Published: October 30 2009 13:24 | Last updated: October 31 2009 16:30
It is a truth universally acknowledged – as Jane Austen might begin –that human beings like to look through, poke around and otherwise explore houses that are not their own. And the current recession has made house-visiting even more popular. In the UK both EnglishHeritage and the National Trust conservation agencies report that visitors are well up on previous years, with some historic houses attracting 90 per cent more people than at the same time lastyear.
The houses of writers attract their own brand of tourist: fans eager to commune with the genius of the famous former occupant. These homes have particular allure when weknow that they also had an impact on the writer’s work. Fortunately, there are some recently restored gems that satisfy both the general obsession with peeking into private houses and the deeperinterests of the dedicated reader or scholar.
Austen’s life and work have an extensive filmography, with directors keen to exploit the appeal of period interiors and costumes. The houses in whichshe lived, and those she visited, already form a popular tourist route – and not only because she lived, died or composed stories in them. Austen also wrote explicitly about houses, making thedwellings almost as important as the characters who inhabited them. In Austen’s fiction, houses are not only great dramatic settings; they help to emphasise the relationship between marriage andproperty. Both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice turn on the issue of entailment, the practice whereby an ancestor attaches conditions to an inheritance for later generations, oftenstipulating that it should fall only to a male heir. It is a particularly sensitive point for Austen, who never married and spent most of her life dependent on her father and brothers for support.