Whenever I go to the Lake District, I can’t help wondering what Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle would have seen if they carried on with their original plan, instead of shortening the trip and going no further north than Derbyshire.
Of course, it doesn’t bear thinking that Elizabeth should have missed that fateful chance encounter at Pemberley – but what if she had?
What if she went to Lake Windermere instead, or Winander Mere, as the Georgians knew it? She might have sailed on the lake as well, although in a much smaller craft than the two modern-day steamers that are still ferrying passengers from one end of Windermere to the other, as they have done for the past 80 years.
Of the many beautiful houses on the shoreline, Elizabeth would have recognised a few – Storrs Hall for instance, which had welcomed many of the great and the good in its heyday, such as William Wordsworth, who had once recited his ode to daffodils in the Hall’s drawing room, and also Robert Southey, George Canning and Beatrix Potter.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet would have known nothing of the author of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ (Beatrix Potter was born almost half a century later) but if she sailed past Storrs House, she would have recognised the Temple of Heroes, protruding into the lake to the left of this picture. It was built to honour four of most notable naval names of the Napoleonic wars: Admirals Nelson, Duncan, Howe and St. Vincent, whom the then owner of the house greatly admired.
Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle might have sailed all the way to Ambleside, and then continued to Grasmere, where William Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage with his sister Dorothy for nearly a decade.
The intrepid explorers might have braved the long journey to Keswick, to be rewarded with astounding views of Derwent Water.
Also, they might have come across some illustrious travelling companions at the coaching inns along the way, because Greta Hall, a beautiful Georgian house on the outskirts of Keswick, was the home of the Lake Poets and thus a beacon for many literary names of the 18th-19th century.
Keswick and Ambleside are lovely and ever so picturesque, but it’s very hard to tell which buildings might have been there in the early 1800s, for Elizabeth Bennet to admire on her travels. Most of the houses seem Victorian, and no wonder, since tourism in the Lake District really took off with the advent of railways. But there are some buildings that seem to have been there since the dawn of time, like the ‘little house on the bridge’ in Ambleside, or the old inn on Kirkstone Pass, almost always shrouded in mist and battered by fierce winds.
I’d like to think that if Mr. Gardiner’s business had allowed him to take his wife and niece on a tour of the Lakes, then Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy might have met in such a remote place instead. A place where he would go seeking a respite from heartache, duties and Caroline Bingley, in a bleak wild landscape mirroring his bleak thoughts – only to discover that he was not the only guest at the inn. And this is why we love variations – the possibilities are endless. Steep slopes, runaway horses, broken carriage wheels or inclement weather that keeps them marooned there, with no chance of receiving bad news in letters from Jane, no Lydia and no horrid Wickham to wrench them apart.
We can’t have enough of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and that’s a fact. We love the romance, the angst, the roller-coaster drama. But, for me at least, the greatest attraction comes from the certainty that all will be well. Obstacles will be overcome. They will be together. A guiding red thread takes them from heartache to happiness. And, no matter how badly the story starts or indeed how much worse it gets along the way, our favourite couple will have their ‘happily-ever-after’ and all is well with the world. I guess this goes to show we’re never too old for fairytales.
Have a lovely summer, whatever you do, and I hope you enjoyed the trip to the Lakes.