Arts Illustrated

October 21, 2020

The Still Characters of the Austen World

The appearance of the characters might have at times lacked descriptions, but the drawing room was always embellished with finest details. Such was the charm of Jane Austen’s works where the houses were always more than places to live

Jagriti Sharma

The Rococo interiors and the Victorian aesthetic have, for generations, been the source of inspiration, imagination and dreams for Jane Austen fans – more so now, since Austen’s world has seen multiple renditions in movies. The appearance of the characters might have at times lacked descriptions, but the drawing room was always embellished with finest details – from the shade of the flowers in wallpaper, to the tassels of the cushions. It was the symbol of comfort and luxury, or the lack thereof; but also, the accomplishments of women in the house, and their taste. Be it Rosings, Pemberley or the Bennet house in Pride and Prejudice; Norland Park, Delaford Parsonage or Barton Valley in Sense and Sensibility, or Hartfield, Randalls and Donwell Abbey of Emma – three of Austen’s most influential works – houses were always more than places to live. With both the books and the many film adaptations breathing new life into Austen’s details, the interior styles, with all their social symbolisms, have become objects of fantasy or even obsessions for many.

Jane Austen
Still from the film Emma, 2020

In paying a close attention to the sets in the movies and the descriptions the books provide, one can easily notice the staples they offer, enough to make a starter pack of sorts for anyone who wishes to experiment with an ornate and traditional yet tasteful set up. The drawing and the living rooms are the epitome of the Austen world. While most of the plot twists, key dialogues and developments occur within the premises of the main halls, the gardens and the outdoors are equally pivotal in transforming the physical setting of a place into a character itself.

Jane Austen
Behind the scenes of Sense and Sensibility, 1995

Showcasing art collections, sculptures, large pavilions and rolling gardens, Pemberley and Delaford are the epitome of the typical lifestyle Austen herself had seen. They are also the very catalysts for the development of relationships. Using these as examples, our bookshelves become a bespoke piece, and the mantle on top of the fireplace becomes the centre point of the room and the site of important revelations and decisions.

The sets, if we may call them that, are marked with floral wallpapers, with subtle hues. Large windows with contrasting tassel ties and curtains are the perfect accompaniment to tall ceilings and heavy furniture. The upholstery itself is couture-like. The living spaces, apart from the bedrooms and the kitchens are divided into numerous rooms, for their own purposes. From salons, to parlours, to the cards room and library, to office and the very drawing room – they all become locations where alliances are forged, subtle hints are passed, and even marriages are proposed.

Jane Austen
(R) Still from the film Pride and Prejudice, 2005. (L) Still from the film Pride and Prejudice, 1995

Antique screens embody the refined, polite demeanour of the houses, the expansive rooms with paintings and sculptures indicate the family’s’ standing in society and the condition of the pianoforte hint at the women’s breeding. Ruffles become key in any Jane Austen set. They were seen as a mark of feminine flair and frivolity and were hence found in tablecloths, decorative pillows and even in some fashion items – all key possessions of the Victorian woman.

Jane Austen
Still from the film Pride and Prejudice, 1995

From trimmed and manicured acres of greenery to large wooden walls, houses in Austen’s works have become the face of the Regency era in England. They have traversed spaces and time, and patrons of the style still include features in their 21st century homes. Tea rooms, antique art and rare books continue to fuel the excitement of every Austen reader and transport them to a world they had only read about.

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