Grab your petticoats and join us on a literary tour of Jane Austen landmarks
Photo credit: Rex Features
In America a new, yet harmless, cult is emerging from the literary shadows. ‘Janeites’, devotees of everything related to Jane Austen and her works, dress in gowns and stockings, attend Regency balls and make pilgrimages to the places where Austen lived and worked. The Jane Austen Society of North America now has more than 4,500 members and lists English country dancing and museum trips among its major activities. This week Austenland, a comedy about a 30-something Jane-ite visiting an Austen theme park in search of romance, appears in cinemas, inspiring us to make an Austen homage of our own. Read on to discover the true Austenland. Bonnets optional.
Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
A must for: True romantics
If there’s one place that sums up Darcy’s aloofness in Pride And Prejudice it’s his stately home Pemberley, which marks him as being a class above his neighbours. Chatsworth House is believed to have inspired Austen as she wrote her novel in the nearby village of Bakewell. As well as the beautiful decor here, visitors can also admire the bust of Matthew MacFadyen, who melted Lizzie Bennet (aka Keira Knightley’s) heart in the 2005 film adaptation.
Efford House, South Devon
A must for: Holidaymakers
Efford House appeared as Barton Cottage in Ang Lee’s 1995 film of Sense And Sensibility, featuring the cream of British thesps. Supposedly a small, oppressive property which the Dashwoods are forced to move into after falling on hard times, Efford actually sleeps 12, which is a good job seeing as it serves as a holiday cottage these days. Re-enact Kate Winslet’s histrionics or discover your own dashing Hugh Grant all against stunning views of the Erme Estuary and its saltmarshes, and live happily ever after.
Bath Assembly Rooms, Somerset
A must for: Style buffs
Unsurprisingly, there is no known record of ‘Jane Austen: the party years’. However, during the four years she spent as a 20-something living in Bath with her parents and sister Cassandra between 1801 and 1805, she regularly visited the Assembly Rooms to dance and socialise. She mentions the grandeur of the rooms in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and today keen Janeites can hire individual rooms for weddings and parties. Alternatively, you can visit the fascinating Fashion Museum to see Regency silk shoes, bonnets and smocks like the ones Austen would have worn.
Lyme Park, Cheshire
A must for: Darcy obsessives
You could pretend you’re going to Lyme Park to experience the glorious Cheshire scenery and admire the centuries-old artwork. You might tell your friends you want to visit the stately home chosen by BBC location scouts to represent Pemberley in the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, starring Colin Firth. But we know the truth. You’re going to admire the 12ft model replica of a damp Darcy emerging from the reflecting lake in a representation of the famous scene that had TV viewers enraptured and has been downloaded over three million times on YouTube. And who can blame you?
The Vyne, Hampshire
A must for: Social butterflies
Growing up, some of us went to Ritzys or Midnites; Austen and her sister headed to The Vyne, a Tudor mansion just outside Basingstoke. There was no ballroom so instead, the chairs were pushed back against the wall to make an impromptu dance floor. The Chute family, the property’s owners, adopted a daughter, Caroline, who is said to have inspired the character of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, allowing Austen to justify her dance nights as ‘research’. Cunning.
Box Hill, Surrey
A must for: Writers
“Emma had never been to Box Hill; she wished to see what everybody found so well worth seeing.” Sadly, the eponymous heroine of Emma soon regretted her trip here after a picnic went wrong and she was reprimanded by Mr Knightley (her future husband) for calling a fellow picnicker boring. Austen isn’t the only author to have been inspired by the picturesque North Downs scenery. John Keats was a regular visitor and JM Barrie wrote some of Peter Pan here. So take a notebook and start writing that bestseller.
A must for: Memorabilia magpies
Austen lived in Chawton for the last eight years of her life, also her most prolific writing period. It was while here that she published her first novel, Sense And Sensibility, under the pseudonym ‘A Lady’. Now her old home houses a range of Austen memorabilia including her letters, jewellery and a quilt she made. From 3 October, the property will be displaying an exhibition of the costumes worn in the 1995 Pride And Prejudice TV series. Those overwhelmed by the proximity to Colin Firth’s breeches can enjoy a restorative cup of tea at the village cafe, Cassandra’s Cup, named after Austen’s sister.
A must for: True Janeites
Annoyed by the tendency to link Austen to Bath, Hampshire residents are quick to point Janeites toward the village of Steventon, where the writer was born and raised for 25 years. The seven-bedroom rectory she called home was demolished shortly after her family moved away but the church where her father was vicar remains and fans can follow in Austen’s footsteps with a stroll around the pretty chocolate-box village. The author (who wrote the first drafts of both Pride And Prejudice and Sense And Sensibility here) loved walking and regularly trekked three miles to nearby North Waltham to collect her post, which included early rejection letters.
A must for: Busy shoppers
Cheapside, the historic and modern financial capital of London, was the Georgian equivalent of Bond Street and, although its offices and shops today don’t evoke images of Austen toiling at her novels, it did engender a key moment in Pride And Prejudice. When Jane Bennet reveals to Mr Bingley’s sisters that her aunt and uncle live in the bustling and glamorous area, Darcy declares that, with connections to ‘trade’, the Bennet sisters cannot possibly expect to make advantageous marriages. Ouch.