Category Archives: Pemberley

The Duchess of Devonshire

I am reading The Duchess right now, about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. (I can’t wait for the movie!) Although the book is not directly related to Pride and Prejudice, it is still fascinating to see the parallels between the Duchess’ life and Jane Austen’s writing.

Lady Georgiana Spencer (the great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales) married influential William Cavendish, the fifth duke of Devonshire, in 1774. She immediately became the toast of London, providing constant fodder for high society gossip and tabloid press. 

The Cavendish family home, Chatsworth, was the most prominent home in all of Derbyshire. Indeed, our fictional Elizabeth Bennet visits Chatsworth during her tour of Derbyshire with the Gardiners. Jane Austen may have even borrowed the Duchess’ first name for Darcy’s sister.

Stephen Derry suggests the similarities between the Darcys and the Cavendishes were also political. “Fitzwilliam Darcy,” he writes, “has been associated with the Whigs, as his names recall those of two prominent Whig noblemen, Robert D’Arcy, fourth Earl of Holdernesse (1718-1788), and William Fitzwilliam, fourth Earl Fitzwilliam (1748-1833), who both held high ministerial office. Donald Greene considered that Darcy’s arrogance might have been ‘a satire on an aspect of Whiggism most obnoxious to Pittite lories,’ like the Bennets and Jane Austen’s family.”

Even the name Pemberley may have been derived from the Duchess, Derry writes. “The Duchess herself wrote a novel, The Sylph (1779), in which the name ‘Pemberton’ occurs. Fanny Burney may have borrowed this name, as it is also found in her novel Cecilia (1782), which was a major source for the plot of Pride and Prejudice – both are studies in snobbery – and which provided it with its title; Jane Austen’s ‘Pemberley’ may therefore represent a double allusion, to both Cecilia and The Sylph. It would be appropriate if Miss Darcy’s home ultimately owed its name to her namesake’s imagination. (Jane Austen may have conflated ‘Pemberton’ with ‘Beverley,’ the surname of the heroine of Cecilia, to make ‘Pemberley.’)”

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Home sweet home

I love the contrast Jane Austen creates between Rosings and Pemberley. Both houses tell so much about the personality and characteristics of their owners.

Pemberley House, the Darcy family home for generations, is certainly grand and impressive. It speaks of wealth and a long legacy. “Old money,” as they say. But it is also elegantly straight-forward, not overly decorated or adorned. The surrounding landscape is also impeccable, but highlights the natural beauty of the countryside. Like Darcy himself, the house is proud but does not disguise itself with unnecessary grandiosity or disguise.

Rosings Park, on the other hand, is intended to show off in a very obvious fashion. The gardens are heavily manicured and formally styled. The windows are intentionally numerous, and the furnishings are ornate. If Pemberley is “old money,” then Rosings is “nouveau riche.” In fact, the building is described as modern, in contrast to the generations of families who have lived at Pemberley. Just like her home, Lady Catherine likes to display her wealth and superior status for all to see.