Perpetual Sunshine

David Cannadine

  • The Gentleman’s Country House and its Plan, 1835-1914 by Jill Franklin
    Routledge, 279 pp, £15.95, February 1981, ISBN 0 7100 0622 5

With the possible and significant exception of the steam-engine, no artifact in modern England has been the object of such fanciful, romanticised and well-articulated veneration as the country house. Nineteenth-century novelists, like Surtees or Trollope, tended to give minutely-detailed accounts of country-house life, which were more precise than rhapsodic. But during the first half of this century attitudes changed, and one of the most common set-pieces in popular fiction became that magical, glamorous, enchanted moment when the hero or heroine first set eyes upon the mansion which frequently dominated the novel. An early example of this is in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Making of a Marchioness, where Emily comes upon Palstrey Manor and ‘almost wept before the loveliness of it’. More composed, but no less enamoured, was Harriet Wimsey (née Vane), as she visited Denver Ducis for the first time. Lord Peter assures her that the drive is indeed a mile long, that there are deer in the park, and that peacock do strut upon the terrace. As he observed, ‘all the story-book things are there.’

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