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
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?