My kids have a great picture book called, “The Big Orange Splot” that I took this title from because it fits so well the intimacy that homes and houses represent in Jane Austen’s books.
There’s Lizzy running into Darcy at Pemberley, arguably the best scene in any of the movies! Mr. Knightley walking into Emma’s house at all hours (plus the pivotal scene of his reprimand happening at his estate). Captain Wentworth’s sister moving into Anne Elliot’s house. The symbolism of Barton cottage compared to Norland Park. Jane spending several days of sickness at Netherfield…
It’s only practical, of course, that many scenes would be set at one or other of the character’s homes, but there’s definitely a sense that a new level of intimacy occurs when the love interest visits (or lives!) in their significant other’s home. This is particularly true with the more reserved characters. Bingley is friendly and gregarious, so we tend to feel that he and Jane would have been totally fine without that house visit. With Darcy, on the other hand, Lizzy starts to feel that she’s violating his privacy before they even get to Pemberley! Anne Elliot, as well, is quiet and introverted, and the knowledge that Frederick will be walking around her house is enough to make her (and my) heart flutter. Then there’s poor Fanny Price, essentially homeless as she fits neither with her uncle nor with her family, who ends up with only a single, cold room to call her own, which she eventually fills with her books and plants and personality. It’s the room where she feels safe, and of course, only Edmund is a welcome visitor, which makes it all the more painful when she must listen to him praise another woman there.
And beyond personal identity, there is also the fact that being in someone’s home creates uncomfortable intimacy. That’s the tension us romance readers crave, amirite? It’s the basis for so many romance tropes like arranged marriage or the governess angle. Leaving Jane Austen for a sec and moving to the Brontes, I don’t think any book did it better than Jane Eyre. No matter what you think of the romance, the fact that Jane can’t easily avoid Rochester forces her to face what she feels for him. Over and over.
Some people just call this angst, but I confess I can’t get enough of it in the romance books I read. I want to feel the heart of the character’s emotional dilemma, and nothing does that like being unable to escape their S.O.’s presence or the intimacy of having them in their home.
In that vein, here’s a short excerpt from the second of my Austen Ensemble series, A True Likeness. In this book, in the interest of using the “forced to live with your crush” trope, I made Georgiana’s love interest a portraitist, hired by Darcy and Bingley to paint Lizzy and Jane before the wedding.
Georgiana felt restless with her brother gone, and when she felt restless, she played the piano. This pianoforte, in Miss Bingley’s style, was noticeably fashionable. The wooden panels were decorated in the Chinese style, with strange shapes and patterns. The edges of the panels were lined with black, glossy wooden trim. The tone of the instrument was… well enough. Nothing to scoff at, but still not to compare with the sound of her pianoforte at Pemberley. That one was of plain blonde wood, well-crafted and perfectly toned, but nothing extraordinary to look at.
Mrs. Annesley slipped in with some white work in her hands and settled down across the room near the window.She played several scales and arpeggios, mindful that she had not truly practiced in many days. Eventually however, she let her hands go to her favorite pieces.
Georgiana didn’t immediately notice when another figure paused outside the door, not until he shifted. Then she saw Mr. Turner leaning against the door frame, listening.
She smiled a little and somehow, when one song led to another, found herself naturally playing her favorite pieces, even the romantic sonata she had played for Wickham.
As the notes fell like raindrops from the instrument, Georgiana felt that two paths were opening up before her. There was Mrs. Annesley, who represented everything peaceful and proper in her life: a woman Georgiana genuinely loved. Then there was Mr. Turner. He represented something else, something exciting, challenging, and profound.
Mrs. Annesley could not see him from where she sat, nor could Mr. Turner see her companion. Georgiana was balanced between the two. He did not enter the room but continued to lean against the threshold with his eyes shut, enjoying the music.
She loved his square face and smudged hands and broad shoulders. She loved his intense beliefs, his self-control, and his gentleness. She loved his art and skill and humility. She loved him.Georgiana loved him in that moment, but she knew she could not choose him. Her future, like every young lady, was not her own to give away. But her heart was hers, and she could acknowledge what she felt for Mr. Turner. For John. Because she was in love with him.
She would not fancy herself a tragic character—many women loved when there was no hope of marriage, or like her cousin Anne, chose to marry without love—but she was quietly glad to acknowledge it was real. It was far more real than the giddy infatuation Wickham had encouraged in her. Perhaps someday she would feel something like this for another man, and she would know it was worth pursuing…
Thanks for reading!
“My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.” – “The Big Orange Splot” by Daniel Pinkwater