Jane Austen, Mr. Darcy, and me

Chatsworth House - Jane Austen's model for Pemberley

Chatsworth House – Jane Austen’s model for Pemberley

Of All This She Could Have Been Mistress

Walking the grounds of Chatsworth House

Walking the grounds of Chatsworth House

There is a scene in Pride and Prejudice where our heroine, Elizabeth, arrives to Mr. Darcy’s ancestral home of Pemberley hoping to just tour the place without actually running into the man she had so thoroughly rejected. Upon viewing the splendid mansion and the natural setting of the grounds, she realizes should could have been mistress of the entire estate if she had just said “yes” to his very rude marriage proposal.

Yet, she has her standards…at least, that is, until she hears the housekeeper rave about what a wonderful master, brother, and friend he is. I’m sure seeing Pemberley didn’t hurt; if Jane Austen had, as the legend goes, actually used Chatsworth House as her model for Pemberley, it would be hard not to fall in love. Stan did pretty good with the five hour tour. I relished in it. Love me; love my Jane Austen obsession.

A view from the waterfall built in the 1700s on the hill above

A view from the waterfall built in the 1700s on the hill above

What? There really are Dowager Duchesses?

Chatsworth has been around since the 1500s, has been rebuilt due to fire, and added onto in the 1700s. The present incarnation is as Jane Austen visited it, minus the scaffolding that marked our visit and the gift shop just beyond the sculpture gallery. Every Duke of Devonshire has lived here, and the 12th just obtained the position as a 60+ year old. Essentially, he had to give up his normal live to assume the responsibilities of running Chatsworth.

His mother, who could not inherit, became the “Dowager Duchess” and upon the death of her husband, was required to move out to the “Dowager’s home” in the town of Edisonsor (pronounced Enza), the tenant village. Hello, Downton Abbey. Seriously, this kind of custom was in place in Austen’s day, which is probably why she made fun of it in her books. I could not believe they retained it, but according to our B&B hosts, “it is what is done.”

The Vestal Virgin with a see through veil of marble

The Vestal Virgin with a see through veil of marble

I was looking forward to seeing the house, but completely unprepared for the art. A collection of artwork ranging from 3000 BC graces the hallways next to modern pottery. My favorite sculpture is of the Vestal Virgin, famous because of the veil that she wears that looks see through. How did they do that with marble? When you see the Vestal Virgin in the movie Pride and Prejudice it looks like a thin fabric veil is covering her face. In reality, it is marble.

World War II and Camping Out in the Dining Room

The dining hall: Imagine this with bunk beds in it, and you'll get a pretty good idea of what it looked like during WWII

The dining hall: Imagine this with bunk beds in it, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what it looked like during WWII

There were pictures throughout the house of the girls’ college that moved in during the World War II. During the time of the Blitz, when everyone that could evacuate London did evacuate (and those that couldn’t evacuate found some shelter in the underground), a teacher’s college was hosted at Chatsworth. Can you imagine fleeing your home in London (as scary and as stressful as that was) only to be hosted at Chatsworth House? I found it very gracious of the 11th Duke of Devonshire to do such a thing, especially when you see the pictures of the girls’ dormitories set up in the grand dining hall. Apparently, though, it was either the girls’ college or the Army. Landowners in the countryside had little choice.

Well, hello, John Locke

The library at Chatsworth with original copies of John Locke's work

The library at Chatsworth with original copies of John Locke’s work

The library…oh, the library. It was roped off from visitors, for good reason. It contains first editions and original manuscripts from famous writers and philosophers, such as John Locke. Not second editions, not compilations in a textbook, but originals. Some people are impressed by the Hope Diamond. I prefer the original treatises of the men who inspired the words of Jefferson and Madison.

The grounds cover the side of the hill upon which the house sits, and include a waterfall installed in the 1700s as well as the signature piece of the grounds: the fountain that shoots up to 270 ft in the air. The lawns are manicured, but beyond that, the natural beauty of the Hope Valley is left as-is. Jane Austen may have been making fun of the class system in 19th century England, but she must have had an affinity for Chatsworth. In the end, Elizabeth falls in love with Darcy after she falls in love with Pemberley. As it should be.


Driving Into London

Stan and I leave the peaceful English countryside the following day to head to London. He assures me that driving into London will be no big deal. We have the GPS; we’re good to go. Right? I have less confidence. I’ve heard the horror stories of driving in London; I’ve read about the impact fee for driving a car in the city. Do we really want to do this? Why not drop it off at a rental site outside the city and take the train in? No problem, it will be fine. I take a deep breath and hold on.

London greets us fairly. It isn’t easy, but it isn’t a nightmare either. We drop off the rental, hoist on our backpacks, aaannnddd…..I pretty quickly topple over on the sidewalk, making a complete fool of myself. As we hobble a few blocks to find a metro station to get us to our hotel, I grumble something about “spending our time looking for a stupid metro rather than taking a taxi and spending our time sightseeing.” Poor Stan. He really does have the patience of a saint. He hails a cab, and we spend 40 pounds (ugh!) to get to our hotel. I knew London was going to be an expensive city, but that was unreal.

The hotel is the Park Plaza County Hall, located next to the London Eye, and built as part of London’s preparations for the 2012 Summer Olympics. This was a hotel I bargained for on Priceline, and that accepted my bid of $120 for the night. I wasn’t sure what to expect, given my last experience with a hotel on Priceline (not good), but this hotel is wonderful. I do, however, have a hard time accepting that our taxi ride to the hotel costs half of what staying in it cost. Oh well, time to get over it. The city awaits.

Riding the HOHO on a drizzly day in London

Riding the HOHO on a drizzly day in London

We become like all the rest of the tourists in London, and remove our pride, and get on the hop on/hop off bus. Our embarkation point is across the bridge from the House of Parliament and Big Ben. As we’re waiting, Big Ben chimes. The House of Parliament is massive and ornate. Apparently, much of it was rebuilt after the Nazis finished bombing it. St. Paul’s Cathedral, built as a Protestant church with a controversial dome (apparently quite a shock to the Anglican bishop who had not approved such a structure) had men atop the dome at night during the war, putting out fires and removing ashes as bombs rained down from Nazi planes. I notice during our time in the UK that people still talk about the war, referencing it as a time when England stood united against the attack with the home of the monarchy under attack as much as the homes of regular Londoners. I saw a picture of Winston Churchill on a postcard in a gift shop, in which he is using a hand gesture our Scottish friends taught us on the first night, and now I know what he was saying. The words he spoke were elegant; the resolve was bitter strength.

St. Paul's Cathedral - special caregivers stood on the dome during Nazi attacks to put out fires

St. Paul’s Cathedral – special caregivers stood on the dome during Nazi attacks to put out fires

Stan and I end our day walking from Buckingham Palace to Westminster. There was no changing of the guard, but there were people there from all over the world speaking a menagerie of languages and taking in the splendor. I look down St. James park and see Londoners enjoying their city. We head for the pub. Time for some local flavors.



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