Jane Austen's Names: Riddles, Persons, Places (2016)
* Chapter 10 *
Counties, Towns, Villages, Estates
Real and Imaginary Places in the “Steventon” Novels
Names and Places in Northanger Abbey: Wiltshire, Somerset (Bath), and Gloucestershire
Real Places in Northanger Abbey
In Northanger Abbey we feel Austen’s new confidence in portraying places—as she had been learning to do since Catharine. For Catherine Morland, movement from place to place is, until near the end, a source of joy, whereas in Lady Susan and The Watsons change of place is difficult—even menacing. The Morlands and the Allens live in Wiltshire, in a fictional village called “Fullerton,” which Mrs. Allen says is eight miles from Salisbury—though her husband says the distance is nine miles. (The lady wishes to make less of the distance that carriage horses have to travel for shopping.) Catherine accompanies the Allens to Bath in Somersetshire. In Bath she meets Mr. Tilney, “of a very respectable family in Gloucestershire,” and subsequently travels eastward to Gloucestershire to visit the Tilneys in their impressive home, Northanger Abbey.
The early life of Catherine Morland is associated with outdoor living and physical activity. She is the most energetic and sportive of heroines of the period, “fond of all boys’ plays”; Catherine “greatly preferred cricket, not merely to dolls but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush” (I, ch. 1). This seems a dig at stories written for children, in particular Maria Edgeworth’s tales featuring Rosamond, a little girl who constantly requires to be tamed into reasonable and productive behavior. “The Hyacinths” and “The Rabbit” show the child heroine’s adventures in gardening, nurturing a damask rose, or learning, like Catherine under Elinor’s tuition, “to love a hyacinth (II, ch. 7).1 It is indeed not at all “wonderful” that Catherine the girl “should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horse back, and running about the country” to ladylike (and husband-catching) accomplishments (I, ch. 1). Jane Austen is credited with being the first fiction writer to mention “base ball”—but her cousin Cassandra Cooke anticipates her in her historical novel Battleridge when the young man now under a Puritan regime complains of loss of sports: “‘Ah!’ says he, ‘no more cricket, no more base-ball, they are sending me to Geneva.’”2
Catherine is a kind of New Woman of her era. Writers had become increasingly interested in the physical energies and activities of female characters. Even demure Fanny Warley of Susanna Minifie’s Barford Abbey (1768)—the first “Abbey” novel!—learns (like Fanny Price) to ride: “Mr. Morgan has presented me a pretty little grey horse … and hopes, he says, to make me a good horsewoman.”3 Catherine Morland displays physical strength and adventurousness. In fiction of the 1790s this type is ably represented by the Welsh Ellen Meredith, Agnes Maria Bennett’s heroine in Ellen Countess of Castle Howel (1794):
The education of Ellen had indeed been extraordinary; she had learnt to read of the Rector … and to ride of the Bailiff: In this exercise she was so expert, that it was common for her maid Winifred and herself to catch a horse on the mountain, no matter whose, and gallop two or three miles without bridle or saddle; she was very famous for discovering birds nests, and minded not any height to get at them; ready to follow any body’s hounds through thick and thin, and was even an excellent shot. With all these accomplishments she was now but in her fifteenth year.4
Ellen Meredith in her teenaged manifestation is both naive and strong. She is unfortunately tamed into ladylike behavior during schooling in Bath. Worn down by her family into accepting the hand of Lord Castle Howel, a family benefactor, she is injured by a bad marriage and the malice of town life. Ellen’s story, influenced by Georgiana Cavendish’s The Sylph (1779), seems also to be partly modeled on the life story of that novel’s author. Cavendish and Bennet both lead the way in creating country-born female characters of great integrity and energy who are also innocent misreaders.
Catherine Morland, Austen’s most naive heroine, comes from the West Country. Like Austen’s Catharine Percival of Devonshire, she is an inhabitant of Wessex. (Thomas Hardy’s “Wessex,” based on the historical land of the West Saxons, comprises Devon, Wiltshire, Somersetshire, and the edges of bordering counties.) The West Country is traditionally perceived as healthy, if a little wild and backward—a good environment for a hardy and active childhood. The first third of Tom Jones is set in Somerset, the scene of Tom’s—and of Henry Fielding’s—birth and earliest youth. Squire Western is an archetypal old-fashioned uneducated West Country rural squire. West Country people were often presented as yokels with thick accents. In the 1970s a British TV ad for apple cider ran, “Cotes comes up from Zummerzet where the zoider apples greow.” From Shakespeare’s time to the present, British actors could offer a sketchy stereotypical rendition of what by the twentieth century became termed “Mummerset.” In King Lear, Edgar in disguise as a harmless—if mentally defective—beggar speaks in a mock West Country dialect, Shakespearean “Mummerset.” The accent alone can get a laugh, from the understanding that these are backward if pleasant people. Wiltshire even today is decidedly rural, with a low density of population. In the first census in 1801 the county population was registered as 185,107.
Topographically, Wiltshire is largely a series of chalk and limestone ridges with deep clay valleys. Salisbury plain is a chalk plateau. Warm and rainy but not heavily forested, the region early attracted early human settlers. Flourishing in the Neolithic and Bronze ages, these settlers left some artworks, imitated in later centuries, like the white horse carved into a chalk hillside. Medieval Wiltshire prospered in sheep farming and became highly developed, with large Cistercian monasteries, organized agriculture, and wool exports. Its inhabitants were able to build and support considerable towns, including Salisbury, with its beautiful cathedral (built 1220-58). In 1320 the Salisbury Cathedral was completed with an ambitious spire (still the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom), reinforced by Christopher Wren at the end of the seventeenth century, and restored by James Wyatt in the eighteenth century. John Constable visited Salisbury on his honeymoon and was fascinated by views of the cathedral spire in the landscape. We get a glimpse of the famous cathedral in Northanger Abbey. Coming home in embarrassing circumstances, Catherine “rather dreaded than sought for the first view of that well-known spire” (NA, II, ch. 14).
Catherine Morland’s imaginary village of Fullerton, nine miles from Salisbury, cannot be far from prehistoric and mysterious Stonehenge. Stonehenge attracted attention in the eighteenth century, starting with William Stukeley’s landmark attempt at historical and scientific archaeology, Stonehenge. A Temple Restor’d to the Ancient Druids (1740) (fig. 19). Stukeley (1687-1765) was a friend of Isaac Newton (whose memoir he wrote) and of Edmund Halley, who assisted in him in calculating Stonehenge’s alignment to magnetic north. Stukeley contends that the ring of giant stones is a temple of the Druids, “those famous philosopher priests,” who “came hither as a Phoenician colony” bringing the purest Abrahamic religion. Their descendants and “the primitive Celts” built Stonehenge, “a true master piece.” “Every thing proper, bold, astonishing,” the author claims, beautifully adding “it pleases like a magical spell.”5 Stukeley’s Stonehenge inspired subsequent theorists like John Smith who wrote Choir Gaur. The Grand Orrery of the Ancient Druids (1771), asserting mathematical and scientific knowledge and design in the ancient edifice. James Easton’s Salisbury Guide (for tourists) promises not only an account of the antiquities of Old and New Sarum but also “An Accurate Description of Stonehenge” along with stately homes like Wilton.6 Frances Burney incorporates elements of Stukeley’s theory in writing the Stonehenge scene in The Wanderer (1814). Stukeley’s argument served a new nationalism, favoring an England not only pre-Norman but even pre-Saxon—and defiantly non-Roman. According to this fresh nationalistic view, England had no need of European missionaries of any kind, for in England art, science, and religion had long been advanced. According to his narrative, a once despised people, thought ignorant and backward, are given new status, overturning conventional history and adulation of Roman civilization and influence. If we take Stukeley’s thesis as a story in which supposed primitive simplicity trumps assumed sophistication—then that is the thematic story of Northanger Abbey as well.
19. William Stukeley, A direct view of the Remains of the Adytum of Stonehenge (1740). From Stonehenge (table xviii). Photograph: © The British Library Board.
The Wiltshire of Catherine Morland’s time was less progressive than it had been in earlier eras, although it boasted—and boasts—some “stately homes” in Stourhead and Longleat. At the turn of the century the Kennet and Avon Canal was cut through Wiltshire to facilitate Bristol-London traffic. This canal connected two rivers with an immense system of over 100 locks, nearly 90 miles. Tunnels went through Sydney Gardens, Bath, site of the company headquarters. Approved in 1794, the project’s last stretch was ready for traffic in 1810. Obviously this was a time of energetic works and disruption, not to be equaled until the coming of the Great Western Railway. In this novel Austen makes no references to technological change in the rural hinterland. Wiltshire’s marketable products were modest; the region was known for cheese and other dairy products. As well as “the Stilton cheese” (from Huntingdonshire), Mr. and Mrs. Cole served “the north Wiltshire” at the dinner that Mr. Elton describes so minutely to Harriet (Emma, I, ch. 10). The county was best known for wool and things made from wool. In 1741 the first loom at Wilton received a patent for carpet manufacture; production was highly successful, particularly during the French wars when imports were limited. Other British carpet-making centers arose in the West Country. The products pleased British consumers—though not William Gilpin. He complains, “The British carpet … has too much meaning. It often represents fruits, and flowers … and other things … improperly placed under our feet.”7
Wiltshire in Austen’s time was unspoiled, underdeveloped, and even after the canal a little out of the way. To say one came from this county was not to announce a claim to intellect. Not to put too fine a point on it, Wiltshire people were thought to be a bit thick. They are deficient in wit and imagination. Unsurprisingly then, we are told that Catherine Morland’s parents are “plain matter-of-fact people, who seldom aimed at wit of any kind” (NA, I, ch. 9). Wiltshire folk were known as “Wiltshire moon-rakers.” Francis Grose gives a brief explanation in his Provincial Glossary: “Some Wiltshire rusticks, as the story goes, seeing the figure of the moon in a pond attempted to rake it out.”8 Wiltshire folk, however, have their own version of this story, or joke against them. According to their own legend some men of Wiltshire, engaged in smuggling, went on a moonlit night to rake up a cask of brandy hidden in a pond. When questioned by authorities, they claimed they were trying to rake up the moon. In another version, the Wiltshire yokels sound even more like simpletons. They said, pointing to the moon’s reflection, that they saw a large round cheese in the water and were trying to rake it out. Their ostensible simplicity deceived officials; Wiltshire folk know how to play upon their reputation for simplemindedness. Wiltshire folk still sometimes call themselves “moonrakers” in honor of their smuggling past—and even more in honor of their capacity to delude fancied superiors through creative exhibitions of stupidity. The recent appearance of a large number of “crop circles” in Wiltshire, may lead us to believe that Wiltshire “yokels” have yet again fooled their assumed “betters.”9
Catherine Morland is a “moon-raker.” She is not deceptive; she genuinely wants to catch the moon—to see her ideal realized, to grasp it in her own life. Yet she unwittingly deceives others who do not discern her true intelligence. Though Catherine has been called Jane Austen’s stupidest heroine, she has insight and native wisdom, seeing through the deceptiveness of official historians and of many conventional notions.
Traveling to Bath, Catherine changes counties. Somerset, just east of Wiltshire, is also rural and ancient. In the far west is fabled Glastonbury, where the thorn tree is said to have blossomed from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, disciple who supplied Christ’s tomb and later (according to legend) became the first Christian missionary to Britain. Once the site of a great abbey, ancient Glastonbury (Celtic for “stronghold of the people living at woad place”: Mills) is the alleged location of the tomb of King Arthur, “once and future King.” Glastonbury registers British rather than Anglo-Saxon national pride. The name “Somerset” supposedly comes from sumorseaete, meaning “people dwelling at Somer-ton.” It is pleasanter to think of Somerset itself as “summer’s county.” One area of this county is rich in caves and chasms, including the celebrated Cheddar Gorge, where cheese has been made since the twelfth century. Somerset’s rushing streams were useful in the eighteenth century for powering mills for flour and paper. Yet Somerset as a whole remained underdeveloped. Conscious need for improvement is visible in the founding in 1777 of the Bath and West of England Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture, Arts, Manufacture and Commerce.
In coming to Bath, Catherine departs from rural simplicity to a town built for pleasure. First constructed when the invading Romans took over sacred hot springs and a shrine dedicated to the local goddess Sulis, the spa town fell into disrepair after the Romans left. The region was settled by Saxons and attacked by Danes. King Alfred fought a battle here and supposedly designed the new town; King Edgar was crowned in Bath Abbey in 973. Bath Abbey, rebuilt in 1500, was subject to the Dissolution in 1539, but in 1590 Queen Elizabeth gave a royal charter to the city, and the abbey church was restored as Bath’s central church. Physicians prescribed Bath for their patients, who were to drink the mineral waters and to take the baths. Other spa towns in England were developed in different periods (Leamington, Cheltenham, Tunbridge Wells, and Harrogate), but none of these prospered like Bath from the late seventeenth century to the early nineteenth. Bath benefited from its ease of access. The growth of American colonies led to the expansion of the nearby port of Bristol. Bath shops could sell luxury goods, and hotels could offer costly comforts. Catherine Morland’s Bath had become the major city of Somerset. In the census of 1801, Bath had a population of over forty thousand, making it one of the largest cities in Britain. A center not of productivity but of pleasure, a bit like Las Vegas, it relied on visitors to bring money, which went into more rental property for more visitors, in new well-designed squares and crescents. Henry Fielding’s patron Ralph Allen, owner of stone quarries, had an architect-designed house at Prior Park built out of the local white and golden stone as a sort of advertisement. Bath is built on hills—making walking literally uphill work, odd in a center for invalids; there were sedan chairs for hire, and stout-legged porters (mostly Irish) to carry them. Bath’s topography is hierarchical; the most desirable residences are in the higher regions, made magnificent by the Crescent. Visitors rented accommodations suited to their financial resources, thus admitting their status. The Thorpes in Edgar’s Buildings, a developer’s townhouses, are not in as glamorous a location as the Allens in Pultney Street (a broad modern street that won’t ask too much of Mrs. Allen as a walker.) Milsom Street was the main shopping thoroughfare.
A sanctuary for the sick and disabled, Bath offered employment for those attending the invalids as well as to those who minded the shops. Bath produced the first purpose-made wheelchair, the “Bath chair,” visible in Thomas Rowlandson’s “The Pump Room.” Given an excuse, visitors came for cures or pain relief, for dances and gambling, for entertainment and sociability. After London, Bath was the chief site of the marriage market, a place where one might go to search for a marriage partner—as do Isabella Thorpe, Augusta Hawkins, and Mr. Elton. Almost everyone of importance in the eighteenth century comes here at some point or other. Mrs. Piozzi (Hester Thrale) lived in Bath for a time, and so did Mary Wollstonecraft, as a rich woman’s companion. Some stayed on—permanently—in the churchyard. Cassandra Leigh had recently buried her father in Walcot Churchyard when she married George Austen in Saint Swithin’s Church, Bath, in 1764. Rev. George Austen died in Bath in 1805 and is buried in the crypt of Walcot Church. Frances Burney’s husband General D’Arblay, who died in Bath, is buried in Walcot Churchyard; Frances decreed that when the time came she should be buried beside him. John Feltham in his Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places worries that the many monuments to people who had come only to die could affect visitors “even in the enjoyment of the highest health” while “on invalids, it must have a very injurious effect.”10
Bath in the late eighteenth century is a sort of island, a scene of hectic but attractive artificiality combined with a dark and gross reality. The excuse of drinking the waters brought sick and well to the Pump Room: “All persons who are decently dressed, without any regard to fashion, may freely perambulate the Pump-room,” according to Feltham.11 If you took the waters regularly, you were expected to pay “about a guinea a month.” In The Valetudinarian’s Bath Guide, Philip Thicknesse warns against excess, recalling the awful fate of his brother “who dropt down dead as he was playing on the fiddle … after drinking a large quantity of Bath Waters, and eating a hearty breakfast of spungy hot rolls, or Sally Luns.”12 Dances were regularly held both in the Upper Assembly Rooms and the Lower Assembly Rooms (referred to collectively as “the Rooms”). In The New Prose Bath Guide Thicknesse comments, “we much doubt, whether it be true that the Upper Rooms shew Female Beauty so advantageously as the Lower. There is a certain Degree of Light to see Nature, as well as Art, to Advantage.”13 The Upper Rooms, he contends, are too brightly lit. Catherine Morland fails to attract attention in the crush of the Upper Rooms but succeeds better in the Lower Rooms, where she dances with Henry Tilney. The difference might be mortifyingly attributed to the searching glare of the overilluminated Upper Rooms.
Bath offers music and dancing, pastry and bonnets with red ribbons—yet it has a strong flavor of mortality. The New Prose Bath Guide warns that Bath’s most famous church has an infamous smell:
It is very doubtful whether the Abbey Church is not … a very improper Place to attend Divine Service at, from the Number of Bodies buried within the Church, and near the Surface, and the Frequency of the Ground being opened, before the Effects of the Putrifaction [sic] is over … for the Truth of this Observation we refer every Body to the Evidence of their own Senses when they first enter that venerable Mausoleum.14
One can only hope that some remedy was found. Catherine and Isabella planned to attend “divine service” together in “the same chapel” (probably Saint Margaret’s Chapel); but an interesting association of ideas is suggested when after the service they go first to the Pump Room and then to the Crescent “to breathe the fresh air of better company” (I, ch. 4, ch. 5, italics added). Bath’s mixture of invalidism and pleasure seeking, of fashionable bonnets and wheelchairs, of death and sex, must have given it a considerable charge.
Jane Austen had visited Bath in the 1790s. After writing a first version of Northanger Abbey, the author on her father’s retirement in 1801 was forced to live in this city she didn’t care for. Later, expecting the novel to emerge in print at last in 1816 or 1817, she prepared an “Advertisement by the Authoress.” (Perhaps the title was now intended to be Catherine; a letter now refers to “Miss Catherine” [13 March 1817; Letters, 333].) Austen’s “Advertisement” says, “this little work was finished in the year 1803 and intended for immediate publication.” That novel, rewritten during her Bath residence (with the title Susan) was sold to Crosby & Company for ten pounds but never published. We have the letter of 5 April 1809, in which the author tries to reclaim “a MS. novel in 2 vol. entitled Susan,” sent “in the Spring of the year 1803.” She writes as “Mrs. Ashton Dennis,” giving her the excuse to sign with the angry “MAD.” Crosby in reply acknowledges that they have a manuscript novel “entitled Susan” but require to be repaid before they restore it to her; the firm also makes clear that she cannot, as she threatens, have it published elsewhere (5 April; 8 April 1809; Letters, 174-75). Jane Austen could not afford the ten pounds and had to wait until she had some money of her own. Her brother Henry then bought it back in 1816, letting Crosby know only after the transaction was completed that the writer was the author of Pride and Prejudice.
Austen says in her letter to Crosby that she is “willing to supply You with another Copy.” She has not actually lost the book, just the publication. Possessing another complete manuscript, she might still have gone ahead with rewriting the novel; possibly she already had made important alterations before securing Crosby’s copy and her legal right to publish. Some old core original dating from the mid-1790s was extensively rewritten in Bath between 1801 and 1803, when the author of Susan could be at no loss for details of setting—and when she could have read Belinda (1801), referred to in Northanger Abbey (NA, I, ch. 5). After 1809, Austen, settled at Chawton, renewed her dedication to her career, and could undertake some defiant rewriting of the old story. A change in the heroine’s name might have been one facet of a complex planned defense against Crosby. There are strong signs that Austen rewrote Susan during her mature phase, perhaps as early as 1809-11. Most striking is the introduction of style indirect libre in the second volume, about the point in the narrative where that device becomes strongly featured in Sense and Sensibility (also a reworked fiction). After a new start, Austen may have hesitated, realizing that the rewritten novel, if not identical to the story offered to Crosby, would still be recognizable, indissolubly tied to the parodic use of the “Gothic” fiction so popular in the 1790s. Preparing (she hoped) to publish in 1816 or 1817, the author designs a prefatory note asking the reader to bear in mind that “thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete” some parts of the book. She could not cut references to the “Gothic” novels—but as we have never let go of the “Gothic” mode, Northanger Abbey is always current.
If Jane Austen did not like Bath, it got her attention. It is the “real life” setting that she used at greatest length and most attentively. In both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, the heroine is changing from one state of being to another, and from one role to another—or takes on a sequence of different roles. Bath is a place of transition and metamorphosis.
Isabella Thorpe comes to Bath literally from a different direction than Catherine. The home of the Thorpe family is Putney, some five miles southwest of Charing Cross. The Thorpes probably originated in some modest thorp. But, like Putney, they are becoming urban. Putney (Puttenhuthe, “landing place of the hawk”: Mills), officially a separate village, was what we should call a suburb of London. Birthplace of Thomas Cromwell and Edward Gibbon, it is historically most famous for the “Putney Debates” of 1647 in which the victorious Oliver Cromwell put down the too-egalitarian Diggers and Levellers. Putney was valued for fresh air and recreation on its bowling green, although Putney Heath was a dangerous haunt of highwaymen. By the eighteenth century a few of the elite lived on Putney Hill. William Pitt the Prime Minister lived in the Bowling-Green House in Putney—and fought a duel with an MP on Putney Heath. Putney was—and is—a pleasant area by the Thames with riverside views (advantageous during the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race). In Austen’s time (and now) middle-class Putney differs greatly from the West End of the rich and fashionable and from more coveted riverside settlements. Isabella fantasizes about marrying someone who can keep her in one of the “charming little villas about Richmond”—a very different (and ultraexpensive) Thameside location (I, ch. 15).
The Thorpes keep trying to leave Putney behind. Isabella can compare the fashions of Bath with those of Tunbridge. Before investing in the Bath excursion Mrs. Thorpe evidently took her daughter to market in the smaller Kentish spa of Tunbridge Wells, setting of important scenes in Camilla. John Thorpe, a member of the same Oxford College as James, forsakes Putney to frequent the Bedford Coffee House in Covent Garden, where he runs into General Tilney; here Tom Musgrove of The Watsons also meets friends. (In Smith’s Emmeline the Bedford figures gruesomely as the site of the candlelit duel between Delamere and Bellozane, in which the impetuous Frederic receives his death wound.) The Bedford had been the hunt of wits like Goldsmith and Garrick, but that greatness was in the past.
John Thorpe incessantly tries to prove himself a gentleman by making bets on his driving prowess and recounting implausible exploits in the hunting field. John boasts of bold riding—an attribute of country gentry. He even claims to hunt habitually in Leicestershire: “Fletcher and I mean to get a house in Leicestershire, against next season. It is so d— uncomfortable, living at an inn” (I, ch. 10). Leicestershire was celebrated for excellent foxhunting. To ride with the Quorn was the privilege of gentry and wealthy farmers.15 It is highly doubtful if the son of a Putney lawyer could afford the expense of lodging, as well as the cost and upkeep of several “hunters”—costly horses able to leap fences and hedges. John, however, asserts that he owns three horses of high value: “I would not take eight hundred guineas for them.” This sum would be a third or a half of his father’s annual income, even if the deceased Thorpe senior was an extremely prosperous solicitor.
John Thorpe is drawing an extremely long bow. His rattle has an objective—to establish himself as a gentleman, instead of a suburbanite offspring of the midprofessional class. If John were truly indulging in such upper-class pastimes—expenses more suited to a Tom Bertram—he would gallop his parents swiftly into financial ruin. We may believe he is merely playing a role. John Thorpe is not unaware of the advisability of finding a rich wife in Bath, but his manners could captivate no lady. His outrageous boasts excite himself—he lives a rich fantasy life. Almost every character in this novel centering on fiction indulges in fiction of one sort or another.
Catherine Morland, the country girl who loved “riding on horseback, and running about the country” (I, ch. 1), is partly immobilized in Bath. She must walk in company and cannot go outside the city without being taken. She passes up an excursion to Clifton, a rival spa just outside Bristol (setting for most of the action in the last volume of Evelina). Catherine had wished to see “Blaize Castle,” imagining it a genuine relic of antiquity, though it is but a folly, a sham castle built in 1766, on a hill with a picturesque view. The more substantial Blaise Manor House, created in 1796-98, boasted grounds designed by Repton. The Thorpe party bothers with neither castle nor manor house. They entertain themselves by taking the waters, eating a meal at the York Hotel, shopping and eating ice cream. Such conventional touristic activities do not interest Catherine, who can still fancy Blaize Castle a real relic of the Middle Ages—many things have a “blaze” of superficial glory about them, like Isabella Thorpe.
As Janine Barchas points out, had the Thorpe party gone the same distance from Bath in the opposite direction, they could have come upon a genuine castle at Farleigh Hungerford, site of a crime of the sort that Catherine imagines—a famous sixteenth-century case of wife imprisonment and attempted murder.16 The husband allegedly made repeated attempts to poison a wife he had imprisoned in his tower; she could eat nothing offered by the household and was kept alive by the kindness of poor local women.
The Hungerfords’ story is even more sensational than Barchas describes. Sir Edward Hungerford, father of the wife-imprisoning Sir Walter, was a courtier of Henry VIII. Sir Edward Hungerford’s second wife, Agnes, had killed her first husband in order to marry him—perhaps with some collusion on Sir Edward’s part. After his death, Agnes was tried and hanged for murder (1523). Sir Edward’s son Walter (by a first marriage) entered the service of Thomas Cromwell in 1533. Walter’s fortunes fell with Cromwell’s; his mistreatment of his wife came out. Walter was accused of treason and witchcraft and also found “guilty of buggery” (ODNB). He was executed on the same day as Cromwell in 1540; his imprisoned wife was free and could marry again. This family history (in one of Austen’s favorite periods) richly illustrates the miseries of marriage and its potential for complex violence.
In traveling to Northanger Abbey, Catherine changes counties again, moving eastward to a county that is partly in Wessex and partly in the Midlands. In earlier times, Gloucestershire thrived on agriculture and sheep. Water power supported flour mills. John Thorpe and James Morland stopped in the little town of Tetbury, Gloucestershire, on their way from Oxford. Named for Saint Tetta, the town flourished even before the Conquest, prospering in the wool trade; Tetbury is now a tourist’s delight for the houses of medieval and Renaissance merchants. In this novel, we travel by old routes. Returning to London from Bath, John Thorpe is due to stop at Devizes (castrum ad divisas), “camp at three boundaries.” This Wiltshire town had grown around the Castle built by the bishop of Salisbury in 1080 and was important in the Civil War, when Oliver Cromwell took its Castle. Devizes was a crossroads from early times; in Austen’s era the construction of the Kennet and Avon Canal was linking Devizes with Bristol and London. Throughout this region, monastic foundations had played an important part in improving agriculture and providing centers of trade. Austen in this novel keeps her heroine clear of big modern towns, like London or Bristol. She—and we—travel on a partly medieval road, through places like Salisbury, Tetbury, Devizes. This scheme of reference quietly stresses the genuine ongoing medieval tradition of England, without the “Gothic” trappings supplied in Georgian fiction
Jane Austen’s family connections with Gloucestershire were in the eastern side of the county, the Cotswold area around Saxon Adlestrop (once Tedestrop, “outlying farmstead … of a man called Taetel”: Mills). Cassandra Leigh had been born in a rectory at Harpsden in Oxfordshire, but her aristocratic ancestors had Gloucestershire connections. In July 1806, Jane went with her mother and Cassandra to visit Mrs. Austen’s cousin, Rev. Thomas Leigh, at Adlestrop Rectory. Here Repton had redesigned the grounds and “merged the grounds of the rectory with those of Mr. James Leigh at Adlestrop House.”17 That visit to Adlestrop was disturbed by the exciting news that death and a defective will had left uncertain the inheritance of a major Leigh property, Stoneleigh Abbey (in Warwickshire, just over the border). Thomas Leigh or—even better—Mrs. Austen’s brother James Leigh-Perrot might claim the title. Mrs. Austen and the Rev. Thomas Leigh at once visited Stoneleigh, formerly a Cistercian abbey. Here a royalist ancestor had once sheltered Charles I. Mrs. Austen, Jane, and Cassandra could—like Catherine Morland—enjoy living “under … the roof of an abbey!” (NA, II, ch. 2). Mrs. Austen had feared “long Avenues, dark rookeries & dismal Yew Trees” but was happy to report “here are no such melancholy things.” There was, however “the State Bed chamber with a high dark crimson Velvet Bed, an alarming apartment just fit for a Heroine”18 Mrs. Austen may be affected by her cousin Cassandra Cooke’s Battleridge where the heroine has cause for alarm:
“I was carried up a winding staircase: a third door was opened, I saw by the dark lanthorn … nothing but armour… . A woman … entered … I followed her up into a dismal room… . Oh! What a dismaying chamber it was! An old uncurtained bed, made of black ebony, and carved with frightful faces!”19
Secret hopes for a share in Stoneleigh’s fine establishment with its “26 Bed Chambers in the new part of the house” persisted for a while. Eventually the claim of Mrs. Austen’s brother Mr. Leigh-Perrot was bought out with a sum of money.
Catherine remains in South Gloucestershire, at the opposite end from Adlestrop and its neighboring Stoneleigh Abbey. Northanger Abbey, we are told, is only thirty miles from Bath, to the north and east. On the journey “in two equal stages” General Tilney stops at Petty-France in South Gloucester “a two hours’ bait” (II, ch. 5) in order to change horses and allow time for taking refreshment. Petty-France, then a mere coaching stop, is very near Great Badminton, seat of the Beaufort family. Deirdre LeFaye thinks the Tilneys’ home “must be somewhere near Dursley in the Vale of Berkeley”20 At Petty-France the party has fifteen miles to go. It may be simpler to imagine that their destination is just on the other side of the Beaufort estate.
Imaginary Places in Northanger Abbey
Northanger Abbey, less rich in invented names than Austen’s later works, displays more interest in place invention than do her earlier fictions. Catherine was born and lives in Fullerton, “a village in Wiltshire.” Mr. Morland probably serves several adjoining parishes and churches with small congregations. He has a living he can spare to pass on to his son James—as George Austen was able to pass something on to his son James.21 Austen knew that the engrossing of church livings was sometimes condemned as “pluralism” and that this was a current issue. Catherine’s clergyman father Richard Morland appears, however, unambitious for himself; he does not seem to be trying to improve connections with Salisbury, the bishop’s seat and abode of clerics. He can afford to educate his sons; James goes to Oxford. Yet the family does not live grandly, and Mrs. Morland, unlike Mrs. Bennet, is truly a slave to her children’s education. The name of the village—“Fullerton”—sounds unromantic. There is a real Fullerton, a village in Hampshire, not Somerset; Mills gives its origin as Fugelerestune—“village of the bird-catchers.” But the imaginary “Fullerton” could get its name from Old French fouleor (anglicized as “fuller”) + tun/ton.) A “fuller” cleans cloth or raw wool, scouring and brightening raw wool or woven cloth with substances such as “fuller’s earth.” As the wool and cloth trades had long been important in this part of Wiltshire, the village’s name seems appropriate. The work of the fuller, the ancient dry cleaner is mentioned in the New Testament: “And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them” (Mark 9:3). This is a place that is clean—that is, innocent. “Fuller-ton” is a place where one goes to be cleansed—as Henry Tilney is cleansed of some of the degrading avarice of Northanger when he comes to seek Catherine. Its inhabitants are “full”; that is, they are satisfied, they’re not on the hunt for anything more. That seems to be true not only of the Morlands but also of the Allens. A yet-unstained innocence of ambition or greed underlies the naive James’s willingness to marry Isabella, a girl with no fortune. Luckily for him, his modesty is not reciprocated.
The main issue of the novel is arguably place—in both topographical and social senses. The best invention of a place name in this novel appears in its title. “Northanger” refers to a northern “hangar” or “hanging wood”—a wood on the slope of a steep hill. Presumably the direction is taken from the original abbey; that is, the hill slope and its woods are to the north of the abbey, breaking the effects of wind and storm. Catherine is assured
of Northanger Abbey having been a richly-endowed convent at the time of the Reformation, of its having fallen into the hands of an ancestor of the Tilneys on its dissolution, of a large portion of the ancient building still making a part of the present dwelling although the rest was decayed. (II, ch. 2)
King Henry VIII notoriously rewarded supporters and hangers-on with gifts from these confiscated lands. This abbey “fell” into greedy outstretched Tilney hands. General Tinley’s ancestor put his thumb into Henry’s great pie of prizes and pulled out a juicy one.
In employing an abbey as a setting Austen is stepping into Charlotte Smith territory. An important setting of Smith’s Ethelinde (1789), a novel read by young Catharine Percival, is “Grasmere Abbey,” formerly “dissolved by Henry the Eighth … given … to the family of Brandon” (I, ch. 1). When we encounter it, the abbey is owned by Sir Edward Newenden, a baronet. The heroine, Ethelinde Chesterville, is a relative of the baronet’s newly rich wife. Lady Newenden’s mother had “gone to the East Indies early in life” to capture a rich husband (as George Austen’s sister Philadelphia and Catharine Percival’s friend Miss Wynne had been compelled to do). Her catch, Mr. Maltravers (“bad crossing”) is certainly rich, with a house in Hanover Square. The daughter of that union, Lady Newenden (née Maltravers), a spoiled creature accustomed to town luxuries, travels to Cumberland most unwillingly. Smith produces an extensive comic scene of an entry into an abbey at twilight. Sir Edward’s wife, complaining of chilly discomfort, disparages the old edifice. Smith’s design requires that Lady Newenden should be a silly and even bad wife, but the reader is likely to sympathize with her refusal to worship this antique sign of success and status. When her husband welcomes her at the door of the hall, she begs him not to keep her “in this great cold place; it strikes as damp as a family vault.” A furnished room gives her little pleasure:
A settee of rich cut velvet, with massy gilt feet, was in the room; which seemed to have in its time supported many of the venerable figures … represented in the great portraits that covered the wainscot. On this settee or sopha Lady Newenden sat down; and, wrapping her cloak round her, complained of the excessive coldness of the house. By this time an old housekeeper … appeared, and in the broad dialect of the northern country, enquired—“Wat my lady wad please to have aufter her journey?”
“Have!” exclaimed her Ladyship, with evident marks of disgust; “why I would have a little warmth, good woman, if it is possible in these rooms.”22
The housekeeper expostulates—her late lady never had a fire until the beginning of October. We may sympathize with the reluctant urban visitor, who rebukes her husband for bringing her “to this cold[,] damp, desolate place … fit only for the nuns and friars.” Her sister-in-law protests against such disparagement of the aristocratic residence of her ancestors, “a family with which at least mere modern opulence may be proud to boast its alliance.” Lady Newenden refuses to be impressed:
“Not to-night, dear Ma’am—do not inform me to-night; for I am really fatigued to death, and cannot keep myself awake to hear any more about your ancestors. Doubtless they were all knights and esquires of high degree; only I wish their old-fashioned nunnery had fallen into the lake, before I had been dragged a thousand miles to catch my death in it.”23
Catherine Moreland’s entrance into Northanger Abbey seems contrived in deliberate contrast to the scene of arrival at an abbey in Ethelinde. Although the weather has turned dreary and rainy, Northanger Abbey is warm and dry, comfortable and fashionable:
The furniture was in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste. The fire-place, where she had expected the ample width and ponderous carving of former times, was contracted to a Rumford, with … ornaments over it of the prettiest English china. The windows, to which she looked with peculiar dependence, from having heard the General talk of his preserving them in their Gothic form with reverential care, were yet less what her fancy had portrayed. To be sure, the pointed arch was preserved—the form of them was Gothic … but every pane was so large, so clear, and so light! (NA, II, ch. 5)
In Catherine’s own room “the walls were papered, the floor was carpeted” (II, ch. 6). General Tilney has relentlessly modernized the place. His abbey, unlike “Grasmere Abbey,” would meet the approval even of Lady Newenden. As a mischievous Austen well knows, Northanger would evoke the scorn of Gilpin, who laments over the modernized Ford (or Forde) Abbey in Dorset (now in South Somerset). Once the abbey was a picturesque ruin:
Now, alas! It wears another face. It has been in the hands of improvement. Its simplicity is gone; and miserable ravage has been made through every part. The ruin is patched up into an awkward dwelling; old parts and new are blended together, to the mutual disgrace of both. The elegant cloister is still kept; but it is completely repaired, white-washed, and converted into a green-house. The hall too is modernized, and every other part. Sash windows glare over pointed arches, and Gothic walls are adorned with Indian paper.
Gilpin expands upon the iniquity of such changes:
When a man exercises his crude ideas in a few vulgar acres, it is of little consequence… . But when he lets loose his depraved taste, his absurd invention, and his graceless hands on such a subject as this, where art and nature cannot restore the havoc he makes, we consider such a deed under the same black character … as we do sacrilege and blasphemy in matters of religion.24
Oddly, Gilpin thinks people should refrain from domestic use of ruins once dedicated to sacred use—though he despises that use. He feels no anxiety about the “sacrilege and blasphemy” of seizing the religious foundations in the first place. God intended these places to be enjoyed as ruins. The improver of Forde Abbey has apparently blasphemed against the god of good taste—the deity whom General Tilney has also offended. By Gilpin’s standards he is “depraved” and “graceless.” And by Austen’s own too—though for different reasons. Northanger Abbey is the opposite of Blaize Castle, a sham that Catherine imagined would be real. Northanger Abbey was once real—a real abbey—and is now a kind of sham. It is a fancy proposition projecting the self-image of greedy and self-satisfied General Tilney and his rapacious ancestors. Catherine may wish to live in a piece of the past, but the novel reminds the acute observer that the injuries of the past are still unrepaired. General Tilney has placed both his sons strategically in bulwarks of authority and mastery—Frederick in the Dragoons, Henry in the Church. Both sons in different ways are guards and defenders of the family’s property.
The story of the big takeover of abbey lands is the truly “Gothic” story within this mock-Gothic tale. Like Isabella’s infidelity, it is a banal instance of human heartlessness. An original “crime”—an outrage never to be mentioned but perpetually renewed, and committed with impunity—does not fear light of day. Catherine’s first night within the walls of Northanger Abbey is fraught with a “Gothic” storm, recalling the image of Camden (and his translators) of the time when “a storm burst upon the English church.”
The primal greed of the Tilneys is literally enacted by General Tilney. Austen ironically comments on the kitchens where “the General’s improving hand” has been seriously at work: “His endowments of this spot alone might at any time have placed him high among the benefactors of the convent” (II, ch. 8) The irony here has nothing to do with Catherine’s naïveté but reflects those who willfully “endow” their own appetites as “benefactors” only to themselves. Roger Moore’s article “The Hidden History of Northanger Abbey: Jane Austen and the Dissolution of the Monasteries” delineates Austen’s dark satire of a chaotic establishment that turns the land into property devoted to the feeding of one person. Moore suggests that Catherine’s dissatisfied observations “introduce a note of social critique that is in the spirit of Cobbett.”25 The religious, human, and economic service of the old abbey, prayer and work marked by sacred hours—all that has been replaced by General Tilney’s attention to his meal times.
Abbeys were customarily named after the nearest village or town, but “Northanger” refers to no community. Its original name is in disuse. The Tilneys’ abbey is named after the wooded hill—an aesthetically pleasing view which also functions as a possession. The abbey church would once have had a saint’s name, but that has disappeared. (If a Cistercian foundation, the abbey’s church would have been dedicated to Saint Mary—another missing mother.) The capacity to erase places, to change geographies and rename them, is the true work and sign of power—as revolutionary movements know. Such erasure is radically destabilizing.
Henry Tilney, detecting Catherine’s unspoken accusation of murder—a suspicion regarding his father that the son finds suspiciously easy to divine—defends his father from wife murder on the basis of cultural geography. He never says, “My father could never do such a thing! You don’t understand him!” Instead, he asks Catherine to take her bearings from geography and history: “Remember that we are English, that we are Christians… . Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them?” (II, ch. 9). Rhetorical questions are not convincing as answers. Camden reminds his readers that our ancestors were “Christians” and yet beloved Christian foundations were destroyed. Christians slaughtered other Christians in Tewkesbury Abbey—and in Drogheda under Cromwell. Sir Walter Hungerford had attempted murder of a spouse, and his stepmother had succeeded. Henry’s Whiggish confidence reposes on the “neighbourhood of voluntary spies” (II, ch. 9). Rational paranoia, newspapers, and some cultural conditioning constitute the only credible restraints to inhibit a General Tilney.
Catherine, ashamed, hears Henry out—although at another level it is Henry who should be ashamed of his brutal father and ancestral crime. In a comic mixture of innocence and insight Catherine insists on taking Henry extremely literally. She mentally acts as if what Henry is doing is setting out a geographical proposition. Ironically, she is quite right. Having seized the abbey and renamed it, the Tilneys—with Henry as their voice—are able to redefine it as a safe place incapable of sheltering “atrocities.” Catherine takes what Henry says to be true of “the central part of England” though she would have “yielded the northern and western extremities” (i.e., the “Celtic fringe”) (II, ch. 10). Yet in many eyes Catherine herself comes from the “western extremities.” Her area of Wiltshire near Stonehenge might be read (through Stukeley and others) as a wild and mysterious part of England, associated with Druid rituals, and a Celtic—maybe even Phoenician—population. To rely on a delineated geography is unadvisedly to rely on a transitory political power enabled to draw lines. The powerful can only momentarily “define” regions perpetually subject to changes of name, definition, human belief, and human function.
Henry’s assertive but circular argument arises from a shallow Whig progressivism, unconsciously self-interested. His statements prove nothing. Had Catherine been a sharper Tory antagonist, she might have retorted with reference to Hungerford Castle. More telling still, she might have referred to recent British history and Hanoverian treatment of a royal wife. In 1714 the Whigs brought in George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, as King of England. George had married Sophia Dorothea of Celle (1666-1726) in order to unite two Germanic territories, even though Sophia Dorothea was legitimated by her parents’ marriage only after her birth. Having had two children by this spouse, George fell in love with his mistress Melusina and effectually abandoned his wife. Mistakenly thinking sauce for the gander might be sauce for the goose, Sophia Dorothea entered into an affair with the Swedish Count von Königsmarck.
Retaliation was swift. Königsmarck was murdered in 1694; Sophia Dorothea was imprisoned for the rest of her natural life. The erring wife was kept a strict prisoner in the Castle of Ahlden for thirty years (ODNB). Matters were a trifle awkward when George I succeeded to the British crown and questions were asked as to the whereabouts of a queen who might be expected to figure in a coronation. English historians rarely dilate upon this episode. Oliver Goldsmith splendidly fudges the matter: “Pursuant to the Act of Succession, George the First, son of Ernest Augustus, and his princess Sophia, grand-daughter to James the first, ascended the British throne.”26 What a thumping lie! Sophia Dorothea never set foot in Britain and was not allowed to “ascend” anything. George II hated his father for what he done to his mother and never forgave him. King George I had committed murder (through agents) and kept his wife locked up—and yet he took the Coronation Oath.
Henry Tilney declares that his immediate territory is safely under control. Yet Henry—a mere second son—is not really in charge of the abbey, any more than Edmund Bertram will be in charge of Mansfield Park. In any case, who controls the controllers? Henry’s “objective” criteria could always be challenged by facts. Henry projects everything he does not want to think about upon the “Gothic” fiction, whereas through her reading Catherine has come to suspect—rightly—that bad things are real. She has learned about good and evil. Henry remaps the geography of central England as “safe,” but we see only a vista of spies and hear a shaky assurance that civilization precludes nasty deeds—even by those who have committed a gigantic theft and are living off the proceeds.
Henry Tilney holds—but does not of course possess—a parsonage at Woodston, with some glebe lands. Here he is making modest improvements. Nothing will belong to him, however; everything belongs to the Church of England, although the living is in the gift of its local patron (General Tilney). Catherine Morland does not acquire any more land by this marriage. The imagined village has a modest name—“Woodston” (wudu + ton), “settlement in the woods.” This little Saxon settlement almost certainly predated the great (imaginary) abbey—probably once called “Woodston Abbey.” Woodston has not progressed much since it was a clearing in the woods, about 800 AD. In 1800 it is probably losing population. Woodston, however, with its fields, and the puppies Catherine plays with, is a pleasanter place than the aggressive abbey. Mrs. Henry Tilney will spend most of her time here. She is never going to be mistress of Northanger but will have to defer to Frederick’s wife, whoever that may be. Henry and Catherine are always going to be under the control of Northanger Abbey and its owner. After their wedding they will not escape the supervision of the commanding General Tilney. A few more dogs and some children in Woodston parsonage may, however, render the aging general less eager to inflict a ceremonial visitation on Henry Tilney and his wife.
The abbey itself in this novel is the central force from which anachronism spins. The Gothic novel in creative conscious anachronisms contributes to Catherine’s, and our, recognition that we are living in a world of history—and that this is seriously shocking. Catherine of Wiltshire, the moonraker, is willing to seem stupid in order to pursue a reality that she suspects is not truthfully accounted for, not seriously told. History’s aggression and confusions render our apprehensions chaotic and worrying. Henry tries to combat anachronism, the colliding multiple layers of living, by asserting a tidy clean space of modernity, an unmoving centrality unrelated to violence, passion, and confusion. This is as dishonest in its way as John Thorpe’s flamboyant carelessness about time and distance. “Real solemn history” provides an inefficient anodyne to the pain of living in history. Relief from the pressures of living within multiple temporal charges is perhaps best provided by are things that are born, grow, and die, like puppies and the hyacinth, not concerned with fashion and never out of time.
Names and Places in Sense and Sensibility: Sussex, Devonshire, London (Town)—and a Touch of Dorset
Real Places in Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility almost aggressively declares that it is sticking close to England. Colonel Brandon has been abroad to the East Indies (i.e., India) fighting the wars for colonies against the French. Elinor says he talks well about his experiences, but the reader hears nothing of such travel tales, only the substitutes provided by the mockery of Willoughby and Marianne:
“That is to say,” cried Marianne contemptuously, “he has told you that in the East Indies the climate is hot, and the mosquitoes are troublesome.” …
“Perhaps,” said Willoughby, “his observations may have extended to the existence of nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins.” (S&S, I, ch. 10)
The laughing pair discount anything that Brandon might have to tell, limiting him by caricature. This is a way of erasing the significance not only of what the wounded empire builder has done, but of the British Empire itself. Brandons roam. Colonel Brandon’s sister (whom we never meet) is abroad, in Avignon, once a resort of Jacobites.27 The woman who will be Marianne’s sister-in-law has gone abroad only for health; Brandon seems to be surrounded by sickly women. Aside from such slight references to a world outside, the persistent focus in this novel is on England. Willoughby and Marianne want to stay safely in England. Unlike Catherine Morland, who liked to be “reminded” of the south of France (known to her only through Emily’s travels in Udolpho), Marianne is not transported by her reading to Mediterranean shores. Her reading lies entirely in contemporary English poets like Cowper, who write about England.
Sense and Sensibility opens with the memorable and ironic sentence “The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex” (I, ch. 1). Sussex itself is a long-settled county, inhabited since prehistoric times, as witnessed by Chanctonbury Ring, an Iron Age hill fort. Camden describes this county of Suth-Sex:
The sea coast of this County … has very high green hills, call’d the Downs, which, consisting of a fat chalky soil, are very fruitful. The middle-part, chequer’d with meadows, pastures, corn fields, and groves, makes a very fine show. The hithermost and north side, is shaded pleasantly with woods, as anciently the whole Country was, which made it impassable.
Antiquaries say that the forest, the “Weald” (wildwood, like German Wald) was originally “a desert and vast wilderness; neither planted with towns, nor peopled with men, but stuff’d with herds of deer, and droves of hogs only.”28 In the earliest inhabited periods it was known for “Iron-mines all over,” with furnaces and forges; in later ages the region went in for “casting of Cannons” and also gunpowder: “Near Hastings also are two powder-mills, where is made very good Gun-powder.”29 Sussex had a technological and industrial turn from the Stone Age onward, early undertaking metalworking. The Weald became smaller and more built upon. In the late eighteenth century the destruction of timber, loss of a formerly abundant fuel, starved some once-thriving industries (such as glassmaking). The serious problem of finding available wood in Sussex highlights the carelessness of John Dashwood in cutting down trees.
This land of the South Saxons was a kingdom in the Dark Ages. The Sussex coast was attacked successfully by the Normans. Intending to keep his new possessions, William (and his successors) strengthened the ports and built or refortified numerous castles along the south coast, putting the most trusted confederates in charge. A close associate of William the Conqueror, Hubert de Burg (or De Burgh), was made constable of Dover Castle. (We may imagine this invader was a direct ancestor of Lady Catherine’s husband.) The Normans moved Sussex’s bishopric to the city of Chichester where the cathedral was dedicated in 1108. Flourishing under Saxon kings, Sussex continued to thrive under the Normans and subsequently under Plantagenets and Tudors.
Sussex, with its own culture and industries, was never far from centers of power. Under William III and his eighteenth-century successors great efforts were made to improve roads, resulting in a system of turnpike roads and enhanced communication. Coastal towns played an important part in the defenses of England during the Napoleonic War. Brighton on the coast of Sussex was not only the Prince Regent’s leisure center but also a fortified place preparing to repel invaders. In Lady Susan, Sussex is the abode of the aristocratically named Charles Vernon and his wife, a Norman-descended De Courcy of Kent. His banking makes Charles Vernon seem a bit Whiggish; Lady Susan remarks, “Charles is very rich I am sure; when a Man has once got his name in a Banking House he rolls in money” (Letter 5, Later Manuscripts, 10). This seems a fling at Henry Austen, who had “set himself up as an army agent and banker” about the time of his father’s retirement.30 The Vernons’ life in Sussex strikes Lady Susan as surpassingly dull, and we may find it so too. Norland in Sussex does nothing to dismiss that impression. We shall return to Sussex in Sanditon, but to a different part of the county, the coast and not the fat hinterland inhabited by “the family of Dashwood.” Norland, the Dashwoods’ long settlement, is obviously in the county’s tranquil middle with its “meadows, pastures and corn [i.e., wheat] fields.” Yet Sussex at the beginning of the nineteenth century was suffering from agricultural depression and popular resentment at low wages (conditions that John and Fanny Dashwood will certainly do nothing to ameliorate).
“The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex”—delightful ironic sentence. We rapidly learn that the term “family” does not include women, but refers to males with the correct surname. The Dashwood women to whom we become attached are not be “settled in Sussex” at all. They are explicitly excluded by Fanny Dashwood, who argues that her husband’s half sisters “were related to him only by half blood, which she considered as no relationship at all” (S&S, I, ch. 2). Primogeniture, the right of the eldest male to take all, is generally believed to have come in with the Normans. In pre-Conquest Kent and parts of Sussex, land tenure had became independent of service to the lord. “Socage” permitted paying rent in money alone; land values measured in money meant land could become “partible.” Anglo-Saxon Gavelkind (an Anglo-Saxon term of puzzling etymology essentially connecting with rent of land) seems an evolution of socage; it allowed property to be divided by will. In accord with Gavelkind a property owner could dispose leave separate parts of his wealth to his wife and kin. As Edward Hasted explains, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent,
Lands in gavelkind descend to all the sons alike in equal portions, and if there are no sons, then equally among the daughters; and as to the chattels, it was formerly part of the custom of this country to divide them into three parts.31
Imagine Mrs. John Dashwood’s horror if all the nice things in Norland had to be divided into three parts! Male children were entitled to an equal share of the father’s property, the widow had a share and even the female children (though these had to be legally represented). Jane Austen, whose richest relatives lived in Kent, probably knew that Kent and parts of Sussex had maintained the more equitable Saxon inheritance system.
The Custom of Gavelkind is in many Towns in Sussex; but that scarce any two Places agree in any other of the Kentish Customs, but that of the Descent. The Lands lying within the Port of Rye in Sussex are partible among Males, and the Wife is endowed of a Moiety, as in Gavelkind.32
Gavelkind arguably has “a more noble Original” than primogeniture, “being descended from the Universal Law of the whole World” whereby children of the same parents, “entitled to the same Affection and support … partook alike of the Possessions,” until some found it necessary “to raise Distinctions where Nature made none.”33 This is the view of Mrs. Bennet whose silly notion is backed also by Adam Smith and William Blackstone.
Gavelkind can benefit the women (at the very least, the widow) without reliance on fragile promises made by a son to a father on his deathbed. Lady Catherine in Kentish Rosings can proclaim that entail “was not thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s family” (P&P, II, ch. 6). Jane Austen goes to some trouble to show the reader that Norland is tied to male heirs by the will—or whim—of a particular man who chooses unnecessarily to respect primogeniture and is also charmed by a male infant. No ineluctable entail impends, rendering inheritance by the male heir legally inevitable, as in the case of the Bennets. The will of the man referred to as the “Old Gentleman” (common synonym for the Devil) sends the Dashwood females into exile. In Sense and Sensibility it is Edward Ferrars’s mother who has oddly benefited from absence of primogeniture—though not because of her county. Mr. Ferrars’s property is not tied up for the eldest son; Mrs. Ferrars possesses not only the property with its income, but also the disposal of it. Neither the Old Gentleman nor Mrs. Ferrars enters into the spirit and principles of Gavelkind.
How did Mrs. Ferrars gain such control? This widow’s entire control over property signals that this family, though exceedingly wealthy, is not highborn. Their wealth has little to do with ownership of land. Does the unpleasant Mrs. Ferrars benefit from the mere accident of a husband’s sufficiently low birth—not quite gentry? Mrs. Ferrars herself does not seem of gentle birth. We cannot “place” Mrs. Ferrars—we don’t know who her family was or where she was born. We don’t even know where Edward and Robert were born, but probably in London, where the family lives on the proceeds of—what? There is no home estate. There is an estate in Norfolk that Mrs. Ferrars might give to Edward if he should marry to her liking; this, however, is not a family home but something more like an incidental investment, an acquisition rather than an inheritance. The Ferrars money must have derived originally from trade and commerce, and then from shrewd investments. Fanny Ferrars in marrying the heir of an estate is marrying up—no matter how substantial her dowry.
In Sense and Sensibility Austen makes the kind of move she intended to perform in The Watsons, snatching her orphaned girls away from their original setting. Readers too are abruptly snatched away from Sussex, sent a considerable distance into rural Devon with its lovely but steep hills and muddy lanes. Sir John Middleton’s estate with its cottage is some four miles from the small but thriving cathedral “city” and market town of Exeter. A Roman foundation on the river called by the Celts “Exe” (meaning “water”), “Exe-ceaster” was once a Roman camp. This town flourished in the Middle Ages and the Tudor era because of the wool trade. Exeter, 171 miles from London, prospered again in the eighteenth century; central market town of the western region, it was the sixth largest city in England. Yet Exeter’s population in the first census of 1801 is given as only twenty thousand persons.
The expensive New London Inn, which could handle three hundred horses a day opened in Exeter in 1794. This seems just the place to attract Robert and Lucy, who stop there on a wedding journey from London. The time taken to travel by stagecoach from London to Exeter was just under thirty-three hours; a private carriage might go more rapidly. Austen is exactly right regarding the length of Mrs. Jennings’s journey to London with Elinor and Marianne: “They were three days on their journey” (S&S, II, ch. 4). Exeter, endeavoring to catch up with the modern world of speedy coach travel, was not too out of the way for traffic to Bath and Bristol, although Bath is seventy miles away and Bristol sixty-six. Devonshire, to which the Dashwood women must go, has both agricultural hinterland and extensive seacoast. The Dashwoods do not go to the seacoast—although Ang Lee’s film (1995) wished otherwise. Their story stays inland. It is Lucy Steele who is strongly associated with the coast; she comes from Dawlish, and her uncle lives further west, near Plymouth.
Plymouth, not a direct setting for the novel’s action, is important as Edward’s shadow world. Bounded by two rivers, the Plym, and the Tamar (marking the boundary with Celtic Cornwall), Plymouth was the home port of Sir Francis Drake. According to legend Drake paused to finish his game of bowls in Plymouth Hoe before going on to defeat the Armada. In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers set sail in the Mayflower from Plymouth. More disturbingly, after the 1780s gangs of convicts were shipped off to Australia from this port. A new mile-long breakwater, long in the planning stages, was begun in the year after Sense and Sensibility was published. Plymouth, former “principal naval base in the war against Spain,” declined sharply from the mid-seventeenth century. Communications were poor, and it ceded importance to the new port at “Dock” (later “Devonport”). Frequent references to “Plymouth” in Persuasion correctly reflect the importance of “Dock”(or Plymouth Dock), a great naval installation; “by 1801 Dock was the largest town in Devon.”34 Mrs. Ferrars, however, sends her elder son to the suburbs of old Plymouth—a most unlikely far-western spot, near an antiquated port devoted to the duller forms of sea traffic—to be privately educated by Mr. Pratt. Such lonely schooling in a remote unfashionable place seems extremely odd for someone of the standing to which the Ferrars family pretends. After Edward’s distressing revelation, Robert claims that he expostulated with his mother:
“Why would you be persuaded by my uncle, Sir Robert, against your own judgment, to place Edward under private tuition … ? If you had only sent him to Westminster as well as myself, instead of sending him to Mr. Pratt’s, all this would have been prevented.” (II, ch. 14)
Robert has been given the benefit of one of the best schools in England, the only one of the great “public schools” located in London itself. Westminster produced some famous sons, including Dryden, and can hardly be blamed for the folly of Robert.35 Jane’s brothers had been privately taught by George Austen before going to Oxford. But Edward Austen Knight of Godmersham sent his sons away to school; perhaps he regarded home schooling as a compromise with poverty. Edward Ferrars is certainly no advertisement for private schooling. Although Robert may be an indifferent advertisement for a “public” school, Westminster would certainly pay off in social advancement. Uncle Robert always favored the boy named after him.
Why was Edward sent to Mr. Pratt in Plymouth? Robert’s impression is that his mother “was persuaded … against her own judgment.” Did the persuasive uncle raise the point of Edward’s distressing shyness? Physical awkwardness, extreme bashfulness, or some juvenile disability might well have prompted the uncle to suggest stashing the boy away (a little like Austen’s mysteriously defective brother George). Did he develop a stammer like “little Lord Lymington” whose mother “grew alarmed at the hesitation in his speech” and after a month took him away from George Austen’s care? (But that mama took the stammering child to a speech specialist in London.)36 Little Lord Lymington did not get better; he became obsessed with funerals (“Black Jobs”). As Earl of Portsmouth he developed vampiric tendencies—which one hopes is not Edward’s case.37 In Austen’s own mother’s family, Edward Leigh the heir, after a brilliant start, deteriorated mentally; placed in a private asylum, he was treated by doctors Monro and Willis (later to treat “mad” George III). In 1774 Edward Leigh was declared officially “Lunatic” and was kept hidden away in Stoneleigh Abbey, a “Gothic” fate.38 His will caused the confusion about inheritance that raised Austen hopes of Stoneleigh after “mad” Edward’s sister died in 1806. Mrs. Austen expressed pleased surprise that there were no Gothic horrors at Stoneleigh, but she may have known of one—her lunatic relative hidden away for years.
Were Mrs. Ferrars and her brother concerned that Edward might be mentally defective—or at least backward? The adult Edward is shy and awkward; he might indeed not have stood up well to the rough and tumble of Westminster. But why is he sent to Plymouth—so very distant? Perhaps the Ferrars had business interests there, trade with American colonies and former colonies. Who was “Mr. Pratt”? He is never referred to as a clergyman, though the Steeles would surely voice any such claim to gentility. He successfully prepared Edward for Oxford, so Pratt must have had sufficient Latin and Greek. Given the strong associations of his name with the legal profession through the brilliant Pratt who became Lord Chancellor, this Pratt may be a lawyer with time on his hands. Putting Edward to school with a Pratt might strengthen family hopes that the youth will choose the right profession. And with young Edward hidden in a small domestic establishment in Plymouth, where a Pratt’s home is his castle, nobody from the fashionable world would be likely to catch sight of this hobbledehoy. He won’t disgrace the family. But they should beware: “Pratt” is a name dangerous to “Ferrars.”
The coastal town of Dawlish attracts Robert Ferrars, who has his fingers on the pulse of fashion. Dawlish (“dark stream,” a Celtic river-name) was a fishing village making a determined bid to become a seaside resort in the new style. John Feltham in his Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places says that Dawlish “has, within a few years, risen into a state of comparative elegance” (like Lucy Steele herself). “There are now building five large houses upon the cliffs, commanding a picturesque view of Torbay … and, as the Princess of Wales has lately honored this place with her residence, there is no doubt but Dawlish will rapidly rise into consequence.”39 The presence of Caroline of Brunswick (who visited in April 1806) might be a mixed blessing.
Jane Austen had visited Dawlish; during Mr. Austen’s retirement, the Austens went on summer holidays to seaside resorts, one year to Sidmouth, the next (1802) to Dawlish and Teignemouth. In August 1814 Jane remembers the library at Dawlish as “particularly pitiful & wretched 12 years ago” (10 August-18 August 1814; Letters, 267-69). Holidays in Devonshire at the turn of the century gave Austen background for the setting of Sense and Sensibility. It may have been during the time at Dawlish that she encountered the good young clergyman, a suitor to whom Jane was reputedly attracted, but who died untimely, according to confused family recollections.40 The possibility that her last incomplete romance took place in Dawlish makes it the more piquant that Austen should choose Dawlish as the birthplace of Elinor’s vulgar rival and a honeymoon resort for the fop Robert and his vixen Lucy.
Devonshire was making a conscious effort to modernize and to attract tourists. Yet Devonshire was still considered the abode of yokels. It appealed to poets and novelists. In Charlotte Smith’s Celestina, the hero’s paternal estate, Alvestone, is “between Sidmouth and Exeter.” The heroine exiles herself from London, where she fears the marriage of the man she loves will soon take place, betaking herself to a cheap lodging in “a small new built brick house” on the edge of a dreary heath: “Winter had alike divested the common of its furze and heath blossoms, and the few elms on its borders, of their foliage.”41 In the winter of her discontent, Celestina can, however, almost see Alvestone, home of her beloved George Willoughby:
By the help of a telescope lent her by her landlord, Celestina had discovered a clump of firs in Alvestone Park; and though they were near ten miles distance, and without a glass appeared only a dark spot above the rest of the landscape, she found a melancholy pleasure in distinguishing them, and would frequently … in their pensive rambles, fix her eyes on that distant object.42
Marianne Dashwood at Cleveland seeks out an eminence from which “her eye, wandering over a wide tract of country … could fondly rest on the farthest ridge of hills in the horizon, and fancy that from their summits Combe Magna might be seen” (S&S, III, ch. 6). “Combe Magna” is the name of Willoughby’s estate in Somersetshire—still in the West Country. The name in its mixture of Old English noun (cwm, cumbe = valley) and Latin adjective (magna = big) indicates antiquity. Combe Magna may be attractively located, but it apparently brings Willoughby only about six to seven hundred pounds a year. We never see it directly.
At least, Marianne Dashwood does not avail herself of a telescope to try to see Combe Magna. Celestina, however, has some excuse, as she was brought up at Alvestone. When Willoughby comes back to rural Devon unmarried, he invites Celestina back home:
The snow, which had covered every object with cold uniformity, had now given place to the bright verdure of infant spring; the earliest trees and those in the most sheltered situations had put forth their tender buds; the copses were strewn with primroses and March violets, and the garden glowing with the first flowers of the year.43
Austen does not engage openly with such tropes of Devonshire beauty; she gives us an impression of the great hills, the muddy valleys, fresh air, and space. Yet the movement from autumn through winter to spring is important to Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility (as it is also in Pride and Prejudice and Emma). Marianne’s recovery takes place in the Devonshire countryside in spring.
The London section of the novel contrasts markedly with the scenes in the country. The right time to visit London is during “the London season” from January to June. The “Season” started soon after the New Year, grew more dashing after Easter, and came to a grand finale at the King’s official birthday, on the fourth of June. During this period new plays, concerts, and operas were produced; rich visitors vied with each other and with the permanent residents to give elegant parties. The Dashwood girls go to London only for the first half of the Season, and their entertainments are neither expensive nor very exclusive—for example, they do not spend an evening at Almack’s, where one of the titled patronesses had to vouch for a girl before she could enter. Elinor and Marianne are not debutantes. Their brother and his wife should have entertained them, brought them into London society, and made sure the girls met some eligible young men. Of course they do nothing. Elinor is nervous of their visiting Mrs. Jennings, fearing that she and Marianne will be introduced to an inferior set of City people, thus barring themselves out of the world of the gentry. Elinor’s fear seems to us embarrassingly snobbish but is realistic.
“London” was notoriously divided between “City” and “Town.” The City of London is the original area, based on the old fortified square mile. Long self-governing, it elected its own mayor and aldermen and held out for a considerable degree of independence. Proud of being citizens of their own city, commercial denizens of London were ridiculed for centuries as vulgarians and money-grubbers. After the Restoration the slang term was “Cits,” represented in Restoration comedies as joyless Puritans or greedy vulgarians, worthy only of being cuckolded by Cavaliers. The City was then—and now—the center of British commerce and finance; it is close to the port and to “low” waterside regions like Wapping. “Town,” well to the west, is traditionally centered upon the royal court at Saint James and is the region of palaces, Parliament, and parks. Theaters and elegant shops engage the gentry. “Going to London” can mean two entirely different things.
The inhabitants of these different worlds rarely met socially. City identity precluded gentility. Mrs. Jennings, who formerly lived in the City but now lives in Town, is one of the few characters who actually dwell in London. Most characters—the Dashwoods, the Middletons, the Steeles, Willoughby, Colonel Brandon—are renting or visiting. Mrs. Ferrars, another permanent resident in London (as Robert must be also), has a grand address in Park Street. That street was the address of the wealthy widow Maria Fitzherbert, when she and the Prince of Wales first began their relationship in her bijou town house, where the couple went through a ceremony of marriage. An ultraexpensive Park Street residence seems both too grand and too louche for Mrs. Ferrars—but we never see her at home. She does not entertain her own relatives; Fanny and John must invite her to dine in the house they rent. It is hard “to place” Mrs. Ferrars. Radically unsociable, Mrs. Ferrars exhibits many of the marks of the person who has come up in the world through wealth alone. She could certainly afford a better tutor for her son, but, beyond a point, the “breeding” or lack of it of a Mr. Pratt would not worry her.
Mrs. Ferrars’s social isolation stimulates doubt of her pretensions. Was Lord Morton’s daughter ever truly a genuine marriage prospect for either of her sons? We may speculate that Mrs. Ferrars has achieved secretly—starting out on slightly higher ground—what Mrs. Jennings has obtained openly, with little pretense: a rise into a rank and class above that of her birth or background. Lucy, with more capacity for social observation than either Mrs. Ferrars or Mrs. Jennings, wishes to do as these women did. Mrs. Ferrars, cunning and enclosed, resembles Lucy, save in total ignorance of the arts of compliment.
Fortunately for Elinor, Mrs. Jennings lives in an acceptably fashionable area, in “Berkeley-street” near Portman Square. This is not far from the imaginary lodging of Lady Susan in Upper Seymour Street, near Portman Square, where she entertains her illicit lover Manwaring and writes Reginald a dismissive letter. In 1801-2 Henry Austen and his second wife, the dashing Eliza de Feuillide (née Hancock), were living “quite in style in Upper Berkeley Street, Portman Square,” according to Philadelphia Walter.44 Portman Square, frequently mentioned in fiction of this period, was first developed in the Restoration. More valuable as Town moved westward, by the 1770s this square had some claim to fashion. In Frances Burney’s Cecilia the newly rich and disastrously extravagant Harrels dwell in Portman Square, in a town house fated to be overrun by bailiffs and creditors. At that time, Portman Square was just opposite the Tyburn gallows. Since 1855 Marble Arch has stood near the lethal spot, a shiny white distraction from somber history. Perhaps executions ceased to be produced at Tyburn because Cecilia’s critique in 1782 of the traditional procession from Newgate along Oxford Street, formerly “Tyburn Road,” brought to developers’ attention a certain negative effect on their rising residential properties. The procession to Tyburn was abolished in 1783. If not the very best address, Portman Square is acceptable, if a mere extension of the old or true West End.
The Middletons rent a house in “Conduit-street,” in the center of what came to be known as “Mayfair,” after the “May Fair” held in Shepherd’s Market. Now running between New Bond Street and our Regent Street (the latter designed in the 1820s and unknown to Austen), Conduit Street in the eighteenth century, near Burlington House and highly expensive shops, was utterly fashionable. Nowadays Conduit Street is home to Tiffany and a host of international designers’ shops; the jewelers’ windows can damage your eyes with the glare of diamonds. The Steele sisters, when ejected from this earthly paradise, have to take refuge again with their relatives in Bartlett’s Buildings, a purpose-built tenement in Holborn (the same social no-man’s-land as Burney’s Evelina finds herself in when she stays with her vulgar grandmother). Strangely, the Middletons are staying in a more glamorous address than John and Fanny Dashwood, who have rented lodgings, “a very good house for three months,” in “Harley-street”” (II, ch. 12). Harley Street—not yet associated with medical offices—is just west of the perfect West End squares; it is presentable, if less glamorous than the Mayfair address. The Dashwoods in this instance are not extravagant; visiting only for the early part of the Season, they do not intend to take on the higher rents charged for the post-Easter period. They do commonplace touristic things, like taking their little boy “to see the wild beasts at Exeter Exchange” (II, ch. 11). Named after Sir Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter, the house on the Strand was a remodeled Elizabethan mansion turned into a sort of zoo.
Single men can find good lodgings cheaply, and are not expected to hold fashionable dinner parties. John Willoughby lodges in “Bond-street,” center of the area devoted to the most expensive shops, close to the parks and to club land. George Willoughby in Celestina likewise lodges in Bond Street when in town. Colonel Brandon “lodges in St. James’s-street,” an excellent address, if temporary; presumably his bachelor’s lodgings are a couple of rooms. After the repudiation by faithless Willoughby and Marianne’s heartbreak, the Dashwood girls’ London season of enforced gaiety is a Lenten affair indeed. They depart before Easter.
There follows a brief disastrous visit in Somersetshire, haunted by illness and danger. Return to Devonshire spells health. The West Country cures the ills of London. At the end of the story four major characters are all living in Dorsetshire, native county of Colonel Brandon. Dorset’s county town, Dorchester (Dornwaraceaster), was once a Roman encampment based on a Celtic settlement. Dorset is just west of Hampshire, with Somerset to the northwest and Wiltshire to the northeast. Remains of prehistoric settlements show that it has long been friendly to human habitation; its climate is relatively warm; it has rich arable land and pastures. In the Victorian era it was to supply London with butter. On the Channel coast, Dorset in Austen’s time is beginning to develop bathing resorts, Weymouth being the most famous. Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax will meet in Weymouth. The sharp rise in this resort’s fortunes came when George III, recovering from his first attack of what has been later diagnosed as porphyria (manifested at its worst in symptoms of insanity), went on holiday to Weymouth in 1789.
Despite the loyalty aroused by George III’s curative visits, Dorset has a history as a standing ground of rebels. Much of this county was staunchly pro-Parliament in the Civil War; many of its inhabitants supported Monmouth when he landed at Lyme Regis in 1685. The Bloody Assizes were held in Dorchester and Taunton. After Jane Austen’s time (but in the lifetime of her siblings) Tolpuddle in Dorset was known for the “Tolpuddle Martyrs,” pioneers in union rights. In 1832, six agricultural workers banded together as a Friendly Society to demand better wages and working conditions. These men were found guilty on the technical charge of taking an oath and transported to Australia. The outcry was so great that the government was eventually forced to let the “Tolpuddle Martyrs” return. Agricultural problems and labor unrest were brewing in Austen’s lifetime.
Although it participated in stirring historical events, Dorset was—and is now—a deeply rural place. In the census of 1801 the population of the entire county was under 102,000. As Dorset was known for dairy products, it is appropriate that married Edward and Elinor want “rather better pasturage for their cows” (III, ch. 14). They are settling into the bucolic style of the region.
Imaginary Places in Sense and Sensibility
In Sense and Sensibility Austen goes further than she has done before in inventing a number of imaginary estates. (Lady Susan has two, and Northanger Abbey but one.) In the background of the entire story is the “family” property of Norland Park—a punning name. “Norland,” which sounds like a contraction of “North-land,” reminds us that the heroines have neither house nor land. Before inheriting Norland, Mr. Dashwood and his family have been residing at a more modest place called “Stanhill” (“stone-hill”). Mr. Dashwood dies not long after he inherits, leaving a widow and three daughters. The three sisters’ half brother John Dashwood, the heir, takes the entire property, abetted by his wife, who is determined that her husband should give his sisters and stepmother nothing. Breaking with tradition (of which she may be ignorant) she refuses to acknowledge any claim of theirs to residence in the patriarchal home. The home of Mitford’s “bucolic squires” was expected to house “father’s relict” and the squire’s “unmarried sisters,” but that is not how town-bred Fanny sees an estate. On meeting Elinor in London, John Dashwood tells her he has made a purchase of “East Kingham Farm,” which he has bought from “old Gibson.” “Kingham” indicates a “settlement lived in (or owned by) the King”; John Dashwood even seizes formerly royal land in his land hunger. He complains to Elinor of the “inclosure” of Norland Common as “a most serious drain” on his financial resources—though it represents an expansion of his acreage and increase of potential wealth (S&S, II, ch. 11). A “Common” was common land, on which the poor villagers could raise a few cows, sheep, and geese, and so on. John Dashwood’s enclosure will put more stress upon the lower orders in their struggle to survive. Privatizing of common land went on for generations from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century, supported by the new theory giving all power to contract and none to customary rights. Ownership as absolute possession displaced stewardship and continuity. Whig political philosophy allowed no claim to use of land unless an absolute right of possession were conferred in a clear written contract. (The English deployed these theories equally smartly in the New World, taking land from the indigenous people because they did not have the proper papers.)
Sense and Sensibility plays throughout upon the loss of custom to contract. Mrs. Ferrars and her children Fanny and Robert, Whiggish to the bone, have no regard for obligation not battened down by contract. Fanny seizes on the fact that John promised his dying father no specific donation to the widow and children. There was no contract on that deathbed. Annuities specifically left in a will subjected Mrs. Ferrars to unpleasant obligations to old servants, obligations she would have avoided if she could. Much of the novel circles around the difference between obligation and contract—Willoughby proves capable of relying on the absence of contract in the cases of both Eliza and Marianne. Marianne does not understand that love—unlike an engagement—is not a contract. John and Fanny understand very well that they are bound by no contract to care for the Dashwood women; John does not even buy his sisters a pair of inexpensive earrings in the jewelers’ shop. Sir John Middleton and Colonel Brandon may have an older view of charity or hospitality. The commercially minded find no challenge posed by charity. They substitute gimcracks—like the “huswifes” Fanny Dashwood buys, giving the Steele sister each “a needle book, made by some emigrant,” shorting both needy maker and recipient (II, ch. 14). We watch John Dashwood in the process of cutting the last ties to custom under the urging of his wife who genuinely sees no obligation in words said to a dying parent as long as they are not specific. Only with the binding of contract can obligation be reluctantly admitted. Lucy Steele goes a bit further in the general trend when she suits herself by denying both custom and contract.
John’s land hunger is matched by his wastefulness of land once he has it. One sign of his defectiveness is that he cuts down trees, partly in order to make a space for “Fanny’s greenhouse … upon the knoll behind the house”:
“The old walnut trees are all come down to make room for it. It will be a very fine object from many parts of the park, and the flower-garden will slope down just before it, and be exceedingly pretty. We have cleared away all the old thorns that grew in patches over the brow.” (II, ch. 11)
Walnut trees would make a much better sight than the glassy artifice of a greenhouse. In order to erect this expensive structure (which will eat up fuel) John rashly cuts down the protective thorn trees—which have their own beauty:
White hawthorn … is the oldest of the hedgerow trees … used in Saxon times to make impenetrable fences… . In the Midlands it is the tree one sees most often: and for a brief spell in early summer it is the most beautiful … with its continuous miles of white may-blossom glimmering as far as the eye can see… . From the hedgerow trees near and far come the calls of countless cuckoos, and the lesser sound of an infinite number of small birds.45
Thorns not only mark a boundary but also provide shelter from the wind on the brow of the hill. Once Norland’s thorn trees are gone, the knoll will be subject to the fierceness of sun and wind; flowers may wither, and it is quite on the cards that the greenhouse may eventually blow down.
John and Fanny are not trying to make the land bear better; they are going in for decoration, replacing the wilds with something “exceedingly pretty.” We note this word’s use in description of the nicely furnished reception room at Northanger Abbey—“the prettiest English china” (NA, II, ch. 5). Johnson’s first two definitions for the adjective “pretty” are “Neat; elegant, pleasing without surprise or elevation” and “Beautiful without grandeur or dignity.” He also remarks that it is used “in a kind of diminutive contempt” (Johnson, Dictionary, vol. 2). “Pretty” in Austen’s writing always seems more negative than positive. Lady Catherine indulges her own “diminutive contempt” in referring to the Bennet’s shrubbery as “a prettyish kind of a little wilderness” (P&P, III, ch. 14). John and Fanny Dashwood’s displacement of John’s sisters and stepmother is of a piece with their view of property as something to play with. They have no idea of public good—not even the good of their extended family. And they cannot see the land in terms of its good. They caricature the actions of pioneer ancestors who cut down the wildwood.
The little family of women goes to Devonshire because Sir John Middleton of Barton Park offers them a cottage on his property at a minimum rent. “Barton” is a fairly common place name (bar + tun, or “barley-farm”): “outlying grange where barley is stored” (Mills). As Anne-Marie Edwards points out, “Barton is so common among Devon place names that it is not surprising Jane should choose it for the name of the valley, the large house and cottage and nearby village in her novel.” Edwards believes that Austen saw something of the Exe valley during the family holidays in Devon in 1801 and 1802. She espouses the view that Barton Park with its village is modeled on Upton Pynes. “Pynes,” great house of the Northcote family, served as the model for Sir John Middleton’s house, while the location of Barton cottage is drawn from the farm at Woodrow Barton, “about a quarter of a mile from Pynes.”46 Such a search for exact parallels can be misleading, but Jane Austen knew the area that she describes.
Like Sir John himself, Barton Park seems unpretending, somewhat old-fashioned. Once a homely farmstead subordinate to a manor—or a priory—this Barton has become an enclosed (parked) estate with manorial rights to hunting and shooting. Sir John likes men who hunt and shoot, like himself, but is less desirous of male guests who will go after his game. Yet Sir John is not merely a sportsman. He undertakes some active land management: he has new “plantations” at “Barton Cross”—unlike that other John, he plants trees rather than cutting them down.
Barton Cottage is not the lowly kind of cottage used by laborers, but the former home of an agent or steward. The Dashwood women’s house mirrors the home of the author by the time the novel was published in 1811. In 1809 Mrs. Austen, Jane, and Cassandra were offered Chawton Cottage as a place of residence by Edward, who himself had inherited not only Godmersham but also Chawton Great House and estate in Hampshire. The Great House property included the more lowly Chawton Cottage. At least Barton Cottage does not possess the disreputable history of Chawton Cottage, at one time a low-class inn or pub with a couple of killings to its credit.47
Elinor Dashwood, willing—like West’s virtuous Louisa Dudley—to resign herself to life in an inferior habitation, is unaware that her new county harbors an antagonist to her happiness in the person of Lucy Steele, hovering at a distance on the coast. Lucy’s uncle Mr. Pratt lives in a town or hamlet near Plymouth called “Longstaple”—a combination of elements from “long” (as in Longleat, Wiltshire) and “staple” (from Barnstaple, Devon). The latter name means “post or pillar of the battle axe” (Mills), but Austen is probably thinking of the word “staple” as applying to wool—although a battle-ax would suit Lucy also.
Near Barton Park is the estate at Allenham, in the hands of the redoubtable if invisible Mrs. Smith. As in Northanger Abbey, the introduction of the name “Allan/Allen” seems to evoke barbarians. “Allen”+ ham would be “the home settlement of Aluns,” parallel to the “Huns” in Mr. Collins’s “Hunsford” in Pride and Prejudice. About twelve miles from Barton Park, there is an estate called “Whitwell,” belonging to Colonel Brandon’s brother-in-law. That Brandon has relatives in the vicinity serves to explain how he has fallen into the company of Sir John and Lady Middleton and of Lady Middleton’s mother Mrs. Jennings. The owner of Whitwell, husband of Brandon’s unnamed sister, is not present, but under the auspices of Colonel Brandon a party plans to enjoy the pleasures of the grounds, including a sheet of water on which boats can be sailed. “Whitwell” or “white well” would seem to refer to a priory well, belonging to the White Friars (Carmelites). Marianne later hopes to visit the ruins of an old priory on or near Sir John’s estate. This area of Devonshire near Exeter was formerly rich in religious foundations, including some established by Saxon kings. Sir John’s lands include “the Abbeyland,” the remains of an abbey and its surroundings—within walking distance for Marianne. Sir John’s “Barton” would have been an outlying grange or farm of that dissolved ecclesiastical establishment. Nobody in this novel reads “Gothic” fiction, but we find here some of the concerns of Northanger Abbey: the Dissolution, use of church lands, remnants of the past. The anachronistic pressure and presence of the historical past is introduced gradually and piecemeal. Yet it presses on us in a novel in which the past threatens to overcome the present: the seduction and mistreatment of Eliza and her daughter, Edward’s rash engagement. Dead leaves swirl around us; happy are those who can learn to love them.
A different estate is encountered in Somersetshire when Elinor and Marianne visit Cleveland, home of Mrs. Jennings’s daughter Charlotte Palmer and her husband:
Cleveland was a spacious, modern-built house, situated on a sloping lawn. It had no park, but the pleasure-grounds were tolerably extensive; and like every other place of the same degree of importance, it had its open shrubbery … a road of smooth gravel winding round a plantation … the house itself was under the guardianship of the fir, the mountain-ash, and the acacia. (S&S, III, ch. 6)
This is not a great holding, not even, apparently, a true agricultural estate. It is a charming house in the country. House and grounds have been recently done up, with landscaping in the modern style. The lawn is “dotted over with timber,” but the dots are calculated effects; oaks and elms are ornaments like the “Grecian temple” that graces one eminence. (It is hard to imagine sulky Mr. Palmer, or Charlotte of the terrible laugh, suitably inhabiting a Grecian temple.) Acacia and Lombardy poplar are recent arrivals, newly fashionable trees. Lombardy poplars—or rather “a plantation of Lombardy poplars”—appeared in “Evelyn” (1792), a mockery of perfection, in which an excess of fashionable vegetation and a rage for symmetry are combined (Volume the Third, Juvenilia, 231). Mr. Palmer is almost as fashion conscious as Robert Ferrars.
“Cleveland” is one of the best historical jokes hidden in Austen’s novels. Barbara Villiers, only child of Viscount Grandison who died in the Civil War, was one of Charles II’s most beautiful and flamboyant mistresses—and the most highborn. As we have seen, this young female royalist married Roger Palmer, made first Earl of Castlemaine as a reward for cooperative cuckoldry. Barbara and Roger quietly separated in 1662. Barbara Villiers (also known as Barbara Grandison, Barbara Palmer, and Lady Castlemaine) bore King Charles II five children. Charles in requital made her “Duchess of Cleveland” in her own right, with special permission to allow the dukedom to descend to her eldest son (by the king), Charles Fitzroy. “Fitz-roy” is Norman, meaning fils, “acknowledged illegitimate son of” a king (roi). (This indicative surname was used by Austen in “Frederic and Elfrida” for Rebecca and Jezalinda Fitzroy.) “Cleveland” seems a very appropriate name for the cloven sex; we may suspect some pun-ful ingenuity on King Charles II’s part.
The novel’s Mr. Palmer, then, his name so closely if oddly associated with Cleveland, probably ought to be considered to be a result of this illicit heritage (along with the real-life Anthony Eden and Princess Diana). Perhaps his ancestor was even a hidden “Fitzroy,” passed off as a “Palmer.” Presumably one of his progenitors named the estate in honor of the title of the adventurous female founder of their fortunes. The wealth and importance of the aspiring MP Mr. Palmer are based on the illicit sexual success of a high-born and beautiful ancestress. Not all “fallen” women end up like Brandon’s disaster-ridden first or second Eliza. City people who marry up will soon be tangling with Norman bastards, or perhaps with blue-blooded cuckolds.
“Delaford” (“of the ford”) is Colonel Brandon’s estate in Dorset, inherited unexpectedly. His elder brother—the one who stole Brandon’s girl (the orphaned heiress), married her, and then cast her off—predeceased him. The estate’s name mingles French and English elements; it is the ancient site of a water crossing, a splashy ford. Places where men, animals, and wheeled traffic might cross watercourses without a bridge were important to rural economy; see the ford in John Constable’s “The Hay-Wain.” Delaford estate brings in some two thousand pounds a year, but it is not a showplace. Despite Henry Tilney’s strictures on the use of the adjective, Mrs. Jennings rightly insists that Delaford is “a nice place.”
Delaford is a nice place, I can tell you; exactly what I call a nice old fashioned place … quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country; and such a mulberry tree in one corner! Lord! how Charlotte and I did stuff the only time we were there! Then there is a dove-cote, some delightful stewponds, and a very pretty canal … and, moreover, it is close to the church, and only a quarter of a mile from the turnpike-road, so ’tis never dull.” (S&S, II, ch. 8)
Delaford, humbly named after its useful site, is “old fashioned.” Whatever the sins of the previous proprietors, Brandon’s father and brother did not try to “improve” it. Delaford’s various attributes—espaliered fruit trees on a southern wall, dovecot, canal, stew ponds (where fish are kept for the table)—suggest a place where time has stood still. Like the Leighs’ Adlestrop manor (purchased by Thomas Leigh in 1553), Brandon’s house was probably built in the mid-sixteenth century, house and grounds being revised at the turn into the seventeenth century. The likelihood of some connection between our Colonel Brandon and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, increases when we consider that Thomas Leigh’s father-in-law originally purchased Stoneleigh Abbey from Charles Brandon and that the abbey went to Thomas Leigh’s second son, while his eldest son got Adlestrop manor.48 Austen’s models for Northanger Abbey and a model for Delaford Park are connected. The traditional old elements of Adlestrop manor were done away with in Austen’s lifetime by Repton and the ambitious cleric. The only other Austen imaginary estate with fish ponds, “the old Abbey fish-ponds,” is Donwell Abbey (Emma, III, ch. 6). The reference to Delaford’s mulberry tree suggests Shakespeare; the felling of the old mulberry tree in Shakespeare’s garden in 1756 had excited historians and souvenir hunters. Brandon’s country manor house seems a Tudor holding; it has not set itself apart from road or church or community. Repton has come nowhere near. Even the ornamental portions of the estate produce food: fish, peaches and apples from the fruit trees, mulberries on which one can “stuff.” Yet no scenes of the main novel are set here, and we never see it directly.
Dorset’s Delaford seems haunted by passions of the past. The heroines transplanted from Sussex remain true to Wessex. Yet the hope that here we may find what we seek seems slightly misguided. There is a troubling lack of energy about virtuous Colonel Brandon’s peaceful Delaford—which we know only through the jocular greed of Mrs. Jennings. It is a little off-putting that it is “quite shut in”—so much a refuge as to be imprisoning. Brandon wants to live in the past on his emotional estate as on his father’s lands. Dorset seems more confining than the Devonshire to which the Dashwood sisters first come. Delaford is not only small but exclusionary, a defensive burrow. Important people left out include Eliza Williams and her child by Willoughby. Where are they? How is Brandon caring for them? Neither Elinor nor Marianne expresses any interest in seeing the “the little love-child”—in marked contrast to Richardson’s Pamela who takes in Mr. B.’s illegitimate child and brings her up with her own children. There is no overflow of powerful affection.
Because we have not accompanied the central characters to their final dwelling place, the novel seems to fade off, to leave us in a muted world. The story has been full of predators, reflected in the names of criminals and sinners. The story of Laurence Shirley, Earl Ferrars, was commonly told to illustrate British justice. But we look in vain for much justice at the end of the story. Green Devon hills might offer beauty, possibilities of growth. But this narrative is shadowed by negatives—autumn, crime, sin, dead leaves, showers of rain, pain, illness, regret. Hope seems to turn back on itself, finding uneasy refuge in ironic resignation. The sense of adventure diminishes in favor of making the best of things, seeking a sanctuary wherein the less aggressive emotions of the past can simply repeat themselves. Elinor will continue to delude herself about Edward, even as she has found him a job, a house, and wife; she will write the sermons and get him to the church on time. Marianne is loved for her resemblance to somebody else who lived in the past and makes do with the aging husband she didn’t really desire, but to whom she is compelled to be grateful. There is no sharp pain and no sharp pleasure. Spiritual search, like erotic search, seems to be over. We don’t actually seek for the remnants of the spiritual past, the ruins of the White Friars’ abbey—though Marianne thinks of doing so. Nobody seems to go to church—an odd omission in story that will demand “ordination” for one of its characters. One supposes Elinor attends church punctiliously once she has married a clergyman; Edward must attend since services are his business. But in London the party takes advantage of “so beautiful a Sunday” to go to Kensington Gardens (S&S, III, ch. 2). The peace of Delaford feels analgesic, not creative. Yet Dorset’s history of restlessness and rebellion may make us wonder whether the old fish ponds and mulberry trees can satisfy forever—or whether esteem and a flannel waistcoat really make up for loss of erotic love.
Names and Places in Pride and Prejudice: Hertfordshire, London (City), Kent, and Derbyshire
Real Places in Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility ends on muted notes. The heroines retreat and make do. In Pride and Prejudice almost everyone’s favorite Austen heroine refuses to give in and make do. Elizabeth dares fate and sallies forth with an almost impudent confidence that matters will turn out well. Yet this heroine, sometimes as naive as Catherine Morland if wittier, has almost as much against her as Elinor and Marianne. Primogeniture is an idol honored in the law of entail. That ruthless law is starkly clear (to all save the protesting Mrs. Bennet). Girl children get nothing. Gavelkind does not apply. The heroine was born and lives on—but cannot remain on—an estate called “Longbourn” in Hertfordshire, a small but prosperous county in southern England just northeast of Greater London. Flat and accessible, this county was well populated even in the Neolithic era. The Romans took it over without much struggle; the region capitulated equally easily to the Saxon invaders and then the Normans. In 1800 the area offered country living in close proximity to London. That county now borders on the region served by the London Underground; even in the Victorian period Potter’s Bar in Hertfordshire marked the beginning of London. In Howard’s End E. M. Forster located his titular house in Hertfordshire, precisely because his imaginary ancient manor Howards End is meant to be on the border between the truly rural and the new urban. It marks a resistance to “Suburbia.” A century earlier, the same forces were in play. Hertfordshire is very different from the West Country, the counties of Wiltshire, Somerset, Devonshire, and Dorset so important in Catharine, Northanger Abbey, and Sense and Sensibility. Hertfordshire is on a crossroads, close to the urban center.
Another center of modernity has an important role, even though the main story does not go there. Lydia falls for—and to—Wickham in Brighton, at once a defended port, military camp, and highly fashionable resort. Brighton in Sussex, settled from early Saxon times, was originally “Brighthelmstone,” tun of a man called Beorhthelm (“bright helm”). Brighthelmstone was a quiet seaside settlement until the late eighteenth century, when the Prince Regent bought an old farmhouse and got Henry Holland to remodel it. This new Royal Pavilion was an ongoing production from 1787 onward. The prince lived there for a while with his mistress—or wife—Maria Fitzherbert. This most glamorous of seaside resorts (owing to the prince and his pavilion) inevitably became associated with entertainments and illicit sex. Two seaside resorts figure in the offstage action of Pride and Prejudice. Ramsgate is another seaside resort. In Mansfield Park Tom Bertram in Ramsgate encountered the Sneyds, a middle-class family perhaps trawling for husbands for their girls. Roger Sales points out that the realistic reference to “Albion Place,” abode of the Sneyds in Ramsgate, quietly raises the question of what the young of “Albion” (i.e., England) should be or do.49 A small fishing port grown rich, according to Feltham, on Russian trade, Ramsgate, by now competing for the lucrative seaside pleasure market, rates a pullout picture in Feltham’s Guide. The name offers rich resources in sexual puns.50 In Ramsgate, Georgiana and her dowry nearly tumbled into Wickham’s power. In Brighton, Lydia falls, evidenced in her letter’s allusion to “a great slit” in her gown—an obscene reference that tells us her “great slit” has been opened (and won’t be mended) (P&P, III, ch. 5). Both resorts encouraged dangerous mingling—and both required defending against invasion. In July 1803 Jane’s brother Francis William Austen was put in command of the North Foreland unit of the “Sea Fencibles” to defend the coast and countryside in the event of a French landing. He was headquartered at Ramsgate, where he met the girl he married. Jane Austen visited Frank in Ramsgate.51 Austen’s novels are very conscious of places where the enemy might make a breach in defenses, might invade and take over. The military war underlies the erotic war, the stories of sexual attack and yielding.
Pride and Prejudice starts off in the agricultural countryside. Some dangerous action takes place on the coastal edge of England, but the plot makes London central, serving as the hinge or crossroads of the story. Every important character (save Mrs. Bennet) lives in or visits London. Via London, Elizabeth gets from Longbourn to Kent—and ultimately to the estate of Pemberley. Caroline Bingley and her sister drag Bingley away from his new rented estate in Hertfordshire to London—to Town—in November, shortly after the Netherfield ball; Darcy goes shortly after to his own town house in London (we never find out where it is). Bingley soon resides with Darcy while Caroline Bingley stays with her sister at Mr. Hurst’s house (presumably rented) in Grosvenor Street, in the fashionable area of the West End. That street was the address of Harriet Byron’s cousins the Reeves, whom she visits on her first sojourn in London. (Later, Harriet’s friend Charlotte [née Grandison] and her husband Lord G. reside, more grandly, in Grosvenor Square itself.)
Wickham seduces Lydia in Brighton but takes her to London—not to Gretna Green. Mrs. Younge, Georgiana Darcy’s ex-governess, rents (presumably) a house in the West End, in Edward Street (later destroyed to make Langham Place). Lady Susan’s immoral friend Alice Johnson lived in Edward Street, so it appears twice as an address for an Austen character up to no good. Mrs. Younge keeps a lodging house; one would not put it past her to be engaging—if ultragenteelly—in other activities requiring multiple rooms. Unable to supply lodgings to the wandering couple, she directs them to an address in or near the Strand (on the borderland between Town and City), where they are discovered by Darcy. Their wedding is at last solemnized in the church of Saint Clement Dane in the Strand, because Wickham was living with Lydia in that parish.
Jane Bennet also goes to London—to the City, not the fashionable Town. Elizabeth visits Jane and the Gardiners in Gracechurch Street in the City of London, the Gardiners’ home. Gracechurch Street is near Threadneedle Street (site of the Bank of England) and Lombard Street, which derives its name from pawnbroking and money exchange carried on by the original medieval bankers from Lombardy. Gracechurch Street in Austen’s day was at the heart of commerce.52 The family dwelling is within sight of Mr. Gardiner’s warehouse, though we don’t know exactly what he deals in.
As we have seen, landed gentry mocked and even shunned such “Cits” as low and materialistic, at best uneducated, greedy, ignoble, and lacking in culture. They are probably Puritanical, hypocritical like Pope’s Sir Balaam in the Epistle to Bathurst. The Gardiners are neither vulgarly materialistic nor Puritanical. Their marriage is strongly based and affectionate. The name “Gracechurch” originally referred not to theological “grace” but to “grass”—this was in olden days the site of “the church in the grass-market.” Yet in this novel some elements of an allegorical divine “grace” seem to cling about the characters who dwell in Gracechurch Street.
Small towns surrounding London are mentioned in relation to the probable route taken by Wickham and Lydia if they were endeavoring to elope to Scotland. Wickham took Lydia from the gay and well-manned Brighton to Epsom in Surrey, known for horse racing and bourgeois dissipation. (See discussion of Box Hill in Emma, chapter 11.) Wickham hired a post chaise and fast horses, at sufficient expense to make credible an elopement to marry. But the trail petered out; there was no evidence of Wickham and Lydia going north through Barnet or Hatfield as they should have done after Clapham had they been heading for the Scottish border. Clapham, an Anglo-Saxon town with a name meaning “homestead on a hill,” was a center for changing directions and vehicles long before the railway attached “Clapham” to “Junction.” That Wickham hires a common hackney coach indicates that he intends to go into London, not away from it. Predecessors of later taxis, hackney carriages were individually numbered, and thus a vehicle might be traced. There is a touch of the Sherlock Holmes pursuit in the efforts to trace Wickham, but Colonel Forster, Mr. Gardiner, and Mr. Bennet have insufficient clues. Jane writes to Elizabeth,
After making every possible enquiry on that side London, Colonel F. came on into Hertfordshire, anxiously renewing them at all the turnpikes, and at the inns in Barnet and Hatfield, but without any success, no such people had been seen to pass through. (P&P, III, ch. 4)
The pursuers’ efforts resemble the attempt by Frederic Delamere’s father Lord Montreville and his agent in Smith’s Emmeline to trace Emmeline Mowbray and Frederic, believed to be eloping:
By this delay, and the blunders of the affrighted servants … it was near nine o’clock before his Lordship and Sir Richard left London. At Barnet, they heard of the fugitives, and easily traced them from thence to Hatfield; after which believing all farther enquiries useless, they passed through Stevenage … without asking any questions which might have led them to discover that Delamere and Emmeline had gone from thence towards Hertford only an hour and an half before their arrival.53
Frederic’s outraged father finds clues that he does not want to see indicating that his son has gone northward to Gretna Green. Lydia’s friends, on the contrary, are saddened to deduce that she is not traveling to Gretna Green. Wickham and Lydia have not passed through Barnet or Hatfield, north of London, to change horses or take a new equipage for the road to the North. Neither Smith’s nor Austen’s couple is actually heading toward a Scottish wedding, though for different reasons.
Wickham is at last trapped or bribed into marriage. He will indeed go to the North—but not by choice. Having joined—or been joined to—the regular army, he is to be sent to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This grimy city (named after its “new castle” after the Norman invasion) shipped coal from the mines of county Durham in the northwest of England, supplying the Industrial Revolution with fuel. Fear of working-class unrest is the likely reason for keeping troops there. Distance does not staunch Mr. and Mrs. Wickham’s appeals for money nor curb their aptitude for parking themselves on the Bingleys when they can.
Characters in Pride and Prejudice are largely on the move—they move outward from the first supposed center in Longbourn and Meryton where we start. These young people are particularly restless. They go off in various directions—to London, to Brighton, to Kent, to Derbyshire, to Newcastle. Important characters spend a large amount of time in places not their native home—as Darcy and Bingley both do in their sojourn in Hertfordshire in the first part of the novel. Netherfield is only rented; Charles Bingley moves away from it twice, the last time after his marriage when he does not want to be too near his in-laws. The Bennet parents are the only people of importance who stick close to their original center. The Bennets’ home is “only twenty-four miles” from London. By setting out early in the morning, travelers can arrive at the Gardiners’ house in the City by noon (II, ch. 4).54 Mr. Bennet, however, is averse to moving through space. It is his vegetable ambition never to stir; he cannot even bring himself to attend an assembly at Meryton for an evening. Too indolent to take advantage of proximity to London, in his courtship days he settled for the prettiest of the Meryton girls. Until the Lydia affair, when he goes on his ineffectual journey to London, Mr. Bennet has apparently never bothered to travel. He remains a fixture in his own estate in his own county of Hertfordshire. The name of the county, however, is based on movement; it derives from its chief town, Hertford, which means “the place of the deer crossing” (“hart” + “ford”). The correct pronunciation (“Hartfordshire”) lends itself easily to wordplay, as “the place where hearts cross—and meet.”
Elizabeth travels to Kent, a very different county from Hertfordshire—larger, more historically important, much wealthier and more populous. Hertfordshire’s population in the census of 1801 was 97,577; in 1811 it had gone up to 111,654. Kent’s population was three times the size: in the census of 1801 it was 307,624; in 1811 it had grown to 373,095—perhaps partly because of the wartime defensive activity since 1803. One of the warmer counties of England, Kent—whatever Mrs. Elton may say—is traditionally known as “The Garden of England.” Camden comments that the inland or uppermost parts are “most healthy and rich.”
“As for good meadows, pastures, and corn-fields, it has these in most places, and abounds with apples beyond measure; as also with cherries.”55 The county’s name (Julius Caesar’s Cantium) refers to its geographic position, from Briton Cantus (“rim” or “edge”). Kent is cornered by the Thames and the sea. Major towns include Maidstone, the county town; Chatham, site of naval dockyards along the river Medway; Tunbridge Wells, the inland spa resort; and Canterbury, the cathedral city. The famous white cliffs of Dover are part of Kent’s extensive seacoast. The ports of Rochester on the east coast, and Dover and Deal on the south facilitated trade but made the region vulnerable to attack.
This is Jane Austen’s ancestral county. Her important great-uncle Francis lived in Sevenoaks, in West Kent. A lawyer and land agent, Francis Austen became wealthy and influential; he seems to have maneuvered Edward’s adoption by the Knights. Kent is the county of the manor of Godmersham Park of which Jane’s brother Edward became the adoptive heir. He married a daughter of the family of Bridges (or Brydges) in Goodnestone, Kent. Jane’s father was born in this county, in Tonbridge, where he was brought up by his aunt Hooper after his mother’s death. Jane’s father’s family can be traced back with certainty to “John Austen … of Horsmonden in Kent, who was born around 1560 and died in March, 1620.”56 Jane Austen’s close associations with Kent include her surname, which comes ultimately from Saint Augustine, who brought Christianity to England.
Kent is important in the history of the Church of England, so comically represented in this novel by Mr. Collins. In 557 Pope Gregory I appointed Augustine the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Camden comments that Canterbury belonged to the king “till King Ethelbert gave it with the royalty to Austin upon his being consecrated archbishop of the English nation.” The cathedral was famous: “Christ church in the very heart of the city rises with so much magnificence to the clouds, as to inspire even distant beholders with religious awe.” There was another church of Saint Austin “for the burying place both of the kings of Kent and of the archbishops.”57 Canterbury acquired its own local saint because of a famous murder. On 20 December 1170 knights of King Henry II murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury in his own cathedral Canonized in 1173, Thomas à Becket became a popular English saint. King Henry II had to do penance.58
One curiosity of Kentish history is its numerous rebellions. Leaving aside the murder of Thomas à Becket—a violent act not to be blamed on the Kentish populace—Kent seems curiously bloodthirsty. Camden praises the Kentish for their courage, noting that this county’s men were always put in the front of an English army, but some attach that war-spirit primarily to the eastern Jute-descended “Men of Kent.” Kent would not readily submit to other rulers. According to Kent’s own story, “Men of Kent” from east of the Medway (fierce descendants of “Jutes,” i.e., Goths)and western “Kentishmen” sent a surprise delegation to William. Carrying boughs—like Birnham Wood marching to Dunsinane—they took the Conqueror by surprise. This delegation made it clear that if not allowed to retain their customary laws, such as Gavelkind, Kent would fight on. William gave in; henceforward Kent termed itself “Invicta”—“Unconquered.” The Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton in PolyOlbion praises noble Kent for throwing off “the servile yoke” of primogeniture, “Not suffering foreign laws should thy free customs bind.”59 Mrs. Bennet would prefer to shake off “the servile yoke.” In the eleventh century Earl Godwin, ordered by the king to punish the people of Kent, turned against his nominal lord, King Edward the Confessor, and undertook a military attack. The Bridges’ Goodnestone Park (Godwines + tun) may have belonged to that Godwin. Even the Normans ran into some trouble here and conceded to Kent a qualified independence as a County Palatine, allowing the people to keep some of their own old laws and customs. Other Kentish conflicts follow: Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt, 1381; Jack Cade’s rebellion, 1450; Wyatt’s rebellion against Queen Mary I, 1554. Kent was not easy to govern.
During the Napoleonic Wars, naval and mercantile sea traffic was swinging westward, to Brighton and Portsmouth. Yet Kent was presumed to be a central object—perhaps the central object—of French plans of invasion. Fortifications dotted the Kentish coast. Possibility of attack became most acute in 1805. During part of that year Jane Austen was a visitor at Goodnestone Farm, very close to the coast. She repeats what seem to be family or local jokes about the “evil intentions of the Guards” in mockery of male landowners’ fears that the Guards might disturb the game birds or even engage in poaching (30 August 1805; Letters, 112 and note 384). The Guards had been sent to defend the Kentish coast; the danger had lifted only a few days before Jane wrote that joking remark.
In using Kent—her ancestral county—as a setting for an important sequence of her second novel to be published, Austen places the imaginary “Rosings” inland, west of the county center and away from the coast. Mr. Collins tells us exactly where Rosings is when he uses a real place name, dating his letter from “Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent.” The real Westerham (“dwelling or settlement in the west”) is less than ten miles west of Sevenoaks (of which it is now a parish). Westerham is nearly ten miles from Saxon Bromley (Brom-ley, “clearing where the broom grows”). Now a borough of Greater London, rural Bromley in Austen’s day usefully offered an inn stop for refreshments and fresh horses on the road from Hastings to London. Lady Catherine unnecessarily recommends using her name to get attention at the (real) Royal Bell Inn.
Did Mr. Collins date his letter from “Westerham” as it was the local postal town—or because he wished to sound as if he lived at a more important place than Hunsford?60 Westerham was a manor belonging to Godwin, Earl of Kent, and then to his son Harold, ill-fated king of England. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Pitt the Younger took country breaks in Westerham. More stirringly, General Wolfe (1727-59), who took Canada from French control and died in a famous battle, was born in Westerham vicarage. One doubts if any hero will emerge from Mr. Collins’s vicarage in Hunsford.
Kent was well known to Austen as the source of blood and name. Why, then, does Kent emerge as a comical place of jangle in Pride and Prejudice? We can see in the Letters, and in the comments of certain descendants, some signs that Jane Austen was treated with condescension or coldness by these grander and richer connections, the Bridges of Goodnestone and the Austen-Knights. The recollections of her niece Anna Lefroy (née Austen) bear this out:
I have intimated that of the two Sisters Aunt Jane was generally the favorite with children, but with the young people of Godmersham it was not so. They liked her indeed as a playfellow, & as a teller of stories, but they were not really fond of her. I believe that their Mother was not; at least that she very much preferred the elder Sister. A little talent went a long way with the Goodneston Bridgeses of that period; & much must have gone a long way too far. (Anna Lefroy, “Recollections,” Memoir, 158)
Here we may have a key to the riddle. Pride and Prejudice overtly resists domination, condescension, and conventional judgments. A certain bloody-mindedness and recalcitrance are evident in the scenes that take place in Kent—but Elizabeth, not the locals, takes on the role of Kentish rebel. Elizabeth balks at the position in which she is placed, talks back at those who express disapproval, and mocks assumptions of superior importance.
In Darcy’s explanatory letter we find out about the negative role of Ramsgate—another fallen site in Kent. Nowhere in the narrative is Kent permitted to be good. We may recollect that in Lady Susan “Parklands” in Kent is the abode of the aristocratic but fretful De Courcys, nursing pride, Norman blood, and infirmity within their enclosure. Kent is a fallen kingdom. In Pride and Prejudice, Kentish stubbornness, vainglory, and sense of entitlement are expressed in Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine and reflected in Darcy. Elizabeth sets herself against the Kingdom of Kent’s claims. In the drawing room at Rosings, she sees Darcy as implicated in these claims:
“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? But I will not be alarmed… . There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.” (II, ch. 8)
But Darcy is not trying to intimidate her with Kentish authority—he is drawn to her. Earlier he said “I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love” (P&P, I, ch. 9), quoting and refashioning the famous opening speech of Shakespeare’s Orsino (a bearish name):
If musick be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it;
(Twelfth Night, act 1 sc 1; Shakespeare Plays, 2:353)
Elizabeth rejects the notion that poetry can be the food of any but a stout full-grown love, and the couple never discuss poetry further. But at Rosings Elizabeth does supply the music, and draws her Orsino’s attention; he moves “towards the pianoforte” and “stationed himself so as to command a full view of the fair performer’s countenance” (II, ch. 8). Her music is a food of his love. The novel touches upon the realm of romance and pastoral comedy; as Easter approaches the spring waxing in rural Kent gives promise of violets and recognition. This is only one of the many touches of pastoral comic joy that touch the novel and play against its satire, doubt and rebellion. False claims to authority (civil and religious) abound. The county excites no warm admiration in either the heroine or the hero (who both come from elsewhere), as we see in their cool exchange on the subject:
“Are you pleased with Kent?”
A short dialogue on the subject of the country ensued, on either side calm and concise. (P&P, II, ch. 9)
“Garden of England” though Kent may be, offering the setting for the spring movement of the novel as its trees regain their greenness, Elizabeth (like her author) refuses to rhapsodize—particularly when indoors.
Imaginary Places in Pride and Prejudice
The Bennet’s estate is “Longbourn”—that is “long stream” or “long boundary” (long + bourn[e]). The name apparently applies to a settlement around the Bennets’ home and to the family’s estate. The estate presumably was once bounded by a stream. Shakespeare’s Hamlet employs the word in his famous soliloquy: “The undiscover’d country, from whose bourne / No traveller returns” (Hamlet, act 1, sc. 2; Shakespeare Plays, 8:209). Hamlet’s use partially remakes the word, implying that bourn(e) is not just the border or frontier but the undiscovered country itself, a territory contained within borders. The Bennet females, though living within a homeland, bounded territory, cannot rely on that border to protect them. Mr. Collins will inherit Longbourn and move in as soon as Mr. Bennet dies. The women will have to step over that border and never return. There is no long home for any of the girls in Longbourn. But one’s “long home” can mean the grave, so in getting away from Longbourn the women are getting away from death—or at least from Mr. Bennet’s kind of stagnation.
Mr. Bingley takes an estate called “Netherfield”—an unpretentious locative, meaning the “lower field,” presumably in former times attached to the Longbourn estate. The “nether” suits Charles Bingley’s slightly inferior status. He only rents Netherfield. It is a “park,” but the term is seldom used in connection with the name of this unpretentious manor. We hear of other small estates nearby in Mrs. Bennet’s unrealistic rhapsody over potential homes for Lydia and Wickham. As well as “the great house at Stoke” with its too small drawing room, there is “Haye-Park” (“hedge” + “park”) and distant “Ashworth” (“enclosure with ash-trees”). There is also “Purvis Lodge” with its “dreadful” attics (III, ch. 8). Nothing will purvey a neighborhood home for the Wickhams, though “Ashworth” suggests their need for repentance.
The village nearest Longbourn is “Meryton.” The name is close to a real name, “Merton” (“farmstead by a pool,” mer + ton), but Austen’s country town is a pun (“merry” + tun/ton). As Fay Weldon pointed out, this is a merry town, offering sex and shopping, bonnets and dancing. It also supplies gossip, choric disapproval, and opportunities for people to spy on each other. There must be sufficient work for Uncle Philips, who succeeded Mrs. Bennet’s father as the local attorney, Mr. Gardiner’s son having gone off to business in London. The Bennet girls frequently walk to Meryton. Similarly, Jane and Cassandra used to walk several times a week to the little town of Dean near Steventon. Anna Lefroy says she remembers her two aunts “& how they walked in wintry weather through the sloppy lane between Steventon & Dean in pattens… . I thought it so very odd, to hear Grandpapa speak of them as ‘the Girls.’ ‘Where are the Girls?’ ‘Are the Girls gone out?’” (Memoir, 157).
The Bennet girls live a slightly vulgar rural life, finding amusement in the entertainments of Meryton, the parties given by their cheerfully vulgar aunt and her husband, “broad-faced stuffy uncle Philips,” who (on his one appearance) smells of port wine (I, ch. 16). There is the occasional modest assembly. The Bennets are on a boundary or borderland—a bourn—between country and London, between gentry and bourgeoisie, between Pastoral and “Suburbia.” Longbourn is the girls’ (temporary) home but not their center. The novel explores what it means to live in a borderland, as most of the characters are doing. Mr. Collins and Charlotte live in a borderland between village and estate, but they are also in a temporal borderland between past and future—when they will inherit Longbourn. Hunsford indicates a place where barbarians (“Huns”) cross the stream. Perhaps Austen was thinking of the fierce Jutes, whose name means “Goths,” barbarian ancestors of the “Men of Kent.” No character could be less like a warrior Goth than Mr. Collins—although in manners, morals and intellect he is unwittingly barbarous. Hunsford, site of Mr. Collins’s parsonage, is a very small village on the estate of Rosings Park. Rosings is to be inherited by Lady Catherine’s daughter Anne. As Lady Catherine explains to the less fortunate Elizabeth, “I see no occasion for entailing estates from the female line.—It was not thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s family” (II, ch. 6). The ancient force of Gavelkind in Kent does its work. But Lady Catherine’s attempts to govern are not happy.
Rosings, as Lady Catherine sees it, encompasses all human magnificence; Mr. Collins fortunately reflects her views. Rosings, however, is not central to the narrative, but comically subordinated to places in Hertfordshire and Derbyshire. Our “first impression” will associate the name “Rosings” with the scented colorful flowers that do indeed grow well in Kent. There is a light pattern of reference to the Wars of the Roses: Bingleys come from Yorkshire, while Darcy has Lancashire connections. The name “Rosings” may seem pretty—but it means something like “settlement of followers of a man named Ross” or “of a rus (red-haired) man”; the common suffix -ing or -ingas means “people related to, belonging to or following” some particular leader. Rosings, then, was once a Saxon settlement, probably first cleared by a redheaded man. The family has lived and flourished here since Norman times. The term “Park” spreads during a long period of enclosures and was unlikely to have been attached to Rosings earlier than the seventeenth century. Despite claims to antiquity registered in its awkward Saxon name, Rosings Park has modernized itself. The grandiose house was recently built by Sir Lewis De Bourgh, “a handsome modern building” (II, ch. 5). This new house is situated “on rising ground,” bearing out the observations of Mr. Parker in Sanditon that moderns build on hills whereas in the old days people built in valleys: “Our Ancestors, you know, always built in a hole” (Sanditon, ch. 4).
The house of Rosings is on rising ground, yet the metaphorical “house,” the family, is quietly sliding downhill. Rosings’ battery of boastful windows exhibits the sin of pride, showing off the ability to afford not only glazing but the window tax. The many apartments, the “fine proportion and finished ornaments” of rooms pointed out by Mr. Collins—all these indicate to skeptical Elizabeth “mere stateliness of money and rank” (II, ch. 6). A character such as Lady Susan or Mary Crawford might be called an “exciting freelance,” a female interloper and social heretic who irrupts into a domestic scene and is felt to pose an aggressive threat. Elizabeth Bennet seems to the Bingley sisters an irritating freelance, attracting hostility and faultfinding similar to that accorded Lady Susan or Miss Crawford. Here Elizabeth bursts aggressively into Lady Catherine’s scene, an exciting free spirit fighting her own battles. To Lady Catherine De Bourgh, she is an inferior and an interloper. To an ordered world that should have been settled once for all by the Conquest Elizabeth is indeed a threat.
The comic Kent of Pride and Prejudice is proud and prejudiced, keeping its hereditary traits of independence, pride of rank, and rose-bush prickliness while its real importance is dwindling. Profusion and ostentation serve to conceal decline. The De Bourgh family is winding down; its sickly heiress is neither marriageable nor likely to survive (one of the darker truths behind the ostensibly light narrative). Rosings’s projected inheritors will desert it—Darcy will live in Derbyshire, Anne De Bourgh will die. Will Rosings come to Colonel Fitzwilliam in the end? Even that trustworthy sycophant Mr. Collins and his Charlotte will move away to take over Longbourn. The wealth of Rosings, ascended from Saxon settlement to Norman landholding to Georgian great house, is now dwindling into consumerist riches, with no one to love this land or ensure the estate’s integration into a modern economy.
Rosings is imaginary, but it is given a site on a real map, and Austen expects us to know without authorial travelogue what places of importance are near any region she emphasizes. We are, I believe, meant to know about Stonehenge near Salisbury in Catherine Morland’s Wiltshire. Imaginary Rosings is very near real Westerham, and Westerham is less than nine miles from the nearest major “stately home,” Penshurst Place. Penshurst was the home of Sir Philip Sidney, Elizabethan poet, novelist, statesman, and soldier. His Arcadia (written 1580, published 1590), often considered the first English novel, is certainly England’s first long prose fiction centering on a love story (or stories). Arcadia was a favorite work of one of Austen’s heroes, King Charles I.61 Samuel Richardson, who took the name “Pamela” from Sidney’s fiction, also reprinted Arcadia. That the novel was known in Austen’s time is indicated by such casual reference as we find in, for example, Susannah Gunning’s Anecdotes of the Delborough Family where the heroine’s grandmother claims “though I live here secluded from the world … I am nevertheless as romantic as any nymph of Sydney’s Arcadia, and would go as far, if I was able, after an adventure, as Don Quixote.”62
The house at Penshurst, a beautiful medieval and Elizabethan dwelling, is everything that Rosings—that pompous Georgian structure—is not. But the green landscape connects Penshurst with the areas of Rosings Park in which Elizabeth likes to wander. In his pastoral novel Philip Sidney composed one of the most memorable of imaginary places—Arcadia. Here he paints a beautiful springtime world:
Which by and by … welcomed Musidorus’s eyes … with delightful prospects. There were … humble vallies, whose base estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of silver rivers: meadows, enamelled with all sorts of eye-pleasing flowers; thickets which being lined with most pleasant shade were witnessed so too, by the cheerful disposition of many well-tuned birds … here a shepherd’s boy piping, as though he should never be old.63
The intensification of nature was informed or inspired not only by reading Greek pastorals but also by Sidney’s youthful experience of the lanes, fields, and groves of Kent’s Penshurst—not far at all from the pleasant paths favored by that determined walker Elizabeth Bennet. In such a pastoral green space on the very edge of spring Darcy emerges from “within the sort of grove which edged the park” (II, ch. 12) to hand Elizabeth his important letter. Pride and Prejudice is realistic, questioning, sometimes flippant, even cynical—but Arcadia is always just about to happen. Some very tough truths are told in this novel in which everyone goes wrong, but our hearts are light as we read because we are never far from the land of green promise.
The most memorable and most fully described of imaginary places in Pride and Prejudice is Pemberley—long unseen target of our expectations. Far from home, as a tourist in the north country, Elizabeth (unencumbered by parents and sisters) can meet and converse with Darcy once again, when spring has turned into high summer. Mr. Darcy’s estate is in Derbyshire, a rugged county in the north Midlands, bordering on Staffordshire and Yorkshire. Darcy’s county is ornamented with several “stately homes,” the most gigantically impressive of which is the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth. Despite arguments in favor of Chatsworth as the model, laid out by Donald Greene in his essay “The Original of Pemberley” (1968), the house at Pemberley is definitely, even defiantly, not Chatsworth.64 It is not grand, not baroque in wings and portico. Chatsworth had come to seem passé and meretricious. In his descriptions of the Lake District and Derbyshire, William Gilpin disparages Chatsworth:
Chatsworth was the glory of the last age, when trim parterres, and formal water-works were in fashion… . . The house itself would have been no way striking; except in the wilds of Derbyshire… . There are few pictures in the house.
Gilpin saves his praise for the beauties of Matlock Vale:
A romantic, and most delightful scene… . The river Derwent, which winds under this semi-circular screen, is a broken rapid stream. In some places, it is visible, in others, delving among rocks and woody projections, it is an object only to the ear.
It is impossible to view such scenes as these, without feeling the imagination take fire… . Every object here, is sublime, and wonderful. Not only the eye is pleased; but the imagination is filled. We are carried at once into the fields of fiction and romance.65
Austen has turned the tables by taking over descriptions of Matlock Vale and adapting them to her house of “fiction and romance.”
The house at Pemberley has the advantage of being imaginary. We are left, like Mr. Gardiner, “conjecturing as to the date of the building” (III, ch. 1). Subtle signs indicate it should be Elizabethan—appropriate to the heroine’s first name. It is “a large, handsome, stone building.” We may imagine it as a Tudor edifice, with medieval foundations and some improvements made during the building boom of the early seventeenth century. This house was not torn down and rebuilt in the eighteenth century for modern display (like Rosings) or remodeled for inane show (like Sotherton). Austen’s contemporary traveler Viscount Torrington (in a diary Austen could not have known) comments caustically on the “the foolish glare, uncomfortable rooms, and frippery French furniture” of Chatsworth: “The Dutchess has made a fine display of French tables, gilt chairs, uneasy sofas, and all what is call’d charming furniture.”66Not everyone was charmed by Chatsworth. Mrs. Gardiner says she does not care for such repetitive displays: “If it were merely a fine house richly furnished … I should not care about it myself; but the grounds are delightful. They have some of the finest woods in the country” (II, ch. 19). Pemberley does not make an artifice out of Nature. The house is furnished for use, not show: “It was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine” (III, ch. 1). Chatsworth is “gaudy and uselessly fine.” Pemberley is not an elaborate Chatsworth but an anti-Chatsworth.
Where exactly are we? Elizabeth at the inn at Bakewell asks if the family are at home; relieved to find Darcy absent, she consents to go on the expedition to Pemberley, near the imaginary village of “Lambton.” “Lambton” seems innocuously pastoral, but a real Lambton, much farther north in county Durham on the river Wear, was the site of a manor house that once belonged to a northern branch of D’Arcy’s and came into possession of the earls of Durham.67 Our Darcy’s Lambton is within five miles of Darcy’s house and within an easy morning’s drive from Bakewell. Darcy’s (imaginary) estate thus is locatable as ten miles or less from (real) Bakewell in Derbyshire, some thirty miles southeast of Lancashire’s Manchester. Bakewell, a bustling market town of Anglo-Saxon foundation (Badecanwelle), was not yet known for “Bakewell Pudding” and “Bakewell Tart.” As Gilpin says, Bakewell on the Wye is pleasantly situated:
Here [at Ashford] we fall into a beautiful vale fringed with wood, and watered by a brilliant stream… . The vale of Ashford continues with little interruption to Bakewell, where it enters another sweet vale—the vale of Haddon; so called from Haddon-hall, a magnificent old mansion, which stands in the middle of it, on a rocky knoll, incompassed with wood. This princely structure, scarce yet in a state of ruin, is able, it is said, to trace it’s [sic] origin into times before the conquest.68
Although Donald Greene insists that Pemberley’s stream is the Derwent, we are equally entitled to guess that Mr. Darcy’s stream might be the river Wye, which also runs by beautiful Haddon Hall with its historic picture gallery and plentiful windows. Pemberley is a compound of suggestions supplied by several old Derbyshire mansions, including Hardwick Hall, built in the sixteenth century by that formidable Elizabeth, Bess of Hardwick, and designed with more glass windows than customary in Elizabethan domestic dwellings. Hardwick Hall was famous for its Long Gallery, hung with pictures illuminated with natural light from the generous windows. Elizabeth Bennet at Pemberley rejoices in windows that offer both light and prospects and in pictures that present persons whom she knows. “The picture-gallery” exhibits among family portraits “a striking resemblance of Mr. Darcy,” preparing her for his imminent epiphany, his manifestation in the flesh (III, ch. 1).
Austen has partly reinvented lost Haddon Hall to suit herself, drawing on and reshaping the ruined edifice presented by Gilpin in creating her own livable mansion, a rebuke and contrast to the pretentious gilt and mahogany of Chatsworth. First built in the eleventh century, Haddon Hall’s major reconstruction took place in the Tudor period. The beautiful grounds harmonize with parts of the description of Pemberley. Haddon Hall is connected to a love story of a lady named Vernon—a name Austen had already used. Dorothy Vernon eloped with the second son of the Earl of Rutland of the Manners family—a young man of whom her father disapproved. But the lady owned the great and beautiful estate, and the Manners family held on to it. Family emblems appeared in the topiary and elsewhere; a boar’s head (emblem of the Vernons) and a peacock (emblem of the Manners family). These could stand for Prejudice (or at least stubbornness) and Pride.
“Pemberley” is an Anglo-Saxon locational description, “place on the barley field near a hill.” “Pember” would originally have referred to a man owning a barley field or fields. “Pember,” a surname, was a not uncommon element in cognate place names/surnames, like “Pemberton.”69 Such names are first associated with Lancashire. Derbyshire was once under the rule of the duchy of Lancaster; the original founder of the manor of Pemberley presumably had Lancashire connections. The ley is pure Anglo-Saxon. “Pemberley” means “Pember’s clearing”—“clearing of a man who grows barley.” Darcy’s estate, named at its heart after basic ber—barley—returns us to simplicity, to the primal work of loving Nature and raising food in it.
Lady Catherine in memorable horror inquires of heaven “Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” (III, ch. 14). Is she referring to Pemberley’s shady woods—or to the spectral presences of noble ancestors? The riddle is answered apparently in the ending when Lady Catherine “condescended to wait on them at Pemberley, in spite of that pollution which its woods had received” (III, ch. 19; italics added). Now Lady Catherine is climbing down. Surely she originally referred to the spirits of great ancestors tainted by ignoble marriage. But Pemberley’s name is not grandiosely noble or romantic.
The practical old name indicates a genuine antiquity traceable to an original Saxon farm holding. Mr. Darcy, probably still a man who grows barley, is a conservator of the land. Darcy sustains the woodlands and appreciates the woods that delight Mrs. Gardiner—in contrast to such foolish inheritors as John Dashwood. One of the pleasant images of the novel, even experienced through Elizabeth’s agitated embarrassment at her encounter with Darcy, is the walk through Pemberley’s grounds by the river. A descriptive reference that may completely elude the modern reader comes in the description of the walk back down “to the edge of the water”:
It was a spot less adorned than any they had yet visited; and the valley, here contracted into a glen, allowed room only for the stream, and a narrow walk amidst the rough coppice-wood which bordered it. (III, ch. 1)
Austen picks up the Scottish word “glen” to describe the narrow valley but uses an old and very English term, “coppice,” for the vegetation on this narrow border. A “coppice” might well date from early medieval times. “The two essential forms of woodland management were wood-pasture, recorded in Domesday as silva pastilis, and coppiced woodland, known as silva minuta.”70 “Wood-pasture” entailed pollarding the trees, cutting them at the top to keep livestock from browsing at will. Coppiced trees were cut close to ground level; coppiced trees are still alive and grow slender shoots, “crops of leafy fodder and poles.”
When managed as a coppiced crop that is felled every few years, the trees are regularly reinvigorated and will live virtually indefinitely: coppiced beeches in southern England could be a thousand years old. Coppice woodland was cut on rotations which varied according to the nature of the fodder, fuel or timber required.71
Cattle were not allowed to browse among the coppices, but the new shoots, product of the cut stumps, were used as cattle fodder. (The practice seems largely to have died out in the late Victorian period.) An eighteenth-century “coppice wood” is practical and durable, a traditional example of sustainability. A “coppice” is a recyclable resource, providing implements as well as food for cattle. Pemberley’s grounds are in total contrast to modern landscape design, seen, for example, in Cleveland’s fashionable ornamental trees. Pemberley does not just display the natural, it is working with Nature, using the products of the land in a sustainable way in a true conservatism. Austen consistently endorses the use of land for sustainable cycles of production, primarily of food. Pemberley, no mere exhibition of groupings of trees and shrubbery, has nothing of Suburbia about it. It is a place based on food production and sustainable growth.
The quiet rhythms of the description, its leisurely details, blend in with the largo pace of the Gardiners’ pleasure: “Mr. Gardiner … was very fond of fishing, and was so much engaged in watching the occasional appearance of some trout in the water … that he advanced but little.” The gentle ease is comically varied by Elizabeth’s agitation and embarrassment, allegro andante, especially when Mr. Darcy approaches. To Elizabeth’s surprise Darcy soon invites Mr. Gardiner “to fish there as often as he chose, while he continued in the neighbourhood” (III, ch. 1). Derbyshire’s excellent fishing was famous, not least because of references in one of the most popular travel books ever written, Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler; or, The Contemplative Man’s Recreation. Being a Discourse of Rivers, Ponds, Fish and Fishing not unworthy the Perusal of most Anglers. Part 1 was published in 1653; part 2, by the poet Charles Cotton, was added in 1676. This attractive work, perfect for country house libraries and often printed in the eighteenth century, is a great outdoor how-to-do-it book. Walton, friend of Donne and admirer of Herbert, writes a quietly poetic treatise, combining travel description with curious lore, natural history, verse, and anecdote. A pastoral rich in honeysuckle, pubs, recipes, lyric quotes, and advice on tying artificial flies, The Compleat Angler on first appearance must have seemed a perfect antidote to the Civil War and Cromwellian rule. Both Walton and Cotton are fond of the border area joining Walton’s native Staffordshire to the wilder Derbyshire. The second chapter of Cotton’s continuation offers a joyous description of Derbyshire fishing, with accounts of the various rivers. The characters are “Piscator Jr.” (Fisherman the Younger) and his new acquaintance “Viator” (Traveler), once “Venator” (Hunter), now converted into a fisherman. The pair cross a stone bridge over the little river Henmore going into the town of Ashbourn—still named “Viator’s Bridge” in honor of the Angler’s character. The traveler may find the Derbyshire peaks, as Piscator Jr. admits, “a little terrible to a Stranger,” but he persuades this traveler that the country is admirable, and that Derbyshire rivers are the best for fishing, starting with the river Dove:
And this River, from its Head, for a Mile or two, is a black Water (as all the rest of the Derbyshire Rivers of note originally are; for they all spring from the Mosses) but is in a few Miles travel, so clarified, by the Addition of several clear and very great Springs … which gush out of the Lime-stone Rocks, that before it comes to my House … you will find it one of the purest chrystalline Streams you have seen.
After describing the Trent, “not only one of our Derbyshire rivers, but the chief of them,” Piscator turns to the Wye:
The River Wye … has its source near unto Buxton, a town about ten Miles from hence … a black Water too at the Fountain, but by the same Reason with Dove, becomes very soon a most delicate clear River, and breeds admirable Trout and Grayling, reputed by those (who, by living upon its Banks, are partial to it) the best of any; and this running down by Ashford, Bakewell, and Haddon … falls into Derwent, and there loses its Name.72
Cotton’s description covers the area Elizabeth visits. Before meeting Darcy she has seen some of the wonders of the Peak District. “Matlock and Dove Dale” she later discusses with Darcy in their flustered effort to keep conversation going. Ancient Matlock (Matlac, “the meeting oak”) was by Austen’s day a little spa town. Dove Dale, the valley of the river Dove, was a celebrated beauty spot. The stream that runs through Pemberley may arise from one of those mossy streams, dark at first, “black Water,” running through woodland, cleared by the addition of waters from the clear limestone rills. The Compleat Angler’s imagery plays on the contrast between the challenge of the unknown and rugged “ill Landscape” and the gentle and varied beauty and fecundity of the Derbyshire rivers. An entity which may seem black and formidable at first can become “one of the purest chrystalline Streams you have seen.”
This minidrama of The Compleat Angler parallels the psychodrama of Pride and Prejudice. Derbyshire is the right location for Mr. Darcy’s birth and home. He doesn’t play well to strangers; to the stranger he can seem “a little terrible.” The Derbyshire gentleman’s personality is rugged, and sometimes dark, his motives cloudy—like “black Water.” Yet he is benevolent, his motives and feelings will clear, and his spirit can eventually manifest itself as “purest chrystalline.”
That Darcy is a fisher is a great point in his favor. Hunting, Walton indicates, is the province of princes and nobles, bossy men who love to rule. The “plot” of Walton’s Part 1 of The Compleat Angler is the conversion of Venator from hunter to fisherman. Fishing is fit for those who want to learn contemplation; “the very sitting by the River Side, is not only the quietest, fittest Place for Contemplation, but will invite an Angler to it.”73 Thus the narrator sees beautiful sights that “fully possessed my Soul with Content.”74 Fishing is conducive to appreciation of God’s world. Quietness of soul, a disposition to be pleased, are qualities achieved by a fisherman. Good men enjoy fishing, Walton insists—and so they do; this novel’s two best men, Mr. Gardiner and Darcy, are fishermen. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Bennet are shooters—as admittedly is Darcy—but we don’t hear of their fishing.
When Elizabeth comes to Pemberley she has been touring the Peak District, escaping somewhat suburbanized Hertfordshire. She has gained an education in the beautiful and sublime. She is becoming Northern. Mr. Darcy is a man of the North, and so is Bingley. Each can, as it were, “pass” as a gentleman of the English South, but their hearts are not in it. Bingley finally purchases his estate, not in the south near London as his sisters wish—not even next door to Darcy—but “in a neighbouring county to Derbyshire” (III, ch. 19). The biggest and most obvious county bordering Derbyshire is Yorkshire (fig. 20). Despite Bingley’s sisters’ preferences, his swerve to the south was not permanent. He returns home—to Yorkshire. That will be Jane’s home too. If he settles somewhere not far from Sheffield, Bingley will be within traveling distance of the Bakewell area, as the map shows.
20. Robert Morton, Darbyshire (1704). From The New Description and State of England, containing Maps of the Counties of England and Wales. Photograph: © The British Library Board.
Derbyshire is already at the center of the new manufacturing industry. In 1777 Richard Arkwright had built Lumford Mill at Bakewell, and, at nearby Wirksworth in the Peak, the first cotton mill with a steam engine. By the time of Elizabeth Bennet’s tour, parts of Bakewell were being rebuilt to accommodate modern industry. Derbyshire was becoming steadily industrialized. Austen picks up the name “Lambton,” associated with both D’Arcys and coal mining.75 One edge of Derbyshire borders on Manchester, which had begun to vie with active Birmingham to the south as a manufacturing and commercial center. Derbyshire’s industries at the turn into the nineteenth century were largely new and modern. In making Derbyshire her permanent home, Elizabeth Bennet is uniting herself not only with the traditions of agricultural and rural Pemberley, but also with the nineteenth century’s future.