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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Visiting Lady Denham at Sanditon House

Last weekend, I visited Dyrham Park, a beautiful National Trust estate near Bath. You might have seen Dyrham Park in the 2019 Andrew Davies adaptation of Jane Austen's Sanditon - or if you don't prefer the word 'adaptation' (which I don't in this case), the series 'inspired' by the fragment. Whilst I'm not a fan of Sanditon the ITV series, I was eager to visit the beautiful estate, having seen the gorgeous backdrop on screen. 

In the series, Dyrham Park features as the location for Sanditon House - the formidable Lady Denham's estate. In the book and series, Sanditon is a coastal town, on the way to becoming a fashionable seaside resort. In reality, Dyrham Park isn't close to the sea, but it is situated in the beautiful rolling hills around Bath (also - rather appropriately - in Jane Austen country). 

The back entrance into the house. 

The rolling hills and sloped grounds of Dyrham Park are truly spectacular at this time of year, with fluorescent green dominating the verdure, and so many lovely hikes around the estate. It comes as no surprise that the lanscape design has been created by none other than Capability Brown, also known as "England's Greatest Gardener". 

                                                                    St Peter's Church next to the house.

The gardens are also lovely, with two ponds, a waterfall, and an elegant range of perennials. 

According to the guide, the grounds were truly majestic in Georgian times, with several fountains placed around the grand entrance into the building. 

                                    The landscape design of Dyrham Park in the 18th Century.

This would have been the approach and the front entrance to the house. 

Thanks to the recently relaxed restrictions, I was able to view the ground floor interiors of Dyrham Park as well. Some of these rooms featured in Sanditon, and were glamorously decorated (dividing the opinion of viewers), demonstrating the wealth of Lady Denham - the reluctant benefactor of the development of the seaside town. I thought that the rooms looked quite different in reality, but it has been a while since I watched the series. 

The walls are adorned with interesting works of art, patterned wallpaper and tapestries. 

Interestingly, the exotic walnut material of the staircases (above) reveals the colonial history of the building. In fact, there was an exhibition about the colonial connections to Dyrham Park, and how the estate benefited from its colonial income and its links to the slave trade. Thought-provoking, yet sad at the same time - but it is an excellent development that the National Trust have become very open about the dark history of many of their great estates these days. 

Filming also took place in the courtyard, which provided a location for Sanditon street scenes. The courtyard does look very familiar, and one can easily imagine a Sanditon street with horses and carriages and ladies in their bonnets walking along the street. 

Have a look at this "Behind the Scenes" film: 

Further reading: 

The filming of Sanditon at Dyrham Park - National Trust:

The locations for filming Sanditon - PBS:

Thursday, June 10, 2021

On Holiday with Jane Austen : "She thinks of nothing but the Isle of Wight, and she calls it the Island."

As I was visiting the Isle of Wight for the first time with my family last week, I was surprised to discover a Jane Austen connection to the island. In fact, it turned out that the islanders were very proud of the fact that Jane Austen had visited the island and mentioned it in her letters and in her work. 

As opposed to the common perception of the spinster living a quiet, uneventful life in a country village, few people are aware that Jane Austen was actually very well travelled around the South of England and and spent plenty of time with her brothers in London, Southampton and Kent, and she frequently visited the coastal towns (inspiring Sanditon). Her knowledge of different areas of Southern England is evidenced in her writing, which is full of references to real places around Southern England all the way up to Derbyshire. 

During my trip, I came across frequent references to Jane Austen and other literary figures, such as Keats, Tennyson, Dickens and George Eliot, and I discovered that Jane Austen had visited "The Island" (as she preferred to call the Isle of Wight) in 1813. Her heroine of Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, uses the same word to refer to the Isle of Wight, as we can see in this excerpt where Maria and Julia Bertram mock Fanny's lack of geographical knowledge in Mansfield Park: 

      "Dear mama, only think, my cousin cannot put the map of Europe together-- or my cousin     cannot tell the principal rivers in Russia-- or, she never heard of Asia Minor--or she does not     know the difference between water-colours and crayons!-- How strange!--Did you ever hear     anything so stupid?"

    "My dear," their considerate aunt would reply, "it is very bad, but you must not expect                 everybody to be as forward and quick at learning as yourself."

"But, aunt, she is really so very ignorant!--Do you know, we asked her last night which way she would go to get to Ireland; and she said, she should cross to the Isle of Wight. She thinks of nothing but the Isle of Wight, and she calls it the Island, as if there were no other island in the world. I am sure I should have been ashamed of myself, if I had not known better long before I was so old as she is." (MP, Chapter 2) 

Jane Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, from Chawton House on 7th June, 1813: 

"Uncle H.A. and I in the curricle, Papa and At L. in the gig, set off at 8, Breakfasted at Petersfield, Dined and Saw the Dock Yard at Portsmouth, & took a wherry over to the Isle of Wight in the evening. We slept at Ride."

As we know, Jane Austen was very fond of natural beauty, which the Isle of Wight can certainly boast of. And she absolutely loved what she saw. Jane Austen mentioned visiting the famous landmark of the Needles, which I visited with my family. On 9th June, she wrote:  

"We went on in the sociable to Newport, where we dined, & then went to Freshwater towards the Western Coast, & took a boat round the Needles point to Yarmouth where we slept". 

"The Needles" 

Unfortunately, my photos from The Needles are hardly spectacular, as it happened to be a miserable, wet day during my visit and I didn't particularly enjoy the crowds. 

I did enjoy our stay at Shanklin.

Shanklin Village as Jane Austen would have known it. 

The highlight of my trip was visiting the magical Shanklin Chine, which equally impressed Jane Austen. On the 8th June, she wrote: 

"We hired a sociable & drove around the Eastern and Southern coasts of the Island - saw the Priory a sweet place - Shanklin Chine, lovely!"

Chine is a local word originating in the Saxon language, meaning a narrow ravine, and this ancient ravine is such a peaceful haven of waterfalls, plants and wildlife. I could imagine sitting there for ages just listening to the water dripping down and admiring the lush greenery in the ravine. 

In Jane Austen's days, Shanklin Chine was a rough walk and very few people managed to make it to the waterfalls, and it wasn't until 1817 that the place really became an attraction - Victorians were full of praise of the place. I do wonder how Jane Austen managed to "drive around" in her "sociable" on these terrains! 

A barouche-sociable, as mentioned by Jane Austen, carrying King George V. and Queen Mary. 
Image from Wikipedia:

As Queen Victoria made Osborne House her summer retreat, the Isle of Wight became a very popular watering place and it was fashionable to visit natural beauty spots, such as the Needles and Shanklin Chine. 

Jane Austen certainly appears to have been quite a traveller off the beaten track in her days! 

The Heritage Centre at Shanklin Chine, which tells you the story of Shanklin Chine and has a fascinating collection of art and caricatures from the likes of Rowlandson. 

References and further reading: 

  • Le Faye, D. (2006) A Chronology of Jane Austen and Her Family. Cambridge University Press. 
  • On the history of Shanklin Chine:
  • On writers visiting the Isle of Wight:

Monday, April 26, 2021

In the Footsteps of Elizabeth and Darcy at Stunning Stourhead

In my family we are active members of the National Trust and spend many a weekend exploring the various estates around us. This weekend we visited Stourhead in Wiltshire, which may be familiar to many Jane Austen fans from Pride and Prejudice (2005) and particularly the rain scene where Mr Darcy first proposes to Elizabeth. 

Stourhead House was built in the 18th Century in the Palladian style for the Hoare family. Whilst we didn't get to visit the house due to Covid regulations, we enjoyed our walk around the stunning world-famous landscaped gardens. 

                                                                                         Stourhead House 

The gardens were designed by Henry Hoare II in the style of landscape paintings, and there are bridges, grottoes and classical temples to explore along the beautiful walks. 

View across the lake to the Pantheon

                                                                                         Inside the grotto 

                                                                                             The Pantheon 

                                                                      The Temple of Apollo at the top 

At this time of year, the bright green lawns are adorned with the spring blossom of daffodils and bluebells, and magnolia and rhododendron trees shine bright in various shades of magenta, baby pink and white. Swans, ducks and geese float in the glittering water, and there is something interesting to see at every turn. 

The highlight of the walk for me were the classical temples and the Palladian bridge, as seen in Pride and Prejudice. While this version of the film is by no means my favourite (I am partial to the 1995 BBC miniseries), I thought the proposal scene at the Temple of Apollo was beautiful, if not quite faithful to the book. 

In the scene, we see Elizabeth running in pouring rain across the Palladian bridge and going up to the Temple of Apollo, where Mr Darcy (coincidentally) finds her. 

The Palladian Bridge 

                                                                                 The Temple of Apollo

At the temple, he proposes to her "against his better judgment", while the rain gushes down, adding to the drama, and the distraught Elizabeth's hem is several inches deep in mud. In the backdrop, we see the gorgeous lake and rolling landscape of Stourhead (portrayed as Rosings).

                                                                     The view from the Temple of Apollo

The view from the Temple of Apollo

To end this post, I'm adding this video from the Temple of Apollo - quite a different feel on a sunny day! 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

A Review of "Unmarriageable" by Soniah Kamal

While I don't usually read much fan fiction or spin-offs, I just had to get hold of Soniah Kamal's Unmarriageable, which is a South Asian take on Pride and Prejudice. Having lived in South Asia for 12 years and having got married there, I was sure that this rewrite would resonate with me, as I could relate to the characterisations and contexts - which I absolutely did. 

I feel that any of the Jane Austen novels would adapt well to South Asian literature and cinema, a topic which I will explore further in another post. There are so many similarities between Regency society and the social norms of contemporary South Asian culture. The marriage market, the stereotypical over-zealous, matchmaking mothers and aunties, the limited freedom of young women, marital gold diggers, societal taboos surrounding marriage and sex... it's all there in Pride and Prejudice - and in modern-day Pakistan (and elsewhere in South Asia). 

Many modern day South Asian girls battle with similar moral dilemmas to girls of Jane Austen's era, with pressure to marry a man of their parents' choice and to give up their careers after marriage. Premarital relationships would be unheard of and illegitimate children a definite no-no - which is why Mr Wickaam turns out to be a villain just like in the original story. 

This novel shows a modern, independent, free-thinking Elizabeth - young teacher, Alys Binat - who, like Elizabeth Bennet, isn't afraid to voice her opinions.  Alys, like her sisters, is under tremendous pressure from her mother, Mrs Binat, to marry and marry well. Soniah Kamal's Mrs Binat is very much like Mrs Bennet in P and P, hysterical, ridiculous, and in need of tranquillisers. Alys won't marry the rude, proud, snobbish Valentine Darcee - whose proposal she declines, as he is "unmarriageable". Neither will she marry the riciculous but wealthy, "suitable boy", Farhat Kaleen (Mr Collins). One of my favourite scenes in the novel is Mr Kaleen's proposal to Alys - very much like Mr Collins's - with his premeditated flowery phrases full of praise and pomp.

In Unmarriageable, Kamal really brings Jane Austen's spirit to life. The plot mirrors that of Pride and Prejudice and there are so many parallels between Alys' story and that of the original; the characters and their idiosyncrasies, the humour and wit, but there are also many South Asian references, which are very well explained to someone less familiar with the culture. In the first chapter, in her role as a teacher at an all-girls school, Alys discusses the role of women in Pakistani society -  a wonderful introduction to their world and the issues that girls and women deal with. After that, the story slows down a little and it did take me a while to get into the story, but it got much more interesting towards the end. 

There are several references to Pride and Prejudice in the book and, as Alys says (p.227), "we are... a society teeming with Austen's cruel Mrs Norrises, snobby looks-obsessed Sir Walters, and conniving John Thorpes and Lady Susans." I'm pretty sure you could find many a Mrs Bennet, a Lydia and a Mary Bennet in Pakistan as well! 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Following Colin Firth's footsteps at Lacock Abbey!

I absolutely love Lacock, as visiting the village feels like visiting a film set and it really takes you back to Pride and Prejudice (1995). On our last visit, the Lacock Abbey cloisters were closed for filming a Netflix series, so we missed seeing those, and this time we were lucky enough to have a peek. 

Lacock Abbey (now a National Trust property) was founded in 1229, and its vaulted rooms were used as a nunnery of the Augustinian order.

The gardens are lovely to walk around and picnic in. 

We have previously visited the manor house, which was built over the old cloisters in the 16th century. The house later became the home of William Henry Fox Talbot, who created the earliest camera negative. 

The house is currently closed, but the gardens and cloister are really worth a visit... and I shall tell you why!

Of course, the medieval cloister (above) downstairs is more famously known as Hogwarts school in Harry Potter, but as that is not exactly my genre, the cloister is far more familiar to me from Pride and Prejudice. This is where the flashback scene of Mr Darcy at Cambridge University was filmed and where we learn more about Mr Wickham's character and Mr Darcy's relationship with Mr Wickham. 

Colin Firth is filmed walking down the corridor, until he enters a room where he finds Mr Wickham "misbehaving" with a girl!

Also, the Lacock Abbey stables (below) were used as the exterior of the coaching inn where Lydia and Kitty meet their sisters when they return from London. Lydia throws open a window and waves at her sisters, and later inside the inn (shot elsewhere) they gossip about men and hats. 

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting another Jane Austen film location - do have a look at my previous blog from Lacock for a tour around Lacock village.