On a very hot day in May, inspired by a Facebook Friend set of photographs, Sally, Emily and I visited Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Of course, it isn’t Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice, though Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley pretended it was in the 2005 film. (The house and gardens also features in the 2011 Jane Eyre, the 2008 The Duchess and Kubrick’s 1975 Barry Lyndon, among other notable TV and cinema outings.)
Jane Austen’s description of Pemberley
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. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
The room guides suggest it was Laura Cavendish, now Countess of Burlington, who set the ball rolling when she was rummaging in the Chatsworth attics for a christening gown for her son. Enlisting the help of Vogue editor Hamish Bowles and talented designers, Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfreda, Laura has produced an exhibition of costume, fashion, social comment and insight into class, power, leisure and influence that is consistently surprising.
There are highly theatrical oases like the funereal dresses arranged in a sombre grouping; and exuberant sections like the dinner party fashions sequence. The 1897 Devonshire House costume ball gets its own ghostly room and the phrase “Traditions and Transgressions” is used about one sequence which reveals the clash of styles represented in the exhibition as a whole. Part of my interest was to feed my obsession with history but also to fuel my imagination as I approach the closing chapters of my first novel. The costume ball was useful for that!