Jane Austen tours attract visitors from all over the world, taking in the great houses, real and imagined, that come alive in her novels. But you don't have to join a literary tour. Rather like Elizabeth Bennet did in Pride and Prejudice, you can just turn up at ‘Pemberley’ and take a look around (sadly, Colin Firth is unlikely to be there). With or without a chaise-and-four, there are plenty of Jane Austen sites open for inspection, among them:
Pride and Prejudice’s ‘Pemberley’
It is generally thought that Chatsworth House (above) in Derbyshire was Jane Austen’s inspiration for ‘Pemberley’. Smaller then than it is now, it would still have been an impressive place back in 1813 when Pride and Prejudice was published and is now one of the grandest residences in England. It served as ‘Pemberley’ in the 2005 film, starring Keira Knightley. However, if you’re looking for the estate with the pond, from which a wet-shirted Colin Firth emerged as Mr Darcy in the 1995 BBC-TV series, you need to be at Lyme Park in Cheshire. Just don’t expect to recognise the interiors there: the inside scenes were filmed at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire.
‘Netherfield’ Mr Bingley’s stately pile in the 2005 film, the one that had Mrs Bennet so excited, was actually Basildon Park in Berkshire. Like all the other stately homes mentioned here, it is rich in history, sumptuous interiors and impressive art collections.
‘Rosings’, the place the dreadful Lady Catherine called home in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, is Belton House in Lincolnshire, a splendid Restoration house with wonderfully formal gardens as well as parkland. (Just how Miss Austen envisaged it.) In addition, it has its own small church, ideal for the equally awful Mr Collins.
Diehard JA fans will love Lacock village in Wiltshire, a step back in time even before the crew of the BBC team transformed it into ‘Meryton’, replete with dashing red-coated soldiers and impressionable young ladies. The village, with its half-timbered houses and Abbey that dates back to the 13thcentury, is almost entirely owned by the National Trust.
Sense and Sensibility’s ‘Barton Cottage’
Thrown out of their ancestral mansion at the instigation of their horrid sister-in-law, the Dashwood sisters had to downsize to ‘Barton Cottage’ in Devon. For Andrew Davis’s 2008 version of Sense and Sensibility (BBC), a 15th-century cottage on the Hartland Abbey estate became home for Elinor, Marianne and Margaret. What’s more, the cottage, which sleeps eight and has great views down to the north Devon coastline, is available for rent. The Nearby Hartland Abbey was built in 1157 and has grown over the centuries into a fine stately home with extensive gardens.
Mansfield Park’s ‘Sotherton Chapel’ and Northanger Abbey
Another glorious piece of English heritage,Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire was owned by relatives of Jane Austen. She stayed there in 1806 and astute readers of Mansfield Park will recognize the similarities between its chapel and the novel’s ‘Sotherton Chapel’, plus several characters’ descriptions of the part-Elizabethan, part-Georgian home. (Unsurprisingly, these days visitors can opt for an Austen tour.) Then there is Northanger Abbey, not the Gothic horror that the novel’s heroine expected, but a medieval abbey comfortably transformed into a country home, just like Stoneleigh.
Bath Assembly Rooms Jane Austen only lived in Bath for five years and didn’t care for it much. Nevertheless it is a gorgeous city, full of stunning Neo-classical architecture and a huge Roman Bath complex, as well as the backdrop for Northanger Abbeyand Persuasion. You can’t stroll around it without noticing Austen attractions and museums. Maybe start at the wonderfully elegant Assembly Rooms, which hosted balls twice weekly back in Jane’s day.
Jane Austen House and Winchester Cathedral
These are no figment of an imagination. The Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, where she revised three of her novels, has personal items belonging to the author and her family (www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk). Jane lived there for eight years, until illness forced her closer to her physician in nearby Winchester. She is buried in Winchester Cathedral.
This is an edited version of an article written for Virgin Australia's inflight magazine, Voyeur.