Imagining Longbourn

Imagining Longbourn

In the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries, Longbourn is shown as a pretty stock Georgian house. Its interiors are 1760s-1790s-ish, its exterior symmetrical, if quite plain. It feels right, for the home of a family with an income of two thousand a year.

In the 2005 movie, Longbourn looks reasonably right enough on the exterior, although it is strangely portrayed as being in the midst of a farmyard. Inside, however, it looks as though someone whose favorite decorating style is shabby chic has been allowed to run amok with chalk paint.

With those two examples before me, I had always preferred the 1995 house, but in the course of my last trip to England, I began musing over whether Longbourn was really a Georgian house. What started this was the library at the Jacobean Ham House, While the remainder of the house was too large and too grand to be Longbourn, its library felt exactly right, and the darker feel of the house was also beginning to feel more right.

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The long gallery at Ham House

After all, why should we presume the Bennets had the money to do extensive redecorating? The decor we see in the 1995 P&P would have had to be done in the era of Mr. Bennet or his father. Now, perhaps Mrs. Bennet did redecorate and spent money that should have been set aside for the daughters, as this seems a very Mrs. Bennet thing to do. But I believe it is also possible that she was only able to do a few of the most important rooms in the house, and this is what I saw at Eyam Hall, where my theory really took shape.

The houses that tend to have been preserved are usually so because they are exceedingly grand, because they have important art collections, or because famous people lived in them; sometimes, all of the above. That means that while there are plenty of opportunities to visit Pemberley-like houses, there aren’t very many that feel more like Longbourn in their scale. The hall, however, is but a side attraction for Eyam (rhymes with dream), the village that quarantined itself during a 1665 outbreak of the plague. It serves as a sort of base for the National Trust, which does excellent walking tours of the village, and in my case was the perfect thing to do when the day’s drizzle grew worse.

Eyam Hall
Eyam Hall

In the same way I had when I went through Kedleston Hall, which very much felt like Pemberley to me, I found myself feeling very much that I was in Longbourn as I went through Eyam Hall, built in 1671, after the plague. There were timber beams visible in the ceiling, dark paneling in many of the rooms, and more dark woodwork to be seen elsewhere.

Looking into the library, and a bedroom
Looking into the library, and a bedroom
Dark, slightly leaning staircase
Dark, slightly leaning staircase
Surely Elizabeth curled up with a book here on a rainy day
Surely Elizabeth curled up with a book here on a similarly rainy day

It was a place that would have felt old-fashioned, to the characters who had known more “modern” houses. Surely the Bingley sisters would have sneered over the woodwork and the non-sash windows, just as they sneered over the Bennet sisters’ more provincial dress. And even though Mrs. Bennet had been allowed to update the dining-room, the telltale wooden beams above would have been a far cry from the tall, intricate plaster ceilings Mr. Darcy had at Pemberley.

Dining-room
Mrs. Bennet did what she could for the dining-room

That is not to say that Pemberley did not have “bones” as old as Longbourn. It was very common that new facades were put on older Elizabethan buildings and the interiors entirely updated – Chatsworth and Osterley Park being two examples. These houses still retain some of their old footprint, but they look decidedly different.

Queen Elizabeth would have been in this Long Gallery during her visit to Osterley, but it did not look like this at the time!
Queen Elizabeth would have been in this Long Gallery during her visit to Osterley, but it did not look like this at the time!

Imagining Longbourn as a Jacobean manor house, with only marginal updates to the decor, also begins to clarify something that had always perplexed me a little about Longbourn, and that is that Austen twice references Longbourn village:

They returned therefore in good spirits to Longbourn, the village where they lived, and of which they were the principal inhabitants.

 

The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for the young ladies, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their aunt and to a milliner’s shop just over the way.

Again, because most of the surviving examples tend to be the most grand, we are accustomed to thinking of these old houses as situated within vast grounds, artfully landscaped by someone like “Capability” Brown. But here Longbourn is said to be a village. We get no further clues in its name, unlike Netherfield Park, which must clearly be located within a park of enough substance to have merited the name. And we do get a clue from Lady Catherine:

“You have a very small park here,” returned Lady Catherine after a short silence.
“It is nothing in comparison of Rosings, my lady, I dare say; but I assure you it is much larger than Sir William Lucas’s.”

If there is one common theme in the evolution of English architecture from medieval times, it is an increase in privacy. In a medieval house, the lord and lady slept in the same room as many of their servants. Over time, the lord and lady began to get their rooms to themselves, servants moved to sleep elsewhere, and eventually separate staircases began to be incorporated so that servants could come and go as unobtrusively as possible.

The same evolution can be seen in the placement of houses. The tale that is not always immediately apparent, when you look at some of these artfully landscaped grounds, is that often whole villages were moved to improve the vista, and presumably to increase privacy. Occasionally you can see vestiges of this, such as at Kedleston, where the rest of the village has been moved, but the old church remains tucked away behind the house.

All Saints Church, quietly hidden behind Kedleston Hall
All Saints Church, quietly hidden behind Kedleston Hall

Eyam Hall certainly shows this proximity to the village, and at Tissington I found an even more dramatic example of the old fashion. Tissington Hall, a large Jacobean manor house, sits in the midst of its village, and many of the inhabitants are still tenants farming the Tissington estate.

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Tissington Hall

Unfortunately the house was not open for visitors when I came through Tissington, so I don’t have any interior pictures. But this is now how I envision Longbourn’s situation (although I think the house would be nearer Eyam Hall in size), sitting amidst a small village mostly comprised of tenants of the estate, their farms radiating out in different directions.

What do you think? Was Longbourn an older Jacobean house? Was it situated like Eyam and Tissington Halls?

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27 Responses to Imagining Longbourn

  1. I think that’s where I can’t get behind it — to me, there was never that much grandeur to fade. I do like that pin’s point about the casualness of the Bennet household vs. Netherfield. That resonates with me. If you look at chairs in these old houses that still have the original chair upholstery, you can see where the seats are worn but the backs are often pristine. People sat so upright their backs never touched the chair backs!

    But back to the pin photos, where it loses me is in looking at the walls, where there are three different colors that have been painted and then shabby chiced. There never would have been three colors on the wall the way they’re painted to get shabbified. So I get and even agree with some aspects of the intent, but it fails in the execution for me.

  2. Thanks for sharing that article, Amanda! It was interesting to read their rationale for why they did what they did. I think my objection to the rationale is that they’re trying to portray the Bennets as down at the heels, when really they’re just in a different tier of society than Bingley or Darcy. The estate earns 2,000 a year — it hasn’t likely earned significantly more or less over time. The house is referenced as having a butler in the book, so they were certainly still able to afford servants that families with lower income would not have been able to afford, so in the era of cheap labor, I think they would have had no difficulty with basic maintenance. I just don’t think they would have had the funds for significant redesign.

    • I do agree slightly about them portraying them as slightly worse than they were with their choice in location with Longbourn but I am going to nitpick a little and point out they did say faded grandeur so that’s not completely in disrepair. I do have one more thing regarding the difference in the atmosphere of Longbourn and Netherfield. The link to the pin that shows it and describes it is http://pin.it/ET9oyNy

  3. I think of the 2005 house, which I found out is called Groombridge Place, when I think of Longbourn. Part of it all is because of watching the ’05 movie with commentary, some of the special features and surprisingly pinterest which has helped me understand why and all the thought Joe Wright put into every little detail and it makes sense to me.
    I found this article http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/property/3344239/A-house-in-want-of-a-fortune.html written just before or after the movie that goes through the reasoning and what they all did. It’s pretty interesting.

  4. Doesn’t Jane Austen say something in P&P about how long there have been Bennets at Longbourn (or something like that)? Or perhaps it was how many generations. That could give an idea of the age of the house.

  5. Hi Sophie,

    I honestly don’t know enough to answer the questions you posed, but I love your post. Thank you so much for the insights and the images. They can’t help but inspire and add to our work.

    Summer

  6. Thank you so much for including these wonderful pictures! It helps so much to be able to visualize the kinds of places our characters would have lived in!

  7. That must have been a most enjoyable tour, Sophie, and I greatly appreciate your sharing it with us. The window seat looks very much like the one in Hunsford cottage in the 2005 P&P version. (Which, BTW, I have read that its producers have noted that it is set in the late 1700s, when JA wrote First Impressions, rather than the early 19th century of the 1995, or even the 1980, versions. Perhaps that accounts for the house being in a farm-like setting, which I have observed is not uncommon still in Eastern Europe.) Re dating the architecture, Longbourn would have been in the Bennet family at least one generation, and likely more, before the “current” Mr Bennet took possession, altho’ it does not look Jacobean. Both Longbourn and Netherfield appear to be Georgian (in P&P1995 and 1980) and Pemberley more likely Elizabethan. I got the impression that both the church and Lucas Lodge were both within short walking distances from Longbourn, whereas Meryton would have been further, perhaps a half-mile to a mile. Just IMNSHO. (BTW2, recently I believe it was Maria Grace who posted on FB that by today’s calculation, Darcy would have had an income of 18.5 million pounds a year, and extrapolated that would make the Bennets’ income about 3.5 million pounds a year! Certainly something to consider … and if I am mistaken in who posted this, I do apologize.)

    • It definitely was, and it becomes all the more enjoyable when I get to share it with others!

      And yes, when I reread to check up on some of the Longbourn things I think your assessment of the placements are correct, that Meryton was about a mile away but the church and Lucas Lodge closer. I guess Lucas Lodge might have been considered part of Longbourn village. Makes me wonder who the church living belonged to. Perhaps the absentee landlord of Netherfield Park?

      Wow, 18.5 million pounds! The estimate I saw was 796,000 pounds a year for Darcy, which feels more right to me. He’s rich but he’s not super rich. That would put the Bennets at 159,200, which also feels more right…a good income but not so much when spread amongst 5 daughters. But it’s tough to accurately assess these things these days because the income gap was so huge when you consider the lower classes. If Elizabeth didn’t marry she would have 50 pounds a year, which sounds like not a lot, but a nursery-maid made 7 pounds a year! Granted, the maid didn’t have to pay for lodging, but still.

  8. Thanks for an interesting and thoughtful post, Sophie. I’ve always disliked the way Longbourn was portrayed in the 2005 version of P&P. Showing the Bennets living amid mud and farm animals seemed to me to be at direct odds with the way Jane Austen described the family; but your post about whether they would have lived in a Georgian-era house got me to thinking. I liked your interior photos of Eyam Hall; the photo of the staircase reminded me of the narrow short staircase in the 1995 P&P version (although the Eyam Hall staircase is more elaborately adorned). I think the Bennets would have been right at home at Eyam Hall!

    • You’re welcome, and I agree — Eyam Hall just felt so right for them! And yes, the 2005 farmyard interpretation I always found so weird. It puts them several tiers below where they would have been in society. Like, I’ve seen restoration shows where they have the homes of prosperous farmers, and they’re far nicer than you would expect. And the Bennets would have been well above a gentleman farmer’s income. That’s not to say there couldn’t have been a home farm as part of the estate, but not so close that there were pigs running through the house!

  9. What a fascinating post, Sophie, and such lovely photos too. Like Glynis, I’d never really considered the topic during any of the many viewings I’ve made of any of the dramatisations of P&P, including the 1980 version. Admittedly, in the latter I think it was only external views of real houses – the interiors were all studios. It’d be interesting to know more of the comparative histories of the 1995 and 2005 houses and their families and also how much of the interior is due to set dressing by the production companies.

    • Thanks! I read the making of for the 1995 miniseries and I think I recall the house needed relatively minimal set dressing, although I’m sure furniture and whatnot was brought in and they had to cover up light switches and things like that. And that house was accurate for the time period…I’ve just wondered whether an older house was more likely. As for 2005, I’m not so sure.

  10. I would pick Eyam Hall myself (I just love the window seat) I have seen that myself and really liked it. I haven’t seen Tissington but from the picture it doesn’t seem right for the Bennet family. I agree about the houses in the two versions of P&P now you mention it. I had never really considered it before in all the million and one times I have watched them both. Thanks for this lovely post.

    • You’re welcome! I hadn’t considered it either, until these houses got me thinking about it. I agree Tissington doesn’t feel right for the Bennets, but I wanted to include it because it’s such a large house to be included in a village, and that fascinated me.

Your thoughts are precious!