If you spend a lot of time online, it can sometimes seem that every house for sale in England has a tangential Jane Austen connection that real estate agents are ready to exploit for profit. And all too often, credulous journalists are equally ready to report as fact every breathless speculation about houses that “inspired Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ ”
So how refreshing to read a real estate story that takes the time to debunk a demonstrably false Austen-linked marketing claim!
It seems that a two-bedroom, three-thousand-square-foot apartment is for sale in the village of Wrotham, in the southeastern English county of Kent. The flat occupies the top floor of a Georgian villa called Court Lodge, once a rectory inhabited by the family of Harriot Moore, whose sister was married to Jane Austen’s brother Edward.
Austen spent a weekend with the Moores in November of 1813, while on a visit to Edward’s family at nearby Godmersham. This visit did not, however, occur “whilst she was writing Pride and Prejudice,” as the real estate listing asserts, for the simple reason that P&P had been published the preceding January.
To his credit, reporter Toby Keel notes that tiny chronological problem as he highlights the listing in the pages of Country Life, the real estate bible of the British upper crust. (He goes on to claim that Harriot’s clergyman husband, George Moore, was the model for Dr. Grant in Mansfield Park, which is hardly undisputed. But I’ll cut Keel some slack, since he knows enough about the book to point out that this would not exactly be a compliment to Reverend Moore.) *
But enough of all these pesky historical details! How’s the apartment? Is it worth the asking price of £995,000 (more than $1.3 million)?
As Austen-linked real estate goes, I’d say this one is about average. The big windows, hardwood floors, roof terrace, and summerhouse are all pluses, but if I were buying Austen real estate, I would probably want less in the way of contemporary styling and more period flourishes. Especially given that Jane Austen wasn’t writing P&P while she stayed there.
* Curiously, neither Country Life nor Court House’s marketers seem to have noted an additional Austen connection to the nearby Kentish town of Sevenoaks. It is here, in a mansion called the Red House, that Jane Austen’s great-uncle Francis Austen lived, and here that the twelve-year-old Jane and her parents visited him in the summer of 1788. During this visit, Francis Austen commissioned a portrait of the young Jane – or so say those who believe that Ozias Humphrey’s painting of a young girl, known as the Rice portrait, depicts the author in her tweens.