Storybook England: Chatsworth House

The world is full of books and they are all set somewhere; let’s explore some of the places where our favourite book characters walked, fought, fell in love or made a fool of themselves.

Storybook England

First up the list is one of my favourite storybook countries: England. There are certain countries in the world, and England is one of them, where travelling is never merely passing through landscape; it’s also passing through time and literature. A travelling reader in England can be gratified in many places, and one of these places is today’s destination: Chatsworth House.

Name the book. 🙂

I’ll help a bit: Chatsworth House is in Derbyshire.

It looks like this:

The West Front of Chatsworth House at sunset. Photo by Kev747 via Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA 3.0]

(I too took pictures of Chatsworth House some ten years ago
but they were not at sunset… nor as sharp.I’ll spare you the pain.)

Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.

The park was very large, and contained a great variety of ground. They entered it one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful  wood stretching over a wide extent.

Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for a half-a-mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills, and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

Pride and Prejudice

I hazard the guess that Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is famous enough (not to mention it was filmed often enough) for me not to have to revisit the plot in great detail here. If any of you need a refresher, I refer you to Pride and Prejudice in a Dozen Tweets.

Pemberley is the name of the fictional Derbyshire home of the insufferable Mr Darcy; the providential meeting of Darcy and Elizabeth at Pemberley marks the turning point in their relationship.

As far as I recall from my visit to Chatsworth House, Jane Austen’s description above fits beautifully. (It didn’t occur to me at the time to carry Pride & Prejudice with me and compare it minutely to the landscape; luckily for you somebody else did just that… read on.)

At some time or other, one feels, Jane Austen must have visited Chatsworth herself; in those pre-photographic days, only her own sharp eyes could have carried away so much vivid and authentic detail.

(Donald Greene: The Original of Pemberley)

A view of Chatsworth House from the west (1770) by William Marlow [public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Chatsworth House: The Original for Pemberley?

Can “Lambton” = Bakewell, and if it does is there an original for Pemberly [sic]?

Letter of E. M. Forster to R. W. Chapman, 17 November 1946

The question whether there was an original for Pemberley exercised more than one mind over the course of the last couple of centuries. The quote above is from a letter by E. M. Forster, the author of such classics as A Room with a View or The Passage to India, to an editor of Jane Austen’s works. Lambton was “the scene of Mrs Gardiner’s former residence” and thus one of the places which the Gardiners, and in their company Elizabeth, went to visit in Derbyshire. And as her aunt informed Elizabeth, “within five miles of Lambton… Pemberley was situated.”

Chatsworth House is the home of the Duke of Devonshire in Derbyshire in the Peak District, an area of considerable natural beauty. There are some other contenders for the distinction of having inspired Pemberley but none so convincing as Chatsworth House. Jane Austen is believed to have travelled around the area a few years before Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813; she might have visited Chatsworth House itself. In chapter 43 Elizabeth tells Darcy that she only presumed to visit his house because she was assured in nearby Bakewell that he was not at home. While there is no Lambton in Derbyshire, there certainly is a town called Bakewell, and it’s conveniently situated within a few miles of – you guessed it: Chatsworth House.  Add in the remarkable similarity of the description above to  the real appearance of the house even today, with the hill behind and the stream in front, and it suddenly all begins to look very convincing indeed. If you’re still doubtful, the eminent Canadian scholar Donald Greene went into a great deal of more detail in his essay The Original of Pemberley, including such extremes as mapping the ground elevation, discoursing on the location of the Spanish chestnuts in the grounds of Pemberley/Chatsworth and discounting the various alternatives – feel free to follow the link at the end.

Photographs of the views from various places on the route, or, better, following it on foot with a copy of Pride and Prejudice in one’s hand, will reinforce the impression that Pemberley is Chatsworth.

Donald Greene: The Original of Pemberley


You might also like:Pride and Prejudice Ball at Chatsworth HouseThe Original of Pemberley by Donald Greene

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