Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Jane Austen and the Peak District

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a good wife”.  This is the well-known opening sentence of a book published in January 1813. “ Pride and Prejudice” was published anonymously; the child of the imagination of a middle aged spinster living in the seclusion of the Hampshire countryside. Little did Jane Austen know that her “playful” volume, as she described it, would become one of the most loved books in the English Language. It was recently voted second most favourite novels only being beaten by “Lord of the Rings”. The book’s place in the literary canon is assured and it continues to be read and enjoyed. It remains a book that is being continually recreated from the Indian film “Bride and Prejudice” to “Bridget Jones”. It seems that the themes of love, social advancement and the pursuit of wealth in a framework of class remain familiar.

In the 200th anniversary of publication of “Pride and Prejudice” many have wondered at its popularity, some more critically than others. Mark Twain and DH Lawrence loathed the book and thought it bland. WH Auden a fan of Austen's believed the novel was cleverly subversive- an unflinchingly realistic look at the way in which money can compromise all things including love

Jane Austen was acquainted with Staffordshire and the Peak District. She had a cousin Edward Cooper the vicar of Hamstall Ridware near Rugeley. It seems that they did not get on and she came northwards to visit the Peak District, possibly to escape her relative in 1806. At this visit and a subsequent one in 1811 she visited Bakewell, Dovedale, Haddon Hall and it's possible that she saw Chatsworth which became the model for Pemberley- Mr Darcy's estate in “Pride and Prejudice”.

The novel has been frequently filmed. In 1995 the BBC shot a widely popular version that used locations in the Moorlands:Colin Firth played Mr Darcy and Jennifer Ehle played Elizabeth Bennett. The village of Longnor featured in shots of village scenes and there was also a scene of a picnic on the Roches with a distant view of Tittesworth Reservoir.