Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

A Fine House Richly Furnished: Pemberley and the Visiting of Country Houses. (Conference Papers)

Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

A Fine House Richly Furnished: Pemberley and the Visiting of Country Houses. (Conference Papers)

Article excerpt

Stephen Clarke is a London lawyer and architectural historian. His articles on landscape gardening and architectural issues in Jane Austen's novels have appeared in recent issues of Persuasions.

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IN JUNE 1792 JOHN BYNG was touring the north of England, travelling on horseback with his servant, "to view old castles, old manors and old religious houses, before they be quite gone; and that I may compare the ancient structures, and my ideas of their taste, and manners, with the fashions of the present day" (Byng II, $9). This is his journal entry for 26 June:

After breakfast, at the late hour of eleven, I saunter'd on foot to the blacksmith's shop, in that sweet spot at the entrance into Lyme-Park, which is all in waste and ill- keeping.--I stood before the house, when my lady housekeeper came out,--in civility, as I thought, so I said "Is there any family here"? "Yes, to be sure". "Mr Leghs"? "No". "Then I can see the house"? "Indeed you can't; I should have enough to do then". -- "Pleasing business, surely for a housekeeper"? "We never shew it but to those we know". "Then I am happy not to be able to see it".

Thus we parted in mutual contempt; tho' it seems to be so miserable a house, that she would not be over-fatigued. (Byng III, 119)(1)

This is perhaps as opposite to Elizabeth Bennet's experience at Pemberley as could be imagined. Byng is refused access, is excluded and offended; Elizabeth is admitted as a matter of course, charmed, and enlightened. But the passage is useful for our understanding of the visit to Pemberley with which this paper is concerned. Quite apart from the spurious connection that Lyme Park served as the model for Pemberley in the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice of 1995, Byng's account presents issues that underlie Elizabeth's experiences: the presumption of access to private houses, the status of the country house as showpiece, the role of the housekeeper, and the play of taste and perception between visitor and owner.

As Mrs. Gardiner explains, the primary intention in visiting Pemberley was to see the grounds, not the house. "'If it were merely a fine house richly furnished,' said she, 'I should not care about it myself, but the grounds are delightful. They have some of the finest woods in the country'" (240). The purpose of country house visiting had changed and evolved since the late sixteenth century, from seeing cabinets of curiosities to admiring works of art--old master paintings, sculpture, trophies of the Grand Tour--and the architecture of the houses themselves, and their gardens.

References to visiting gardens can be traced back as far as accounts of visiting houses, as in Thomas Platter's account of Hampton Court at the very end of the sixteenth century, where he was shown the interior and then passed to a gardener who "conducted us into the royal pleasaunce" (qtd. in Tinniswood 340). (2) But the development of eighteenth century landscape aesthetics, the creation of the English landscape garden, and the rise of the Picturesque all combined to attract visitors to the landscaped grounds of the country houses--and, of course, to the natural landscapes beyond the park gates. Elizabeth's tour was planned as extending perhaps as far as the Lakes (154), and though contracted to Derbyshire by Mr. Gardiner's commitments, was still very much consistent with the contemporary picturesque tour. The Gardiners were following a well travelled path of tourists, clutching their Claude glasses, viewing the wilder landscapes of Britain and the more manicured parks of the greater country houses in term s of the idealised classical landscapes of Claude and Poussin and Salvator Rosa. (3)

Pride and Prejudice does not have an extended discussion of the Picturesque of the kind found in Northanger Abbey or Sense and Sensibility, though the first suggestion of their tour provokes in ElizaBeth a satire on picturesque travellers and their accounts of their tours (154), while, as has been noted, she plays with Gilpin's ideas of picturesque grouping when meeting Bingley's sisters with Darcy in the walks at Netherfield (53). …

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