Chawton and Godmersham provide literary inspiration


Chawton and Godmersham, two estates once owned by Jane Austen’s older brother Edward, are mentioned in an article in the Globe and Mail about gardens that inspired authors.

Those gardens that have inspired writers and poets have a special charm. They were the haunts of the characters whose works have thrilled or moved us. To sit on the garden bench where Barrie may have conceived the idea for the boy who would forever remain a child, or to walk on the lawn where Jane Austen imagined her Mr. Darcy, of Pride and Prejudice, pacing in heartbroken frustration, adds a whole new dimension to the space.

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Fans of Jane Austen will probably already be familiar with Chawton House in Hampshire, her family home for many years. It was purchased by American Sandy Lerner, one of the founders of Cisco Systems, and Urban Decay Cosmetics, among others, and is in the process of being restored. The gardens here are extensive, and have been returned to the way they would have been when Austen lived here. The original walled kitchen garden which is being brought back to life, and which will provide organically grown fruit, vegetables herbs and flowers for the house, was a favourite place for Jane’s mother to garden. Austen herself revealed a love of gardens in her work and in her daily life. “You cannot imagine what a nice walk we have round the orchard,” she wrote in one of her frequent notes about the garden. “The row of beech look very pretty and so does the young quickset hedge in the garden.”

But another property is also interesting. Austen’s brother Edward owned Godmersham Park, in the Stour Valley between Canterbury and Ashford, and she spent much time there looking after him after his wife died. It is thought to have provided the model for Pemberley, the estate of her fictional hero, Mr. Darcy, in Pride and Prejudice. It was Elizabeth Bennet’s visit to Pemberley that helped to change her opinion about Darcy, and began her change of heart. “To be mistress of Pemberley might be something,” Elizabeth muses, and the rest is literary history.

The gardens of Godmersham House are unfortunately hidden behind high brick walls, but they are open to the public one day a year, usually in the spring. Even if you can’t see the formal gardens, there are walks in the park by the river, and a small part of the estate is open to visitors.