Country Houses in Jane Austen's novels - Pride and Prejudice
In the opinion of Mr Collins:
I do not take as gospel the effusions of the Reverend Mr Collins, so I will share with you some of my observations about Rosings or should I say, Rosings Park - the grand country house belonging to The Right Honourable Lady Catherine De Bourgh.
As it was not uncommon for people with money to commission interior and garden designs to show off their wealth, I do not propose to examine the physical characteristics of the house or its surroundings, or debate the possibilities of a Robert Adams chimney piece or landscaping by Capability Brown. Instead, I want to explore the social role which Rosings plays in Pride and Prejudice.
One of these is certainly, through the development of Lady Catherines character to show an inappropriate display and use of wealth. Another, as Penny Gay has argued, is to expound the novels moral and political position: if those in power in society fulfil their responsibilities, then the community will be happy and prosperous (Gay, p18).
The mention of Rosings Park is revealing. A Park advertised that one had both the means to withdraw otherwise productive land from cultivation for purely aesthetic appreciation, and the leisure time to enjoy it (Pool, p196).
Why is Rosings in Kent? Maggie Lane suggests Kent was chosen so that the characters may travel via London. However, we know Jane Austen enjoyed the park-like landscape of Kent just as Elizabeth Bennet does and at one stage she described Kent as a place where everybody is rich. Shades of Lady Catherines display of wealth? Some have attempted to associate Rosings with an actual house, particularly Chevening, (see page 11) but I agree with Maggie Lane that it is far more likely to be a creation of the authors mind (Lane, p62)
From early in the novel we are told how Mrs Philips drawing room compared with the small summer breakfast parlour at Rosings, that the chimney piece alone cost £800; we are informed of the price Sir Lewis De Bourgh originally paid for the glazing, and that Rosings was a handsome modern building well situated on rising ground.
Building on this knowledge, there are few better illustrations of the art with which Jane Austen uses a house and its surroundings to manipulate her people and reveal their characters, than the scene of the arrival at Rosings -
In this scene, we see Rosings through the eyes of Mr Collins, Elizabeth Bennet, Sir William Lucas, Maria Lucas and Lady Catherine, and slowly the house itself takes shape its site, the dazzling display of its windows, its steps to the front door, and the series of rooms which gradually admit the visitor to Lady Catherines presence. All of Lady Catherines self-importance, her ill-mannered display of wealth and her ability to make others aware of their inferior rank, are reflected in the house. The reader shares Elizabeths opinion of all this pretension and, like her, refuses to be impressed (Nicolson, p174).
While wealth was an important indicator of status, equally important was the way in which money was used. In this regard, the contrast between Rosings and Pemberley is central to the novel. Although Rosings and Pemberley would be estates of similar distinction, the reader is persuaded to dislike the first and admire the second, because Jane Austen is suggesting the character of a house is influenced by its occupants (Nicolson, p175).
Comparisons of the two establishments abound. Lady Catherine places ostentation above comfort or personal taste although no one at Rosings plays, her piano is a capital instrument, far superior to all others. By contrast, Mr Darcy takes care to choose a piano which would give pleasure to his sister. Compare Lady Catherines charity to her tenants when she sallies forth into the village to settle their differences, silence their complaints, and scold them into harmony and plenty, with Darcys reputation as the best landlord, and the best master. While Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam seek refuge at Hunsford from the stifling atmosphere of Rosings (or rather from the woman who dominates it), Elizabeth immediately feels the warmth and ambience of Pemberley and that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something. And of course Mr Darcys initial proposal to Elizabeth is made while he is in residence at Rosings. A very different Mr Darcy is revealed at Pemberley a difference which cannot solely be explained by a home ground advantage.
There is no doubt that both Rosings and Pemberley were wonderful properties notwithstanding that one had less splendour but more real elegance than the other. The point is that the ostentation and dictatorial manner of Lady Catherine are reflected in Rosings, while the intelligence and depth of character of its owner (and the future Mrs Darcy) are revealed in Pemberley.
In concluding, lets consider the scene soon after the arrival at Rosings of the party from Hunsford:
An interesting contrast, I think, with Elizabeths initial visit to Pemberley, where she was free to exercise her own taste, and went to the windows and appreciated the views without any guidance from her connections at Rosings.
Austen, Jane: Pride and Prejudice, Oxford University Press, 1988.
Gay, Penny: Jane Austens Pride and Prejudice, Sydney University Press, 1990, p18
Lane, Maggie: Jane Austens England, Robert Hale Ltd., London, 1995.
Nicolson, Nigel: The World of Jane Austen, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1991.
Pool, Daniel: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, Touchstone, New York, 1994.
|"They were all sent to one of the
A Joan Hassal woodcut for Rosings in Pride and Prejudice.
Pemberley and its beautiful grounds, play an important part in the plot of Jane Austens Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet, on seeing Pemberley, begins to see Mr Darcy in a more favourable light. On her first visit to Pemberley as a tourist with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth becomes aware of her own outlook. Together with her response to his letter following the refusal of his proposal, her visit marks a crucial change in the direction of her views.
In Jane Austen and the English Landscape, Mavis Batey considers that it was important that Darcys home reflected his true nature. She suggests that Jane Austen thought a great deal about Pemberley and had a clear plan of the house in her mind. Perhaps, Batey notes, Cassandra may even have drawn her sister a sketch of the imagined landscape.
She suggests that Pemberley was modelled on Chatsworth, the home of the Duke of Devonshire because she placed Pemberley in the vicinity of Bakewell although, as Batey points out Darcy was no Duke of Devonshire and Chatsworth could not be kept up on even £10,000 a year.
Alternatively perhaps it was modelled on Godmersham, Janes brother Edward Knights home after his adoption by the wealthy Thomas Knight and his wife Catherine. Godmersham House certainly provided Jane Austen with first-hand experience of the kind of mansion which she describes in Pride and Prejudice and its setting was similar to that of Pemberley, set in a beautiful park, ten miles around:
Nigel Nicolson in his book, The World of Jane Austen: Her Houses in Fact and Fiction, defends the claim that Jane Austen was vague when it came to describing buildings. He says she was taking for granted the social background that was familiar to her early readers:
Nicolson considers that Pemberley was probably Jacobean in style, but its age is uncertain and perhaps Jane Austen has deliberately left us guessing. At the end of their visit Elizabeth and even the Gardiners conjecture as to the date of the building.
In the creation of Pemberley Jane Austen was inspired by two leading figures of her day in landscape design and garden improvement - Lancelot Capability Brown and William Gilpin. Maggie Lane, in Jane Austens England, considers Pemberley to be Jane Austens most perfect Brownian creation. Even the simple bridge crossing the stream she says is, a typical Brown touch. Brown created his gardens out of the simplest components like flowing lawn, clumps of trees, large expanses of water, etc. The park at Chatsworth was improved by him and is of course to be visited by Elizabeth and the Gardiners. For his part, Gilpin was not impressed with Chatsworth, which he considered still too artificial and formal.
However, it was William Gilpin, clergyman, school master and amateur artist, who during Janes childhood started a new kind of travel literature, the illustrated Picturesque tour. Jane was according to her brother Henry, from a very early age enamoured of Gilpin and the Picturesque. Gilpin, in Lakes Tour, published in 1786 chose a route very similar to that of Elizabeth and the Gardiners, returning via Matlock, Chatsworth and Dovedale, which they also planned to see. Jane Austen herself visited great country houses in 1806.
So I would suggest it was to Gilpin that Jane Austen turned for guidance on the layout of Pemberley. Gilpin condemned any intended improvement which was not in keeping with the character of the region, any ostentatious structure or water feature out of place in the natural scenery. No such lapse of judgment could of course be allowed by the owner of Pemberley in front of whose house appeared a natural stream, without any artificial appearance, its banks neither formal, nor falsely adorned.
Gilpins own definition of the word picturesque, was that kind of beauty that would look well in a picture. At Pemberley natural prospects are composed into pictures by the windows that frame them. Jane Austen allows Elizabeth to see the views from this perspective. From the window Elizabeth sees the whole scene with delight: from room to room the objects were taking on different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen.
Mr Darcy also had a circuit walk which looked beyond the garden to natural scenery and the prospect was broken down into a series of framed peephole scenes. Mavis Batey noted:
Family portraits predominated in the great houses of the time, and Pemberley was no exception. Portraiture was the most profitable genre in the 18th Century, leading artists being Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough or Romney or, towards the end of the century, Thomas Lawrence. Romneys patrons included Edward Knights adopted parents, Thomas and Catherine Knight.
Through the portraits at Pemberley and its housekeeper, Mrs Reynolds, Elizabeth gets new perceptions and new views of both Darcy and Wickham, Darcy being the best landlord and the best master that ever lived, while Wickham turned out very wild.
The portrait of Darcy provides the most radical change of perspective for Elizabeth. The portrait, showing Darcy smiling, encourages an alternative view of him from the one the author has dramatised for the past two volumes of the novel. In general few gentlemen in 18th Century portraits smile; why does Darcy? Perhaps this is Austens way of establishing the smile as an essential part of Darcys personality; Katrin R Burlin notes:
Finally, Alistair Duckworth notes in his book, The Improvement of the Estate: A Study of Jane Austens Novels, that:
It is in this environment that Elizabeth Bennets view of Darcy changes, and she can say, with perfect truth, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something.
Batey, Mavis, Jane Austen and the English Landscape, Barn Elms Publishing, London, 1996
Burlin, Katrin R, Pictures of Perfection at Pemberley: Art in Pride and Prejudice in Jane Austen. New Perspectives, J Todd (ed), Holmes & Meier, New York, 1983
Duckworth, Alistair M, The Improvement of the Estate: A Study of Jane Austens Novels, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1994
Lane, Maggie, Jane Austens England, Robert Hale Limited, London, 1986
Lane Maggie, Jane Austens World, Carlton Books Limited, UK, 1996
Nicolson, Nigel, World of Jane Austen: Her Homes in Fact and Fiction, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1995
|The long library at Blenheim, was designed by Van Brugh as a picture gallery - a little grander than Pemberley. From Blenheim Palace, the visitors guide.||
16 August 2000