‘He is not at all liked in Hertfordshire’ - Jane Austen’s novels over 240 years after her birth

Jane Austen

Jane Austen and her links to Hertfordshire explored. Picture: Britannica/supplied - Credit: Archant

In the over 240 years since Jane Austen was born on this day today (Dec 16, 1775) one of our reporters is looking at the history and relationship that the eminent author had to her county and towns including Harpenden, Kimpton, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City.  

As an ardent reader of Ms Austen, I have never picked up on the myriad of references to Hertfordshire especially in her most famous work ‘Pride and Prejudice’.  

And it was with a certain start, that I sat up during my annual binge-watch of the 1995 version of the social comedy with Colin Firth at hearing that Mr Firth’s Mr Darcy, “is not at all liked in Hertfordshire". 

These were the words spoken by his future wife Elizabeth Bennet, who adds: “Everybody is disgusted with his pride. You will not find him more favourably spoken of by anyone." 

Chiming perfectly with her relationship to Herts - which given we know little details of her life is a sketch at best - the scenes of this mini-series that details the lives and loves of the Bennet sisters were filmed at Brocket Hall near Welwyn Garden City. 

The ballroom of this esteemed house serves as the first dance between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and also a pivotal moment where her family commits a series of 'faux-pas' that informs our bachelor's opinion of Miss Lizzie.

 

This is not the only Austen work shot nearby, Wrotham Park near Potters Bar features in Sense and Sensibility 2008 version, while Whitwell, south of Hitchin, was used in the 2020 Emma film adaption as the Highbury parish church in which the ridiculous vicar Mr Elton marries many of the main characters. 

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A spoof of her work, 2016 film Pride and Prejudice, and Zombies, was also shot in Old Hatfield around the Fore Street and Hatfield House area.

Turning back to the book in question, Pride and Prejudice, features the stagecoach inn and mail stop, Hatfield, which was used for those travelling on the Great North Road from London to the north. It was searched for 'thoughtless' Lydia, Elizabeth's sister, who makes an imprudent choice to run off with the villain of the piece Mr Wickham. 

The book at this point says,189 of the inns in Barnet and Hatfield were searched "but without any success—no such people had been seen to pass through."

Apart from these very obvious mentions of parts of Herts, Pride and Prejudice features several fictional locations including Netherfield , which was let at last by Mr Bingley, who must be in want of a wife, Longbourn, the Bennett family estate and Meryton, a market town nearby. 

These locations have been looked into by Kenneth Smith, a senior lecturer in criminology in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, who using maps and calculating the journey times by carriage has pinpointed what he thinks could be the exact towns. 

He explains: "If Longbourn is Harpenden Bury, then no such difficulties arise and it is easy to imagine Elizabeth Bennet walking the three miles or so from Longbourn/Harpenden Bury through the town of Meryton/Harpenden, and then on across the muddy fields to the east of Harpenden towards Netherfield Park/Kimpton Hall."

Kimpton Hoo or Hall also existed and was remodelled in the English style during the time of Austen, when it was the home of the poet and literary socialite Barbarina Brand, Lady Dacre. 

It was later demolished, together with the adjoining outbuildings, in 1958 but the farmhouse is still standing. This was part of the 20th Century trend to demolish stately homes and its estimated since 1900, 1,200 country houses have been demolished in England by The Telegraph

There is also Kympton in Derbyshire that Austen refers to in the Novel, which might show she could have taken inspiration from the real world location of Kimpton and applied it to her own Kympton.

Mansfield Park, the most disliked work by her family and critics as the heroine, Fanny Price, is seen to be boring, features slavery. And could have been inspired by Austen's reading of Thomas Clarkson, a Wisbech anti-abolitionist, who after coming in sight of Wadesmill, near Ware, devoted his life to combating slavery. 

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