Visiting Mr. Darcy’s Mansion cover

Visiting Mr. Darcy’s Mansion


Well, not exactly, though it’s said that Jane Austen may have “based her idea of Pemberley on Chatsworth House”. I’ll confess to more than a little ambivalence about great country estates, but even before I knew about the Austen connection a visit to Chatsworth seemed somehow de rigueur.
Credits: The sources for quotations may be found at the links in the text. As always on the blog unless indicated otherwise, the photographs are mine.
Prufrock's Dilemma
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Visiting Mr. Darcy’s Mansion

Well, not exactly, though it’s said that Jane Austen may have “based her idea of Pemberley on Chatsworth House”:

The eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of the valley into which the road into 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. [citation]

I’ll confess to more than a little ambivalence about great country estates, but even before I knew about the Austen connection a visit to Chatsworth seemed somehow de rigueur.

I suspect it looked a little different than it had in Jane Austen’s time. For one, as we approached, Dodson & Horrell Horse Feed Specialists lawn banners—an advance guard for the upcoming Chatsworth International Horse Trials—blazed a trail to the House. On arrival, a huge banner of the current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire proclaimed delight at our impending visit.

The House itself was given over to “Chatsworth House Style,” “an exhibition exploring fashion and adornment.” As two whose shopping for clothing is limited to ordering from Lands End and an occasional excursion out for “sensible shoes,” this wasn’t exactly up our alley. Nevertheless, we persisted.

Image courtesy Wikimedia

Almost immediately on entering the house, I came face-to-face with a huge painting that seemed somehow familiar. The obliging staff person explained, “Oh, that’s a Tintoretto.” (Samson and Delilah, to be exact.)

Turns out, Chatsworth contains works of art that span 4,000 years, from ancient Roman and Egyptian sculpture, and masterpieces by Rembrandt, Reynolds and Veronese, to work by outstanding modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal and David Nash. [citation]

This sort of thing happened everywhere one looked, which often meant craning one’s neck to see what was hidden behind the fashion displays, including a John Singer Sargent portrait (here’s a link to another Singer Sargent in the House) and tapestries from the “workshop of Mortlake in London [that] show events from the life of Christ taken from cartoons by the Renaissance master, Raphael.”

Notwithstanding periodic churlish musings about the effects on the psyche of living in such opulence, I enjoyed chatting with the staff, who were welcoming and helpful. There was, for example, a painting I found striking, about which it seems no one had previously inquired. Without missing a beat, an intrepid staff member retrieved a loose-leaf binder and advised that the painting was by Gerard van Edema (17th C), with the highly descriptive title, “A Village in Winter in an Extensive Landscape with Figures on the Ice.”

The Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 16, reported that, after arriving in England at age eighteen, van Edema traveled widely “ to collect subjects for his pictures.”

These travels he extended to Surinam in Dutch Guiana, the West Indies, the English colonies in America, and Newfoundland. He returned to London with a great number of paintings representing the novel and unknown scenery which he had visited, and their strange and awe-inspiring character earned him the name of ‘the Salvator Rosa of the North.’ [citation]

The truth of his travels, however, is open to question, to say the least:

He is supposed to have left Amsterdam in c.1670 for London where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. He died at Richmond. Reports about further travels overseas are not supported by any evidence. [citation]

With regard to the cause of death, the Dictionary of National Biography continues: “his prosperity led him into luxurious habits and to an inordinate love of the bottle, which caused his death at Richmond about 1700.” [citation]

Wherever the truth may lie, I liked the painting. Without any easily retrievable rational basis, it put me in mind of the paintings of Charles Burchfield.

hand-painted Chinese wallpaper detail

I’ll give Jane Austen the final word:

“My love, should not you like to see a place of which you have heard so much?” said her aunt; “A place, too, with which so many of your acquaintance are connected. Wickham passed all his youth there, you know.”

Elizabeth was distressed. She felt that she had no business at Pemberley, and was obliged to assume a disinclination for seeing it. She must own that she was tired of great houses; after going over so many, she really had no pleasure in fine carpets or satin curtains.

Mrs. Gardiner abused her stupidity. “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.”

Elizabeth said no more — but her mind could not acquiesce. The possibility of meeting Mr. Darcy, while viewing the place, instantly occurred. It would be dreadful! She blushed at the very idea, and thought it would be better to speak openly to her aunt than to run such a risk. But against this there were objections; and she finally resolved that it could be the last resource, if her private enquiries as to the absence of the family were unfavourably answered.

Accordingly, when she retired at night, she asked the chambermaid whether Pemberley were not a very fine place, what was the name of its proprietor, and, with no little alarm, whether the family were down for the summer. A most welcome negative followed the last question — and her alarms being now removed, she was at leisure to feel a great deal of curiosity to see the house herself; and when the subject was revived the next morning, and she was again applied to, could readily answer, and with a proper air of indifference, that she had not really any dislike to the scheme. — To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 42