Jane Austen was born on 16 December. Join us for an early celebration of her birthday in festive style with mince pies and mulled wine before the talk.
Jane Austen’s obsession with houses is well known to her many fans. She begins five of her six completed novels by explaining her characters’ relationships to their properties and what kind of predicaments these cause. Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey place the house at the forefront of the stories even before the first lines appear.
But what was Austen doing by giving us so much ado about houses? She didn’t much care for decorative detail, as the architecture critic Nikolaus Pevsner observed of her writing, ‘she is without exception vague, when it comes to describing buildings’. So what is it she was trying to communicate through the many mentions of named houses? What kind of houses did she know in her own life, and what does her focus on marriage and property say about her own experience and about that of other women in Regency England? Phyllis Richardson looks at the conditions that inspired Austen’s concerns, examining the author’s personal attachments to different houses and her possible models for the houses she created on the page.
Phyllis Richardson has an MA in Anglo-American Literature from University College London. She is the author of several books on contemporary architecture, including the highly successful XS series, Nano House and Superlight, published in the UK by Thames and Hudson. She has written on architecture, urban development and travel for the Financial Times, the Observer and DWELL magazine. She has also published many literary reviews in the TLS and other journals. She is currently the co-ordinator of the Foundation Year in English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London.