Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 9 2017 02:00PM

Logically, there’s no particular reason we dedicated readers should yearn to visit the houses where our favorite writers were born, grew up, met their future spouses or wrote their great works. Events don’t leave their imprint on wood, glass and stone.


And yet they do, at least in our imaginations. So it was that my heart leapt last month when I ran across this account of a literary trail made up of forty-five “houses of bookish importance” scattered across Great Britain.


The trail, sponsored by the Historic Houses Association, which represents the UK’s privately owned historic homes, includes places associated with some of my favorite authors, including George Eliot’s birthplace, Arthur Conan Doyle’s alma mater, the castle where Shakespeare’s Macbeth murdered King Duncan, and the house whose attic supposedly inspired Jane Eyre.


Yes, there are also Austen connections. Among the trail’s attractions are Chawton House, owned by Austen’s older brother Edward; and Goodnestone Park, the family estate of Edward’s wife, Elizabeth Bridges. Austen spent plenty of time in both places, though what connection either has to her novels is a matter of speculation.


Unless you’re planning a trip to Britain, this literary trail is likely to be fodder for armchair daydreaming rather than active vacationing. But if you're lucky enough to have such a trip on your agenda – well, then, as I noted last year, Goodnestone is now renovated and available for rental. Perfect for a getaway for yourself and twenty-three of your closest friends.


By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 4 2016 01:00PM

Have you been racking your brain to think of a fun vacation house-share for two dozen of your closest Janeite friends? Well, rack no more – the solution is at hand.


Comes word that Goodnestone Park, an Austen-linked stately home in the southeastern English county of Kent, is fully renovated and available for holiday rentals and wedding parties. For your stay – the two-night minimum will run you £3,500, or nearly $5,000 – you get the run of an estate that includes twelve double-occupancy bedrooms, a dining room that seats twenty-four, and nearly fifteen acres of garden.


Goodenstone (pronounced “GUN-est’n” or “GOOD n STON,” according to the BBC) is a 1704 Palladian mansion originally owned by the Bridges family of baronets, whose later descendants claimed, through some feat of aristocratic alchemy, the loftier rank of the FitzWalter barony. (Check out the history here.)


Unlike way too many allegedly Austen-linked stately homes, this one has genuine connections to the family: Jane’s older brother Edward married Elizabeth Bridges, a daughter of the third baronet, and the couple spent their early married life at Rowling, a country house on the property, a mile away from the mansion, where the twenty-something Jane Austen visited them. (Past tours of Austen’s England conducted by the Jane Austen Society of North America have stopped at Goodnestone, but, alas, the JASNA trip I joined in 2011, when I was researching Among the Janeites, did not.)


Is Goodnestone, as this report has it, “the Charming English Estate That Inspired Pride and Prejudice”? Sigh. Who knows what, precisely, inspired Pride and Prejudice? Jane Austen isn’t telling. But judging from the photos, calling Goodnestone a “Charming English Estate” seems entirely justified.


Yes, it’s pricey – as far as I can tell, the per-night rate during the summer ranges from £958 to £2,275 ($1,363 to $3,237), depending on how long you stay -- but split twenty-four ways, that’s actually considerably less than a luxury hotel room.


I’m in! Anyone want to join me? We’ll have to act fast, since the place is already booked up through late July.


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