Visiting Mr. Darcy’s Mansion

Chatsworth House

Well, not exactly, though it’s said that Jane Austen may have “based her idea of Pemberley on Chatsworth House”:

The eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of the valley into which the road into some abruptness wound.

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. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. [citation]

I’ll confess to more than a little ambivalence about great country estates, but even before I knew about the Austen connection a visit to Chatsworth seemed somehow de rigueur.

I suspect it looked a little different than it had in Jane Austen’s time. For one, as we approached, Dodson & Horrell Horse Feed Specialists lawn banners—an advance guard for the upcoming Chatsworth International Horse Trials—blazed a trail to the House. On arrival, a huge banner of the current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire proclaimed delight at our impending visit.

The House itself was given over to “Chatsworth House Style,” “an exhibition exploring fashion and adornment.” As two whose shopping for clothing is limited to ordering from Lands End and an occasional excursion out for “sensible shoes,” this wasn’t exactly up our alley. Nevertheless, we persisted.

Tintoretto, Samson and Delilah (detail)

Almost immediately on entering the house, I came face-to-face with a huge painting that seemed somehow familiar. The obliging staff person explained, “Oh, that’s a Tintoretto.” (Samson and Delilah, to be exact.)

Turns out,

Chatsworth contains works of art that span 4,000 years, from ancient Roman and Egyptian sculpture, and masterpieces by Rembrandt, Reynolds and Veronese, to work by outstanding modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal and David Nash. [citation]

tapestry detail

This sort of thing happened everywhere one looked, which often meant craning one’s neck to see what was hidden behind the fashion displays, including a John Singer Sargent portrait (here’s a link to another Singer Sargent in the House) and tapestries from the “workshop of Mortlake in London [that] show events from the life of Christ taken from cartoons by the Renaissance master, Raphael.”

perhaps the world’s most expensive shepherdess outfit

Notwithstanding periodic churlish musings about the effects on the psyche of living in such opulence, I enjoyed chatting with the staff, who were welcoming and helpful. There was, for example, a painting I found striking, about which it seems no one had previously inquired. Without missing a beat, an intrepid staff member retrieved a loose-leaf binder and advised that the painting was by Gerard van Edema (17th C), with the highly descriptive title, “A Village in Winter in an Extensive Landscape with Figures on the Ice.”

The Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 16, reported that, after arriving in England at age eighteen, van Edema traveled widely “ to collect subjects for his pictures.”

These travels he extended to Surinam in Dutch Guiana, the West Indies, the English colonies in America, and Newfoundland. He returned to London with a great number of paintings representing the novel and unknown scenery which he had visited, and their strange and awe-inspiring character earned him the name of ‘the Salvator Rosa of the North.’ [citation]

van Edema (detail)

The truth of his travels, however, is open to question, to say the least:

He is supposed to have left Amsterdam in c.1670 for London where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. He died at Richmond. Reports about further travels overseas are not supported by any evidence. [citation]

With regard to the cause of death, the Dictionary of National Biography continues: “his prosperity led him into luxurious habits and to an inordinate love of the bottle, which caused his death at Richmond about 1700.” [citation]

Wherever the truth may lie, I liked the painting. Without any easily retrievable rational basis, it put me in mind of the paintings of Charles Burchfield.

hand-painted Chinese wallpaper detail

I’ll give Jane Austen the final word:

“My love, should not you like to see a place of which you have heard so much?” said her aunt; “A place, too, with which so many of your acquaintance are connected. Wickham passed all his youth there, you know.”

Elizabeth was distressed. She felt that she had no business at Pemberley, and was obliged to assume a disinclination for seeing it. She must own that she was tired of great houses; after going over so many, she really had no pleasure in fine carpets or satin curtains.

Mrs. Gardiner abused her stupidity. “If it were merely a fine house richly furnished,” said she, “I should not care about it myself; but the grounds are delightful. They have some of the finest woods in the country.”

Elizabeth said no more — but her mind could not acquiesce. The possibility of meeting Mr. Darcy, while viewing the place, instantly occurred. It would be dreadful! She blushed at the very idea, and thought it would be better to speak openly to her aunt than to run such a risk. But against this there were objections; and she finally resolved that it could be the last resource, if her private enquiries as to the absence of the family were unfavourably answered.

Accordingly, when she retired at night, she asked the chambermaid whether Pemberley were not a very fine place, what was the name of its proprietor, and, with no little alarm, whether the family were down for the summer. A most welcome negative followed the last question — and her alarms being now removed, she was at leisure to feel a great deal of curiosity to see the house herself; and when the subject was revived the next morning, and she was again applied to, could readily answer, and with a proper air of indifference, that she had not really any dislike to the scheme. — To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go. [citation]

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Listening List

 Johann Baptist Cramer: Studio per il pianoforte, Books 1-4 (1804/1810)

“Johann Baptist Cramer (1771-1858) is the only real composer whose name is mentioned in any of Jane Austen’s novels.” [citation] It’s said that “Beethoven held Cramer’s collection of studies in high esteem and considered them the best preparatory school for his own works.” [citation] Indeed, Beethoven annotated 21 of the studies for teaching his nephew Karl. The annotations, in German and English, may be found starting on p. 140 here.


Credits: The sources for quotations may be found at the links in the text. As always on the blog unless indicated otherwise, the photographs are mine.

10 thoughts on “Visiting Mr. Darcy’s Mansion

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Laurent: I’m pleased you liked this painting, too. I’m really not sure why it struck me as much as it did. I did enjoy the scene he chose to paint, for one, and also it seemed more recent in sensibility than 17th C, which made it stand out in its surroundings.

  1. Brigitta “Britta” Huegel

    Wow, thank you for that, Sue!
    When have you been there – and if the answer is “Recently” I will ask you: Have you seen a silver Corvette, a tall good-looking young man, and a sweet slender woman with long shiny hair? Yes: Alina and Lennart were just over there!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Britta: the answer is indeed recently, so we could well have passed Alina and Lennart on the road! Did they visit Chatsworth, and if so what did they think? (Upcoming, by the way, will be a post of the gardens at Chatsworth, so stay tuned!)

  2. hilarymb

    Hi Susan – wonderful post … and being able to see a microcosm of Chatsworth through your eyes and through Jane’s. I must visit … and now will look with different eyes … the van Edema is a delightful painting, and I could see why you mention Charles Burchfield – neither of whom I had heard of … but have checked them out. Certainly a place to visit often if one can …

    The Chinese wallpaper must be a joy to behold, while I’d love to see the tapestries and learn more … then the gardens must be magnificent too …

    Thank you so much for this – fascinating to read … cheers Hilary

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Hilary: so pleased you enjoyed the post. I think you would enjoy visiting, and would come away with interesting tales to tell, as you always do.

  3. shoreacres

    When I read this last night, I felt slightly discomfited. I had no idea why that should be, but I put off commenting. Very early this morning, it came to me. I woke up thinking of a recently-read article which contained a transcription of a speech by Philippe de Montebello, Director Emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum. His words resonated mightily, and I think point directly to certain of your experiences at Chatsworth House.

    I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the article, and I suspect you’ll probably find a quotation or two in one of my future posts. As in museums, so in nature — at least, from time to time.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: After writing in response to your other comments here, I realized I’d missed out on responding to this one. What, I said to myself, happened to shoreacres’ comment with the Montebello link? That essay was fascinating on many levels, and the worst of what he comments about was definitely present in aspects of Chatsworth’s current display. They’ve got to draw folks in, I suppose, and particularly those who are local will have seen what I’ve but one chance to see, so there is some justification.

      There are, of course, some art-associated events that offer brilliant resonances with their surroundings. One that comes to mind for me was the chance to see/hear two short operas, one by Monteverdi, one by Lembit Beecher, in rooms at the Met Museum: But it must be done wisely, there is no question of that.

      The other thing, and far more commonplace, that creates a problem when contemplating art: there is often nowhere to sit. I remember how much I enjoyed sitting in a room full of Picasso sculptures recently, as if I’d entered their habitat and become part of it. I realized I’d had that experience only rarely, and the lack of anywhere to sit, however mundane, had something to do with it.

  4. David N

    In my mind I always think of the houses in Jane Austen as less grand than Chatsworth. Mind you, Montacute House looked spectacular in what will always be the best of the adaptations, Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. Have wanted to go there ever since and not managed it yet.

  5. Susan Scheid Post author

    David: I read somewhere that Chatsworth has 175 rooms (but perhaps I’m making that up). I see, however, on just looking this up elsewhere, that Wentworth Woodhouse, also claimed as a model for Pemberley, is the largest private house in England with 300 rooms, so Chatsworth pales in comparison. I remember enjoying the Ang Lee movie very much. May be time to revisit it, this time keeping a look out for Montacute House.

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