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.
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.
- You and Yesterday provides more information about Kedleston Hall
- Here’s a clip of Elizabeth’s Encounter With Mr. Darcy at Pemberley in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice