November 28, 2016
In his autumn statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced he would grant the sum of £7.6m towards the preservation of Wentworth Woodhouse, a stately home near Rotherham in Yorkshire. “It is said to be the inspiration for Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” he told the Commons. Although Austen’s portrait will grace the new £10 note issued next year, this may be the first time she has been invoked as a rationale for the expenditure of public funds.
One of the charms of Austen is that her subjects seem so real, and some of her devoted readers have tried to identify the characters and settings in her books with real people and places. The Yorkshire Wentworths were an ancient, extended family who occupied not only Wentworth Woodhouse but nearby Wentworth Castle. The names of Fitzwilliam, D’Arcy, Wodehouse (Woodhouse), Watson and Vernon, as well as Wentworth, featured among the inhabitants of both houses; names that Jane Austen sprinkled among her novels and co-opted for her hero in Pride and Prejudice.
Perhaps this persuaded someone that Jane Austen had used an actual contemporary owner of Wentworth Woodhouse as the model for Mr Darcy. The Wentworths were the über-celebrities of their day and their portraits, political rivalries, scandals, inheritance issues, house remodeling and landscape improvements featured regularly in newspapers and journals. Jane Austen, being extremely well-read and cognizant of contemporary issues, would have been well aware of this. However, most academics acknowledge that there is no evidence for her having travelled further north than Lichfield in Staffordshire, and that therefore she would not have visited Wentworth Woodhouse.