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Helen Moffett

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A Letter to Elinor (& much obliged to Miss Austen for the introduction)

5-IMG_1840Pemberley seen as our carriage crossed the bridge, on a perfect late spring afternoon

My dearest Elinor,

I trust this finds you & yr family in excellent health and spirits. Today I took coffee at Pemberley,* although I was served in the stableyard. This was to be expected, given that I am as common as muck & part Irish to boot. But I was fortunate enough to tour part of the house, & spent several most pleasant hours rambling the grounds, which are extensive, & a tribute to Mr Capability Brown’s eye for aspect & vista. Each line of sight follows smoothly up to the rolling ridgelines, copses & pastures, currently gay with lambs & fresh green. The gravity-fed fountains & cascades are particularly fine. 6-IMG_1829
Proof of Mr Brown’s genius

The symmetry of the lakes, maze, greenhouses, sculptures & clipped box is well counterpointed by the Gothick wildness of the rockeries, pools, forests & coal tunnel, along with the broad winding river below the house, ornamented by a most graceful bridge. One could easily spend a week merely strolling & admiring nature’s canvas, as directed & decorated by human hand. Indeed, I came across several handsome cocks in the woods. (I speak of pheasants, my dear, there is no need for agitation.)

But the public rooms are themselves grounds for amazement. One is accustomed to little light in such great buildings, but these sparkle & glow with colour, in particular rich reds & jade-green, accentuated in marble & silk wallpapering. 3-IMG_1737
This style of decoration draws heavily on treasures from the Orient.

The Chinese painted wall-coverings in the guest bedrooms are a joy to behold, with their delicate rendering of foreign birds & soft colours. The deft use of mirrors pours light & space into already vast chambers.2-IMG_1764

Does a chamber like this not incline one to repose, dearest?

I searched in vain among the extensive family portraiture for a likeness of Mr Darcy, but nonetheless procured you a small memento adorned with his visage in the Gift Shoppe. I also encountered a most convincing sleeping lion in stone, which put me in mind of Miss Rose-Innes, herself no small practitioner with a pen.

The family were not at home, but visitors were most ably assisted in their perambulations by a well-informed team of men & women, who make it their business to impart knowledge of the property. I was also amazed at a series of modern chair-sculptures scattered throughout the house & grounds — most inventive, although I am not sure I approve. The library — ah, the library, my dear! I imagine that heaven is somewhat like that library.

8-IMG_1822The estate is clearly well-managed, with excellent principles of order & industry: it gives employment to some 700 souls. The vast kitchen garden is ornamented with a strange sculpture with mirrored tiles that revolve: it creates unexpected flashes of light, which deter birds from the beds, although the blackbirds seem cheerful enough.

p[;-['''The maze in which I nearly came to grief

My only time of alarm came in the maze: in my unsuccessful attempts to navigate to its heart, I lost my bearings, & my gown hooked onto yew twigs, which held me captive for a few uncomfortable moments. I had visions of gardeners having to cut me free. A ramble through the dark & dripping coal tunnel was far less alarming, I confess.

I am now reposing at a comfortable hostelry that goes by the unexpected name of the Craven Heifer, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. I have dined on pea-shoots, asparagus & artichokes, and am contemplating visiting the home of those strange girls, the Brontes, tomorrow.

Perhaps one day we shall drink tea at Pemberley together. We have been comrades in travel so many times. I remain, yours amiably, in sisterhood, & etc.

*Pemberley is sometimes also referred to as Chatsworth, I believe*



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