A Jane Austen Row Erupts in Britain

Which is the real Pemberley? Was Mr. Darcy a profligate? Is Britain? The Chancellor of the Exchequer faces tough questions.

The great family estates of Britain are in regular need of cash infusions, usually by way of a clever marriage, a timely death, or the sudden interest of a second cousin from some place vile like New York. Or anyway that’s what literature has taught us. It seems the lesson still holds, and wouldn’t you know it, Jane Austen is at the center of the landed gentry’s latest scandal.

Last week, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced that £7.6m — or about $9.48 million — had been earmarked for repairs to Wentworth Woodhouse, Britain’s biggest private estate. In extolling the historical virtues of the behemoth house (with over 300 bedrooms), Mr. Hammond repeated the rumor that Wentworth was the inspiration for Mr. Darcy’s famous “Pemberley,” in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A little puffery, you say? Well, the Guardian didn’t think so, not with all those taxpayer pounds on the line. The newspaper reached out to the Jane Austen Society, which responded through a spokesperson: “There is absolutely no evidence that Jane Austen ever travelled further north than Lichfield in Staffordshire… There are other places such as Chatsworth, which lay claim to be the model for Pemberley.” Wentworth Woodhouse, of course, lies 70 miles north of Lichfield (of course!). That means it’s highly unlikely Austen used the home as the prototype for Darcy’s fictional estate.

But what about the upkeep, the proud history, the 300+ beds to make?

If only to put the nail in the coffin, the Society’s statement continued:

“Jane Austen, herself only too keenly aware of the value of money, and of the need for veracity, would have been savvy enough to know that a building the size of Wentworth Woodhouse… could not possibly have been supported on Mr. Darcy’s reported income of a mere £10,000 per annum.”

That’s some Emma-level shade.

This story is still developing. We’ll update you with more forthwith, or you can just wait a year, by which time Julian Fellowes’ will have adapted the scandal into an eight-part miniseries that your mother will absolutely adore.

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