I left for my trip to Derbyshire knowing that I had my scheduled post only a few days after I returned, but quite certain I would be inspired during my trip and have no difficulties in finding a topic. That was certainly true – I found several, and will be writing about them in my next few posts. But there is one thing that was most dominant in my mind as I visited a total of eight historic houses, in the course of this trip: I found my Pemberley, and it wasn’t where I was expecting it.
I’d visited Lyme Park, which starred as the exterior of the house in the 1995 miniseries, on a prior trip, and while I delighted in the grounds and did find that famous exterior to be very Pemberley-like, the interior is much more Edwardian in decor (Sudbury Hall actually served for the interiors, in the miniseries). I finally had Chatsworth on my itinerary for this trip, so it was my chance to see the house that’s both mentioned in Pride and Prejudice, and used in the 2005 film.
Before I got there, though, Kedleston Hall stole my heart, and Chatsworth did not succeed in stealing it back. Of all the houses I have visited, nothing gave me the feel of its being Pemberley nearly so much as Kedleston: it unites grounds, exterior, and interior, all in one place.
Let’s start with the grounds and the exterior. 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.
I’d say Kedleston fits this description nearly as well as any great house out there. While I’ve always imagined Pemberley as more of a square or rectangular house designed around a courtyard, a la Lyme Park or Chatsworth, this neoclassical building with its side wings is certainly handsome and symmetrical, very much fitting with what would have been considered handsome in the Georgian era.
It helped that it was a beautiful summer day, but the grounds were an absolute delight to walk, with paths leading up to and through that ridge of high woody hills. In keeping with the trends in landscaping of that time, there are no formal gardens, just these lovely, artfully designed grounds. It felt like a place Elizabeth Bennet (and eventually Darcy) would have very much enjoyed walking. I could picture her lying down on the same fallen tree limb I did, and reading a book for an hour or two, as I was very tempted to do!
It’s in the fairly restrained Robert Adam interior, though, that it comes through where houses like Lyme Park and Chatsworth do not. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
The portion of Kedleston Hall that you tour is its state rooms, although presumably this is what Elizabeth would have seen of Pemberley, as well, and these rooms include a music room, library, and saloon (which was later used as a ballroom). Only the library and dining room were said to get regular use, but all of these rooms felt reasonably livable, like spaces that were grand, but you could still see Elizabeth feeling comfortable within. Adam’s work can get rather colorful and slightly heavier in feel in other houses, but here, for the most part (the drawing room, heavier in gilt and color being perhaps the exception), there is a real lightness and elegance, even in the spaces designed to impress, like the entrance hall:
And while there was no long gallery (I like to think it was upstairs and just not part of the tour!), the saloon did align with one other detail that delighted me. On reaching the house, they were shewn through the hall into the saloon, whose northern aspect rendered it delightful for summer. Its windows, opening to the ground, admitted a most refreshing view of the high woody hills behind the house, and of the beautiful oaks and Spanish chesnuts which were scattered over the intermediate lawn.
Chatsworth, on the other hand, was incredibly impressive, but it just didn’t feel right. It is a show home, for a dukedom, and it was too opulent, too heavy, and most importantly, too baroque. The baroque style fell out of fashion in England well before Austen’s time, as it was felt to be too European. In its place came the neoclassical style we know today as Georgian, done to great impact by those like Adam, extending to both the architecture of the house, and the interior decoration (architects like Adam would have their hands in both). One of the most noticeable ways to see the difference between the two in these two houses, and the progression of English style, is to look at ceilings:
Let’s return to that sentence I quoted earlier: it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings. That, to me, seems to indicate Rosings is in the baroque style, a style I think would be very counter to Elizabeth’s personality. A dark, heavily painted and guilded home is not the place for our sparkling, teasing heroine, and I do not think it’s a place she would have admired.
Chatsworth certainly does better from an exterior standpoint, but I would argue it’s no better than Kedleston.
And the grounds, at least in our modern day, have been positively filled with stuff and things – various gardens, sculptures, fountains, you name it. Some of them are quite beautiful and famous in their own right, and Capability Brown, the most famous landscape artist of the Georgian era, did some of the grounds you can see today. But even some of the most famous features have been oddly interrupted with modern art, like what’s been done to the famous cascade fountain:
I am all for art, and sometimes the modern and the old can be blended together well. But that was not what was happening at Chatsworth. Kedleston is a National Trust property, and while the NT has, perhaps rightfully, garnered a reputation for being overly fussy about historical accuracy, if fussiness helps prevent things like the above from happening, I’m all for it.
Chatsworth is an impressive house, and I’m glad I saw it, but it just wasn’t anywhere near Pemberley for me. Which got me thinking about whether it was the inspiration for Pemberley, and whether perhaps Austen may also have visited Kedleston. There’s ample evidence that Jane Austen would have visited Chatsworth; she visited Bakewell in 1811, and stayed at the Rutland Arms Hotel, just three miles away. The hotel seems quite confident that Chatsworth has inspired Pemberley, as evidenced by this sign in the lobby:
This conveniently ignores that Bakewell and Lambton are indicated to be two separate places, in the book, among other things. As for Kedleston, I did some very preliminary googling on the house, which is further south, closer to Derby, and found nothing on Austen visiting, but did find this blog post noting Kedleston’s Mrs. Reynolds-esque elderly housekeeper, whose portrait still hangs in the house. I suspect that no one house was specifically Pemberley, for Austen, and that she used that incredible imagination of hers to piece together bits of perhaps Chatsworth, very likely Godmersham, and just maybe a good bit of Kedleston.
In the end I decided I didn’t need to keep digging on Austen’s inspiration. For me, it’s all about what house has the most surviving Pemberley-ish features that you can see today. And that is Kedleston, hands down, of all of the houses I’ve visited. When I left there, I felt, more than I ever have, and possibly more than I ever will again, that I had just visited Pemberley. For those looking to do an Austenesque visit to Derbyshire, you’ll be missing out if you don’t include it in your itinerary.