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Sunday, June 24

Visiting Great Houses During Jane Austen's Time

During Jane Austen's day it was as popular to visit the Great Houses that dot the English country side as it is today. In fact, Jane describes one such visit in Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth Bennett visits Pemberley with her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.

The housekeeper proudly escorts the trio, showing off the fine furniture and art work and allowing them free reign of the grounds. Jane describes Elizabeth's first introduction to Pemberley House:

On applying to the place they were admitted into the hall; and Elizabeth, as they waited for the housekeeper, had leisure to wonder at her being where she was.

The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking elderly woman, much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion of finding her.

Later on, Elizabeth moves through the rooms:

And of this place, thought she, I might have been mistress! With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt...

Jane might well have patterned the housekeeper in her novel after Mrs. Garnett, the housekeeper who showed visitors around Kedleston Hall, the Palladium Mansion in Kent built by the Curzon Family during the 18th century.

Samuel Johnson visited the house in 1777 with James Boswell, who described meeting the housekeeper: Our names were sent up, and a well-drest elderly Housekeeper, a most distinct Articulator, showed us the House...

A portrait of Mrs. Garnett painted by Thomas Barber and clutching a guide book hangs towards the front of the house. Dr. Johnson's description of Kedleston Hall might just as well have been a description of Pemberley as well:

The day was fine and we resolved to go by Kedleston, the seat of Lord Scarsdale, that I might see his Lordship's fine house. I was struck with the magnificence of the building, and the extensive park, covered with deer, cattle and sheep delighted me. The number of oaks filled me with respect and admiration. The excellent smooth gravel roads, the large piece of water formed by his Lordship with a handsome barge upon it, the venerable church, now the chapel, just by the house, in short the grand group of objects agitated and distended my mind in a most agreeable manner.

Walking the grounds became part of the experience of visiting a country estate. Gardens had become less formal and had moved toward a more natural style, striking a balance between naturalism and formality. Many of these new gardens were designed to show visitors around the grounds, showing off vistas from several garden points and from small buildings, or follies.


james said...

Nice garden post.
Stowe was one of the most famous landscapes to visit in the nineteenth century, I believe...(still incredible but the number of visits have dropped considerably)

I'm hoping to post something on follies, garden buildings and pleasure gardens soon. Garden Buildings, often (and rightly) considered architectural follies were good for architecture because they allowed new styles to be tested out -on the cheap- and could be quickly demolished if they proved unpopular.
The whole Gothick/Gothic Revival movement started in Stowe Garden before Walpole's Strawberry Hill. Not bad for a folly!

james said...

Ah, here are the quotes I was looking for:

“When gardens were first made to beguile, so was the architecture they contained”

The styles of garden buildings were contemporary: Renaissance, Baroque, Palladian, Chines, Gothick, Indian and a host of weird absurdities, conjured up to enliven the uneventful afternoon of the English 18thcentury – but all this can be discounted as mere fashion.”

As folly architecture, garden buildings with their whimsical pertinence and contemporaneously fashionable design were often constructed in avante guard styles.(2)
They were architectural innovators of their time. (3)
They are modestly sized and comparatively inexpensive, and easy to design. Both these considerations favored novelty.
“IN any period—the Tudor age, the Restoration or the Georgian era – new styles could never attract the same financial commitment as buildings in an established taste. Architects who wished to adopt a new manner, or patrons who were prepared to patronize one, naturally turned to garden architecture, of there it was never expected that a building would cost a lot.”(11)

They’re impractical and typically avante garde in design. A flop could easily be demolished with little financial loss. Which accounts for the variety of designs (11)

From the RIBA series on architectural drawings collections:
--Alistair Rowan, Garden Buildings (Feltham, Middlesex: Country Life Books, The Hamlyn House Group, 1968)

Ms. Place said...

Oh, James, thank you so much. I adore follies for their whimsy and for their name alone. When my friend and I visited Versailles last fall, we fell in love with Marie Antoinette's Jardin Anglois. She had ordered a series of follies to be erected, including an entire whimsical village (petit hameux) based on the paintings of Hubert Robert and designed by Richard Mique. I spent the most magical two hours strolling this garden.

I have also visited a series of great Houses in England and walked the grounds, wishing we had more opportunities to do this in the States.

Icha said...

Nice post, Ms. Place! Reminded me of my hope to go to England and visit the great houses of the 18th and 19th century... It's such a fun to read about them. No great houses in 'Becoming Jane', though, but that doesn't stop me from finding more info on Basingstoke Assembly Rooms etc, and hope I can post it soon.