‘Smith’s place is the admiration of all the country and it was a mere nothing before Repton took it in hand. I think I shall have Repton.’
This is a quote directly from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, where the blundering Mr. Rushworth is attempting to impress Miss Bertram with his taste in landscape gardening.
One of the delights of creating an exhibition is finding out more wonderful coincidences about Repton, his life and times. So in this blog I wanted to shed light on the Jane Austen connection that you will also see at the exhibition itself, although in more detail.
Mansfield Park, along with Northhanger Abbey, which also relates to Repton’s work at Blaize Castle, Bristol is one of her later novels.
She based Mansfield Park on Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, for which Repton produced a Red Book for her cousin, Thomas Leigh in 1809. But her first real acquaintance with his work was at Adlestrop, Gloucestershire where her cousin Rev. Thomas Leigh had consulted him in 1799. At Adlestrop, Austen had the opportunity of seeing her cousin’s library which contained Repton’s hugely influential book ‘Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening’ (1803).
Two whole chapters of Mansfield Park are devoted to landscape improvement: actual techniques of landscape gardening and the moral issues involved.
In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy’s ‘beautiful grounds at Pemberley’ are a credit to the landlord’s own impeccable ‘taste and feeling’ whilst Sotherton, Mr. Rushowrth’s country house in Mansfield Park, is shown as a place where the owner had to hire the services of a professional landscape gardener…such a Mr. Repton.
In Northanger Abbey, Austen’s Gothick romance novel, she pokes fun at the horror of the Gothick ‘masterpiece’ which was Blaise Castle.
In the following passage the bullying John Thorpe tries to persuade the slightly innocent heroine, Catherine Morland to take a carriage ride with him there. ‘Blaize Castle! What is that?’ ‘The finest place in England – worth going fifty miles at any time to see.’ ‘What, is it really a castle, an old castle?’ ‘The oldest in the kingdom.’ ‘But is it like what one reads of?’ ‘Exactly- the very same.’ ‘But now really – are there towers and long galleries?’ ‘By dozens.’
Repton also found ‘delicious terror’ at the sublime landscaping at Blaise Castle where he was commissioned by John Harford to remove such excesses.
So Austen was well aware of Repton and his style, through her cousin’s improved grounds at Stoneleigh, its Red Book and his own writings.
To end with Mr. Rushworth: ‘As he has done so well by Smith, I think I had better have him at once. His terms are 5 guineas a day.’