Over hill, over dales, a great location never fails

I think it is interesting to look at not just the stories by Jane Austen, but the backdrop of where the stories take place.  Location is vital to bring the story together.  Not only does it make all the difference in the world to some stories (can’t tell a story about a romance at sea, set in London), but how does the location define the characters?

Take for instance, our beloved Elizabeth Bennet.  What would the story be like if Elizabeth Bennet had been born in the city, how would her great passion for walking in the countryside have been accomplished?  That is one of the strong characteristics of Elizabeth, what would she be like if that fact was changed?

What of Pemberley? Would Mr Darcy have been a different person if his estate had been located in Kent?  Does the ruggedness and harsher weather help to build Darcy into the man he turned to be?  If he lived in a milder weather climate, in tamed landscape, would he be different?

What about Persuasion?  Would Wentworth have found the courage to approach Anne Elliot the second time, had she and her family remained at their estate?  Or did the meeting in Bath, near the ocean, give him the strength to speak from the heart?

How about Emma?  If she had been brought up closer to a city, rather than a relatively isolated community, how would she have behaved? Where she lived, she was thought of as one of the cream of society.  Did that allow her to feel she could make decisions for the lives of others?

Would Fanny Price been different if she had remained living by the sea, rather than moving to the estate at such a young age?  If she had remained at her family residence, in poverty, would she have been eager to marry, eager enough to have accepted the hand of Henry Crawford?

When looking at writing a story, vital clues to a person’s makeup come from their environment.  The whole Nature vs Nurture debate.  But it can make a difference in your characters.

To me, Fitzwilliam Darcy is like his estate, rugged, partially tamed, and a little rough around the edges.  He is strong, possibly from enduring Derbyshire cold winters and surviving at such an estate.  And his beloved Elizabeth, in my opinion, grows in strength from visiting his home.  Her words declaring she loved him from first laying eyes on his estate can come to new meaning if you look at the estate and the surrounding neighborhood.  Could she feel the type of man he was to be similar to his estate?  Could she sense that his exterior covered the natural beauty beneath the surface, just as the ruggedness of the land did?  Seeing how he had lived all of his life, did it give her the courage to understand him better?  Pemberley was quality, but not ostentatious or gaudy.

While we are discussing Elizabeth, did the simpler life of the small country estate in Hertfordshire give the young lady freedom which allowed her to speak as she had with Darcy, when he was at Netherfield?  She had the freedom to walk amongst nature, which was not as harsh, from what was described, doing as she pleased.  The Bennet family was one of the highest ranked in the neighborhood, giving her family position in their neighborhood.  She was comfortable in the nature, both at her father’s estate and at Kent, which was a milder environment than Derbyshire.  Did that make Elizabeth bolder than she would have been, say growing up in the city or in a harsher environment in the North?

When you look at Persuasion, when we first see the good Captain and Anne meet at the estate of Anne’s brother in law’s family.  To me, he lacked the courage to speak with her, was still intimidated by her world, a world where he had been told, by Lady Russell, that he did not fit in.  When they are together in Bath, he became more daring, more willing to speak with Anne, make his desire known to Anne, despite Lady Russell being in Bath.  Did he find the courage because he was near the water, where he was the captain of his ship?

The location can also ruin a character.  In Mansfield Park, we see several characters who allow their surroundings to influence their decisions.  Perhaps the easy going nature of the estate lulled those such as Maria Rushworth into craving more excitement, which she found in the arms of her lover, and for Henry Crawford to believe he can get whatever he wanted, first from Maria, then Fanny, returning to Maria when his attempts to marry Fanny fail.  Had they been in an environment, such as the city, where there were more men to choose from, would Maria have married Mr Rushworth, or would she have waited for someone more suited to her wants?

So, what do you think?  Does the setting for a story make a big difference on how the characters behave?

15 Responses to Over hill, over dales, a great location never fails

  1. Thanks for this great post, Melanie. I’ve never thought of it, but it makes so much sense! I loved your thoughts on how characters might have been influenced and shaped by their natural environment, I found what you said about Darcy especially moving, and Anne Elliot too. Wonderful!

  2. I never thought of how the characters were influenced by their environment before. What you have said makes a lot of sense. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts on ODC as well as Anne and Wentworth. I totally agree with you that in a different environment they would be different people.

  3. Great post, Melanie! Location is huge. It absolutely affects characters, feelings, mindsets, you name it. I often think the place, especially when it’s a house or estate/farm, is like another character in the story.

  4. Well stated. I know I grew up in an isolated country home and when I went to school had a painful time adjusting to even talking with others. I was extremely introverted. And I know that growing up from a poor or blue collar family can make you aware of class differences – YES, even in modern days. Kids razz others for not having the right clothes. One reason I am all for school uniforms. But that will never happen. You are judged by the house you live in, the jobs your parents hold, etc. Education is a big factor – Elizabeth’s love of reading and even discussing such was fostered by her father. Imagine if her father’s interests did not include reading. Would Elizabeth have used her pin money to frequent the book store? So locations do make a difference but so do other things.

    • I grew up in a small farming town in central Illinois, so can relate. The farm kids would have certain types of cars, setting them apart from town kids. I was never into styles, and, I know most won’t believe this, I am introverted. What would I be if I had grown up as the daughter of an office manager in a big city? My dad did plumbing, heating, air conditioning, electrical, wood working, and made jewelry. Inherited my creative tendency from both my parents.

  5. You bring up some great points Melanie. I do agree that the landscape sets the mood and I love that Darcy seems as strong and rugged as the estate of Pemberley. Elizabeth in the city/town? I cannot even imagine her with her walking boots on! Thanks for something new to consider. 🙂

  6. Thanks Melanie.When I think of location I cannot help but relate to all of the visuals that are available to us today with endless resources over the web. Plus I love it when JAFF folks travel to the UK and post their pictures for us to enjoy and imagine where our favorite characters have been. Needless to say, I am a great virtual traveler. Now about Lizzy in the country. Interestingly, whenever I take a walk I think of EB walking three miles to Netherfield and thinking nothing of it. Yikes, am I out of shape! ~ Jen

  7. yes I totally agree that Elizabeth would have been a different character had she not had the freedom of her life at Longbourn. As it was she was the perfect wife for Darcy who loved his life in Derbyshire much more than life in town. I had never thought about their backgrounds so much and it is really interesting to think about that. Thank you for the article.

    • Thank you. We are just like the characters, and where we have lived makes impressions on our lives. Though I have lived over half my life in Salt Lake City, it still has a small town atmosphere, which is what I am use to from my youth, living in a town with about 1,000 people in it, in farmlands of Illinois. I don’t think I could live somewhere like NYC, Chicago, or LA, far too big for me.

Your thoughts are precious!