Jane Austen: A Grand Tour of Pemberley

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Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen, edited by Gabrielle Malcolm, published by Intellect Books, 2015

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley pointedly informs his sister, Caroline: ‘I should think it more possible to get Pemberley by purchase than by imitation’. Unfortunately, for film and television productions, due to the locational unavailability of a fictional residence that has no absolute correlative in reality, all visual adaptations of Jane Austen’s novel are forced to side with Caroline, and ‘take Pemberley for a kind of model’, using a patchwork of English estates as stand-ins for Mr. Darcy’s family residence.

This chapter will look at some of the greater and lesser-known shooting locations in recent productions featuring the inimitable Pemberley. However, instead of analysing how the productions were made and what they signify on the screen, the intention here is to examine through a series of interviews and marketing materials how the ‘replacement’ heritage sites have responded to the Austen Tourist in recent years.

For every flamboyant fan in love with Colin Firth, such as those that tumble out of Deborah Yaffe’s book, Among the Janeites (2013), who gets engaged in the grounds of Chatsworth in Regency attire, or may feature in any number of BBC documentaries about ‘Having a Ball’ as one of Austen’s ‘Many Lovers’, there are also ‘devotees’ such as those found in the Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom (JASUK). JASUK’s regional branches often go on group outings, usually to an estate, with members that have no interest whatsoever in the multitude of adaptations or in dressing up in costume for the occasion.

According to the Chairman of the Northern Branch of JASUK, Marilyn Joice, in her experience, people who have only watched the recent productions prefer to go to the locations where they were shot, but none of those fans are seeking locations from before the 1980 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice adapted by Fay Weldon. However, aside from the social aspect of visiting local estates (several of which feature in this chapter), Joice explains that

Apart from Jane Austen’s novels, we’re also interested in her life and her times. And so, to be in an environment that she would have been in, or known; to be surrounded by the sort of art work or furniture and so on that she would have used and seen; it just informs you a little bit more when you are reading the novels.

Whether it is through delivering an educational talk in a rear barn, or organizing Mr. Darcy wet t-shirt competitions on the front lawn, appreciators of Pride and Prejudice are not entirely uniform, nor are they mutually exclusive in their cultural tastes. This is why the multitude of Pemberleys are so fascinating and relevant for Austen fandom. They are functioning heritages sites where visitors with different dispositions and tastes descend en-mass. Yet, the estates have to walk a fine line, from catering for the various tourist demographics with a multitude of subtle and complex events, exhibitions, and tours, through to maintaining their own agendas – securing funds for their charitable trusts, businesses, and repair works, in addition to promoting their own histories and ideologies.

The Greater Pemberleys

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. UK

In his essay, ‘The Original of Pemberley’ (1988), Donald Greene states that ‘The identification of Pemberley with Chatsworth has had a confused and somewhat comic history’, and he lays out a solid series of reasons for how they both could and could not be the same place. With Joe Wright’s 2005 film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice using Chatsworth for exterior shots, the debate may have resurfaced for some enthusiasts, but in their promotional materials, Chatsworth only claim to be ‘the probable inspiration for Pemberley’. As Joice succinctly notes, these connections serve to ‘to bring the punters in. They’re not saying it is, but say it could be and it brings the punters in. But it couldn’t be Pemberley.’ However, whilst Joice also states ‘I go to Chatsworth for Chatsworth; not because it was used as Pemberley [in the film adaptation]’, there is an inherent pleasure available in comparing the two locations.

For example, on one visit for JASUK…


The full 4,000 word version of this essay is published in Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen, edited by Gabrielle Malcolm, published by Intellect Books, 2015. 

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