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Home: The Toast

Previously in this series: Great House Therapy: Jane & Edward’s Fire-Ravaged Gothic Ruin

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Name: Elizabeth, feisty heroine who nonetheless fully conforms to patriarchal expectations; Darcy, reformed grouch and scantily clad swimmer in lakes
Location: Derbyshire, England
Size: Bigger and better than all other houses in the county (ask anyone)
Years lived in: Since Darcy was the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world; owned

One year ago, after their lavish boho-chic wedding to which all of the county was invited, Elizabeth moved into Darcy’s family seat of Pemberley. Their home, which is located in one of the hippest and most desired neighborhoods in England, dates so far back that no one would dare question its authenticity and awesomeness.

Their shared love of fountains and ease with their social position shines through in many details of this extraordinary home. Darcy and Elizabeth live with Darcy’s sister Georgiana and their staff, which includes the devoted housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds, whom Darcy warmly describes as “sort of like my mother, but not, of course, because she’s a servant.” Although the house is perfect, they hope to make some improvements. They anticipate converting several of the bedrooms into nurseries in the coming years, where servants will strive to keep the little ones out of sight until they are sent to school. Both are hoping for a boy, as girls are utterly useless in a system of primogeniture.

It was important to Elizabeth to put her stamp on Pemberley when she took up residence, so she visited some other lovely, but duly inferior, estates like Chatsworth for inspiration. With its 126 rooms and extensive gardens, Chatsworth is “not at all bad,” she says, but Darcy insists that it is “utter garbage” compared to Pemberley, which has a much better point of view, situated as it is on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness winds.

The Darcys like large, well-proportioned rooms that are handsomely fitted up, and Darcy himself likes to take baths. Elizabeth enjoys long walks in the woods, from which she returns with flushed cheeks that are obviously totally sexual.

All in all, they have created a home of seven thousand rooms, where they can welcome Elizabeth’s family, although they desperately hope that those fools will not visit too often. Elizabeth allowed us a peek into the beauties of Pemberley.

A chat with Elizabeth:

Their style: I would describe our style as neither gaudy nor uselessly fine, by which I mean it’s not disgusting like Rosings, which looks like somebody vomited up chintz and then covered everything that didn’t move in gold. Lady Catherine de Bourgh showed up right after I moved in and wanted to tell me how to decorate, but I told her I’d rather be stuck on a desert island with my idiot sisters than listen to her nonsense. She backed off after that, and I haven’t seen her beady little judgmental eyes in some time. Truth be told, I don’t think Darcy would want me interfering too much in the material manifestation of his masculine, masterly virtue, but I do make the occasional tweak: a new Ming vase here, an embalmed pygmy person there. We have a lot of Greek statues, and of course the portraits of Darcy in the picture-gallery. I know it may sound narcissistic to have a lot of paintings of oneself, but it’s just something you do if you’re important. My favorite is the one where he’s standing over the bleeding body of a defenseless fox.

Inspiration: In making a few changes to some of the parlors, I was influenced by design elements of my former home Longbourn, where I always had to listen to my idiot sisters fighting over bonnets. I really loved my father’s library. I was enamored of the mahogany bookshelves, his beautiful desk set, and his charmingly worn leather club chair. He really made a gorgeous room into which he could retreat from all of us. It’s funny that I should think of this, because now I’m seeing a psychoanalyst and working through some issues I have about how he talked down to my mother, and his total disregard for all of our welfare, and well – a few things. My analyst Prunella says that one’s relationship to one’s father is very important. I’m going to start going five times a week.

Favorite Element: The situation of the house and the extensive gardens. This was what made me first fall in love with the place – I mean with Darcy! Sorry. My, oh my. Seeing the house really put my spirits in a high flutter, and my mind was too full for conversation, but I saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. I was delighted. But you know the deal – this is all detailed at the beginning of chapter 43. Now that I’m recalling this moment, it’s almost as if this description has larger implications for understanding the social position and values of the landed aristocracy in England. I’ll have to think about that later, when I’m filling the endless hours of my day.

What Friends Say: Jane and Bingley like Pemberley a lot, probably because it’s bigger than their place. I mean, Netherfield Park is great, if you’re into smaller, cozier rooms. They come to hang out and to remind us how much nicer they are than us. But Darcy and I are also homebodies, and we just like to enjoy the space. He still finds country society somewhat confined and unvarying for his taste, so he often stays in and cleans his guns while I go out to dance mechanically in rows. And we throw parties regularly, although my idiot sisters aren’t allows to drink or play the piano.

What the Servants Say: There have been some growing pains. Sometimes our housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds forgets to dust certain parlors or to change the flowers in the bedrooms on the eighth floor, but that’s probably because we never told her those rooms were there. Darcy is the best landlord and the best master – not to mention the handsomest. Just the other day, he gave our groom a half-day off because his father is dying in another county, so that was nice. All our servants are thrilled to work at Pemberley. Sometimes I wonder if they might have wanted to do something different with their lives, but then I think: crazy lady, they love it!

Biggest Embarrassment: A lack of closet space, definitely! We have a lot of clothes, and of course there are Darcy’s guns, and it’s hard to know where to put everything. I’ve purchased a few lovely wardrobes from Paris, and that has made a difference. But honestly, the lack of closet space is a real downside of a Great House that no one tells you about when you’re a young heroine looking for an eligible bachelor of property. I’m hoping to install some California Closets when things calm down after hunting season.

Proudest DIY: Well, Caroline Bingley came to visit a few days ago, and I needlepointed her head to a pillow. HA! Just kidding. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that an armchair in possession of a large bottom must be in want of a throw pillow, so I have made a few new pillows for the south drawing room, although I haven’t been over to that part of the house in several weeks. I also burned the portrait of George Wickham. Does that count as a DIY project? – I did make the fire. I think he might have noticed its absence the last time they were here, but maybe not since he was drunk the whole time.

Biggest Indulgence: We like to buy books for our library, and I have a lot of time to read as I lack an active and useful profession. At first, I was a bit uncomfortable in the space as it brings to mind my issues with my father’s library, but I’m coming to like it. I also bought myself a nice writing desk. It’s from China, where the opium comes from. I fill my days by writing letters, making sure Mrs. Reynolds has her orders, and helping Darcy’s younger sister Georgiana learn how to speak words out loud. I have bought a few lovely things and sent them to my best friend Charlotte, but she doesn’t really visit anymore. I suppose I could bring that up with my analyst next week.

Best Advice: Give a lot of balls, but don’t invite officers! Sketchy guys, the lot. As I said, Wickham and Lydia came to visit recently, and of course they didn’t even bring a bottle of wine. Wickham mostly played billiards with himself and kept requesting that servant girls come to his room to fix some issue with the fire. But yes, the balls have been fun, and they have given me something to do. Being mistress of Pemberley really is something, but it’s not all claret and roses. Let’s see. What else? – I also suggest that you design yourself a work-life balance studio. I did, and I can’t tell you how great it’s been. I redecorated one of our seven thousand rooms in a lovely shade of green that reminds me of my long walks in the countryside, and until that decorating moment, I never knew myself.

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Susan Harlan is an English professor at Wake Forest University, where she specializes in Shakespeare. Her essays have appeared in venues such as The Guardian US, The Morning News, Roads & Kingdoms, Nowhere, The Awl, Public Books, and Curbed.

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