In search of Mr Darcy
Lonely Planet writer, Clifton Wilkinson takes us on a journey to find Mr Darcy discovering the places Jane Austen visited and the characters from some of her novels.
Bath, more than anywhere else in England, is the place most often associated with Jane Austen. She lived in the city for five years from 1801, setting scenes from two novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) here, and providing vivid descriptions of the cultural and social life for which Georgian-era Bath was renowned. Twenty-first century visitors can search for their own Mr Darcy in the architecturally stunning city centre which has changed little since Austen’s time. Or you can pay homage to the author at the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street (on which Jane herself lived), taking tea in the Regency Tea Room and dressing up in period outfits. And to really see Bath in traditional style, you can organise a horse-drawn carriage ride through the streets.
Peak District, Derbyshire
Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s grand mansion in Pride and Prejudice, might have been a figment of Austen’s imagination, but the beautiful Peak District in which the house was located has plenty of real architectural and natural wonders that will appeal to modern-day Elizabeth Bennets. Chatsworth, one of England’s finest stately homes, is often thought of as the inspiration for Pemberley (and played the part in the 2005 film of the book), while the hills, valleys, rocky outcrops, lakes and quaint villages that constitute the Peak District National Park, England’s oldest, offer outdoor activities, wonderful pubs and more aristocratic houses to enjoy.
Austen was born and raised in the county of Hampshire, spending the last eight years of her life in the small village of Chawton. It was here, in the 17th-century house she shared with her family, that she wrote Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma. The house is now a museum (www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk) dedicated to the author, and has held a series of events to celebrate the bicentenary, including a special exhibition on the book (learn more on www.prideandprejudice200.org.uk).
Fanny Price, the leading lady in Mansfield Park, is brought up in the bustling, bawdy naval town of Portsmouth before being whisked off to the stately home of the book’s title to be improved by better-off relatives. Austen had a connection to the town herself, with two brothers, Charles and Frank, undergoing training for the Royal Navy here. Today Portsmouth’s long seafaring history can be explored at the Historic Dockyard, while the salty air and narrow, cobbled streets of The Point nearby give a feel for the town in its 19th-century heyday.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
The charming seaside town of Lyme Regis was where Austen spent two happy holidays and where she set a pivotal scene in the novel Persuasion. It’s from the Cobb (old harbour wall) that Louisa Musgrove falls and subsequently suffers concussion – an event that ultimately brings the book’s two main protagonists, Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, back together in the requisite happy ending. These days the Cobb and the town are still well worth a stroll, while for an Austen-esque cream tea the Alexandra Hotel serves up scones with a view.
Hampshire’s county town is where Austen came seeking medical help in 1817, and where she died, aged just 41, a couple of months later. Her final residence (now a private home) is on College Street, a few minutes’ walk from the city’s magnificent cathedral, where she was buried in the north aisle. Her tomb bears an inscription that makes no mention of her literary talent, but to make amends Austen’s great nephew had a plaque installed later in the nineteenth century which, along with a memorial window, can still be seen today.
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