Jane Austen is associated with the county of Hampshire. Here she was born, spent most of her life, was buried. Indeed, there has been strong pressure from the Hampshire Tourist Board to rename it ‘Jane Austen Country’.
But one Jane Austen mystery is why Hampshire hardly figures in her novels. Conversely, the author knew Surrey well and here she set one unpublished novel, The Watsons, and of course her masterpiece, Emma.
The part of Surrey in the novels is the Vale of Mickleham, the beautiful area between Leatherhead and Dorking, including Box Hill. This was the ‘Beverly Hills’ of 18th century London, populated by rich Londoners like the playwright Richard Sheridan and the poet Lady Sophia Burrell whose father, Sir Charles Raymond, owned a vineyard on his Valentines estate from which the Great Vine at Hampton Court was propagated.
Lady Sophia connects Surrey to Jane Austen. She was a close friend of Jane Austen’s cousin and sister-in-law, Eliza de Feuillide. Another Jane Austen mystery is that many places in the novels correspond exactly to places. The heroine of Emma lives in a mansion called Hartfield on the edge of a town called Highbury. From an examination of the map Highbury can only correspond to Leatherhead and Hartfield to Thorncroft Manor, owned by Henry Boulton, husband of Lady Sophia’s sister Juliana…
For the author, Surrey was the ideal English county. In Emma she famously describes the ideal English view:
“The considerable slope, at nearly the foot of which the Abbey stood, gradually acquired a steeper form beyond its grounds; and at half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with wood; and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey-Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.
It was a sweet view – sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive”.
From the Ordnance Survey map, we know the exact spot the author stood when describing this view. There is only one ‘bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur well clothed with wood’ in this area, and it lies directly behind Mickleham Priory, the original of Abbey-Mill Farm, with its meadows in front and the broad curve of the River Mole behind it. Fortunately it has been captured in this beautiful photo by Ian Capper.
Based on the newly published book Jane Austen – a New Revelation by Nicholas Ennos
For further information visit www.janeausten-anewrevelation.com