Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Derbyshires Corresponding: Elizabeth Bennet and the Austen Tour of 1833

Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Derbyshires Corresponding: Elizabeth Bennet and the Austen Tour of 1833

Article excerpt

AT THE END OF Pride and Prejudice, readers learn that Darcy and Elizabeth "were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them" (388). The Gardiners may have planned an extensive Lake District trip, but Mrs. Gardiner's particular longing delivers them to the one Derbyshire neighborhood already known to her: "The town where she had formerly passed some years of her life ... was probably as great an object of her curiosity, as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak" (239). That Pemberley is not five miles from her town of Lambton of course adds that estate to their list of sights to see. Austen the narrator emphasizes, "It is not the object of this work to give a description of Derbyshire, nor of any of the remarkable places through which their route thither lay; Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenelworth, Birmingham, &c. are sufficiently known" (240). A fine summation for 1813, but today's readers may welcome illustrative images to help envision what this trip north then had to offer.

Countless travel books describe aspects of the journey, from the quality (or otherwise) of the roads, to the misdeeds or miseries of individuals, to Baedeker-style recommendations for anyone's trip. In this essay, however, the emphasis is on a small band of travelers, relatives through marriage of Jane's nephew and first biographer, James Edward Austen-Leigh. In September 1833, Edward (as he was known within the family) visited Derbyshire with his wife, Emma, as well as her mother, brother, three of her five sisters, and his younger sister, Caroline. Where did they go? Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, and the Peak--the very places toured by Elizabeth Bennet in the novel published twenty years before.

Emma Austen's pocket diary lays out the route, and a letter by her youngest sister, Maria Smith, to absent sister Charlotte Currie narrates their Derbyshire days. The party of ten, including servants Chatterton and Tidman, left from their Hertfordshire home "in the Barouche & our Chariot" (Austen-Leigh). They reached Leamington Spa, just outside Warwick, in time to overnight at the Regent Hotel. From Longbourn, Elizabeth and the Gardiners follow the itinerary Emma Austen knew well; and, unlike Elizabeth, who professes a lack of artistic ability, Emma could produce sketches from the stops at Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, and Kenilworth. Maria even tantalized Charlotte with a well-placed sentence about these souvenirs: "I think when [the sketches] are finished you will admire some of Emma's very much" (Smith).

"Ed: Maria Caroline & I saw Warwick Castle--left Leamington saw Stoneleigh Abbey," declares Emma's hectic September 11th entry. "We then went to Kenilworth Castle & came through Knowle to Birmingham" (Austen-Leigh). Perhaps numbered among the great houses that weary Elizabeth Bennet, Stoneleigh Abbey's familial ties certainly attracted the Edward Austens, though there is no mention of whether they entered the house or merely traversed its park. Jane Austen herself, in 1806, visited this estate belonging to the senior branch of the Leigh family, her mother's relations, when the Rev. Thomas Leigh, who anticipated inheriting it following the death of its aged owner, whisked his cousins off to Warwickshire (Letters 618; Le Faye 330-32).

In industrial Birmingham, Elizabeth Bennet's tiring circuit through great houses would have undergone quite the change of pace if she, like the Smiths, observed the plating of knives, the making of button shanks, and the stamping of crests upon livery buttons. Fascinated by machines of the steam age, tourists frequented such sights as Thomason's silver plate manufactory and Jennings's papier-mache manufactory (which, at the time of Elizabeth's tour north, belonged to that innovator of the industry, Henry Clay). Nineteen-year-old Maria Smith was especially captivated by papier-mache furniture "it is so curious how a thing looking merely like a great piece of blue pasteboard is converted into a substance almost like wood only by dipping it into some preparation, & it is formed into the shape desired by fixing it when wet. …

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