House Moves in Jane Austen’s Novels, by Eliza Shearer

House Moves in Jane Austen’s Novels, by Eliza Shearer

My two siblings have moved house in the last couple of months. In both cases, the change was for the better, but the upheaval of a house move is not always positive. 

Jane Austen had to leave her home behind several times in her lifetime, in some cases very reluctantly. Perhaps that’s why changes of dwellings feature quite frequently in her novels – and, as we will see, they are often more stressful than blissful. 

The Upheaval of a House Move

Austen was no stranger to the heartbreak that goes hand in hand with moving out of a beloved childhood home. She had to leave the parsonage at Stevenson when her father retired. Mr Austen, his wife and their unmarried daughters, Cassandra and Jane, changed the country air for the city of Bath. 

A similar situation is portrayed in Sense and Sensibility when newly widowed Mrs Dashwood and her three daughters are forced to leave a home full of happy memories behind. This is how the Dashwoods, and Marianne in particular, bid farewell to Norland Park: 

Many were the tears shed by them in their last adieus to a place so much beloved. “Dear, dear Norland!” said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; “when shall I cease to regret you!–when learn to feel a home elsewhere!-–Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more!!” 

Sense and Sensibility, Chapter V

Improvements and Alterations

House moves, now as during the Regency, go hand in hand with improvements and alterations – or at least minimal redecoration. When the Dashwoods first arrive at Barnton cottage, Mrs Dashwood has the intention to carry out substantial building works. Her plans include adding a new drawing room and bed-chamber, although the lack of funds means that they never materialise. 

When the works do go ahead, they can take much longer than anticipated and cause a lot of stress to the owners. In Mansfield Park, Mr Rushworth is consumed with the idea of improving Sotherton. Mary Crawford, however, explains she dislikes home improvements on account of her prior experiences with property development: 

“Three years ago the Admiral, my honoured uncle, bought a cottage at Twickenham for us all to spend our summers in; and my aunt and I went down to it quite in raptures; but it being excessively pretty, it was soon found necessary to be improved, and for three months we were all dirt and confusion, without a gravel walk to step on, or a bench fit for use.”

Mansfield Park, Chapter VI

Sometimes, ideas for alterations come from other parties. In Pride and Prejudice, during his visit to the Bennets, Mr Collins famously explains how his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, advises him on such matters when he takes over the parsonage:

“(She) had once paid him a visit in his humble parsonage, where she had perfectly approved all the alterations he had been making, and had even vouchsafed to suggest some herself–some shelves in the closet up stairs.”

Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XIV

The Forever Home

In Austen’s novels, house moves aren’t always for the better. As well as the Dashwoods loss of Norland, we have Anne Elliot in Persuasion, whose family is also forced to leave their ancestral home – in this case, because of her father’s poor financial management. 

Anne is so reluctant to move away from the neighbourhood that she even suggests finding “a  small house in their own neighbourhood, where they might still have Lady Russell’s society, still be near Mary, and still have the pleasure of sometimes seeing the lawns and groves of Kellynch.” (Persuasion, Chapter II).

In the end, she has to resign herself to the idea of the family moving to Bath. However, that doesn’t mean that she will reside there full-time: it is understood that she will also spend time at Kellynch Lodge, Lady Russel’s abode, as well as at Uppercross, helping her sister Mary. 

Thankfully, Anne gets her forever-home at the end of the novel, when she marries Captain Wentworth. She finally gets a place she can call home – as well as “a very pretty landaulette.” What’s not to like?


Have you experienced the sadness of leaving a beloved home behind, like Marianne Dashwood? Are there any other house moves in Austen that resonate with you?


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January 13, 2021 7:54 PM

I’ve experienced 3 moves and each time I end up losing items so I hate the process although I do like that we now have more space with our latest move.

January 6, 2021 11:21 AM

I feel for the ladies in those times, being uprooted from their homes because of the different circumstances. (it is hard esp when it is sudden)

I do feel, however, you can build new memories and both new and old memories will be equally cherished in the future.

January 6, 2021 8:04 AM

We moved 8 times during my husband’s military career. It was a crazy way of life but we liked it. I tried to follow the “bloom where you are planted” advice, but I never really felt planted!
There is a temptation in that lifestyle to always be focused on the next thing. It can be difficult to focus on the here and now, especially if the current location isn’t that wonderful.
I figured out a few years into military life that HOME was anywhere that my husband was, no use pining for far flung family and friends and traditions, it was time to create our own.
Part of growing up, I guess!
Husband has retired now after a second career in Virginia, USA and we moved to Florida to help his mom and enjoy the warm weather. He says he’ll never move again, I say “Never say never!” ?

Gianna Thomas
January 5, 2021 8:08 PM

I’ve moved six times in my life. The fifth house I lived in for 41 years. The third and fifth houses were my favorites, but I think this last one will be a favorite as well. Although the move was very complicated, this new house was very welcoming as the previous owner had used color throughout, and it became what I call a ‘feel good house.’ It was so cheerful when my daughter and I first looked at it that we both fell in love with it in a couple of minutes. Even though the rooms are smaller, I do have a basement that I could finish for 2-3 bigger rooms. I just need to think about what I will end up doing. In the meantime, I love the town, my congregation, the country around this small town, and the fact that my daughter is 15 minutes away from me for the first time in over 30 years. So, I’m very pleased. Thank you for the post. Very interesting how Jane Austen used moving as part of her plots. 🙂

Gianna Thomas
January 8, 2021 4:03 AM
Reply to  Eliza Shearer

Thank you, Eliza. 🙂

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
January 5, 2021 6:38 PM

We built a house and lived there for 21 years when a change in my husband’s job sent us from Kentucky to Kansas. I absolutely loved it. I loved the people. I loved the area and I especially loved the house we found. Everything I ever wanted in a house… it had it. A few years later the economy took a downturn and the company had to downsize. Yep, with no prospects anywhere, we were forced to come back to KY. Not that it was a bad thing… but I grieved the move with a heartfelt passion. It took me forever to resign the lost of that house. LOL! Anyway… it was the right thing to do. We both found jobs when we returned to KY and we’ve been here ever since. La! I still miss that house. Heavy sigh!

I suppose I can relate in a small way to Mrs. Bennet thoughts on losing Longbourn. I wonder if the ex-Mrs. Rushworth misses her homes… money… society… and then having to live with Mrs. Norris, etc. Speaking of Mrs. Norris, she had to leave the parsonage when her husband died and Dr. & Mrs. Grant took the living. Then the Grants moved when he gained a stall at Westminster. Mary Crawford was all over the place. She probably feels like she doesn’t have a home with the Admiral behaving in such a scandalous way by moving his mistress in his home.

It seems the theme of children being displaced showed up several times. Young Fanny Price left her childhood home and moved to Mansfield Park. Death often forced children to move. Jane Fairfax moved as did Frank Weston-Churchill. He even changed his name… which mirrored Austen brother. Due to the circumstances of her birth, Miss Harriet Smith was placed with Mrs. Goddard when she became old enough to go to school, thus, leaving all she knew. You mentioned Persuasion and the Dashwood ladies from S&S in the post. That is quite a bit of moving about. I’m sure I missed someone. Blessings in the new year.

January 5, 2021 4:46 PM

Wonderful post, Eliza!

Elaine Jeremiah
January 5, 2021 2:25 PM

I haven’t actually moved house many times in my life. The place I’ve been happiest in is where I live now, in Bristol UK with my husband. We’ve been living here for 15 years now and we mostly love it. I do feel a pang when I read about Jane Austen and Cassandra having the shock of their lives when it was announced to them that they would be leaving Steventon. It seems so wrong that they weren’t consulted, that as unmarried daughters they didn’t have a say in what happened. That must have been so upsetting for them. So I’m glad that they eventually settled at Chawton. What a relief!

Sue Barr
Sue Barr
January 5, 2021 1:44 PM

Hubby is a retired Air Force pilot, so to say that we moved a few times is an understatement! I am an expert in taking down a house in less than five days and having everything in its place in less than two days. I kid you not. Add into this one of the moves was from one end of Canada to the other, five days by car (one way), two children under the age of six and a cat. You learn to take each day as it comes and bloom where you are planted. We’ve since retired and have now been in one place for over twenty-five years, although, we still have itchy feet and continue to see if we could move one more time. Maybe to Mexico!!

Riana Everly
January 5, 2021 10:03 AM

The only time we left a nice and large place for a smaller one was when we moved countries when I was very young. Since then, all my moves have been to nicer places. But it was only when we moved into our current house did I feel that this was our long-term home. Everything before that had been a place to live “for now.”
We are currently helping my MIL plan a big move, from her house in the country to an apartment in the nearly town where she is closer to amenities. It’s a very emotional time.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
January 5, 2021 7:21 AM

I have been in the same house since I was little. We have all kinds of memories here and to me it will always be home.

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