Austen audio quiz and our ranking of Jane Austen men to date!
This post was written by Abigail Jaggers
July 18th marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen, and to commemorate this, we are giving you the chance to win seven amazing Austen audiobooks, courtesy of Naxos Audiobooks!
The audiobooks included total over 80 hours of listening time and are: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and The Watsons & Sandition, two short unfinished works.
To enter, all you have to do is click the image below tell us your favourite Austen book!
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This competition is free to enter. The competition is only open to Listening Books members. Closing date for entry will be 9am on 19th July 2017. Further terms and conditions available before entry.