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The Probable Location of Donwell Abbey in Jane Austen’s Emma

Is it possible from the clues that Jane Austen provides in Emma to say where in the county of Surrey Donwell Abbey is?  Austen scholarship seems adamant that such location is not possible (Le Faye 152), giving as the authority for this claim none other than R. W. Chapman, the editor of the standard twentieth-century edition of Austen’s novels.  This essay argues that the currently dominant view is incorrect—that Chapman got this point badly wrong—and that it is possible to locate Donwell Abbey and, by extension, to identify the nearby village of Highbury and even Emma’s home, Hartfield.  Donwell Abbey is almost certainly the former stately home Claremont Park in Surrey, Highbury is the nearby town of Esher, and Hartfield House a property now known as Esher Place.

Chapman provides the following note on “Feigned Places” in his edition of Emma

Highbury has been identified with Cobham, Leatherhead, Esher, and other places; and it has been pointed out that there is a house called Randalls near Leatherhead, and that the pulpit of the church there was restored in 1761 by a Mr. Knightley. . . . Miss Austen doubtless knew these facts.  But from our knowledge of her accuracy we are bound to believe that if she had intended any actual place she would have given the distances correctly; in fact, no possible place is at once 16 miles from London, 9 from Richmond, and 7 from Box Hill; the precision of these figures was perhaps designed to preclude the possibility of a false identification.  (521; emphasis added) 

In fact, Chapman considerably understates the precision of the details that Austen gives us to the probable location of Donwell and Highbury since Austen does not merely say that Highbury is “sixteen miles” from London (7) but from a named street in London, Brunswick Square, near the much better known Russell Square.  Just as in Pride and Prejudice then, where Austen tells us that Longbourn is exactly twenty-four miles from a named street in London—Gracechurch Street, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner—so in Emma we are told exactly how far Highbury is from a named street in London.1

From our knowledge of Austen’s accuracy, Chapman says, “we are bound to believe that if she had intended any actual place she would have given the distances correctly.”  Yes, indeed—so why then doesn’t Chapman make this assumption?  He suggests that “the precision of these figures was perhaps designed to preclude the possibility of a false identification.”  But why then name two actual streets in London?  Why not make up satirical names for these location as Austen had already done for Longbourn (an obvious reference to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s marriage) and Donwell (Done well) Abbey itself.  Something is not quite right here. 

Let us therefore look in more detail at the clues given in Emma.  Austen gives us our first clue to the location of Highbury, a “large and populous village almost amounting to a town” (7), in the first chapter of Emma, where she also tells us that Hartfield, Emma’s home, is the principal house of that town.  Hartfield is “only sixteen miles” (7) from the place in London where Emma’s older sister, Isabella, lives.  By itself this information would not have been of very much use.  London is after all a very large city, even in Austen’s day, and this measurement might have been taken from the center of London or from its boundary with the county of Surrey.  In the same chapter, however, we are told exactly where Isabella and her husband, Mr. John Knightley, live in London—Brunswick Square (9)—and since there is in fact only one Brunswick Square in London, it is a relatively easy matter to locate it unambiguously.  Later in the novel, and in fact on more than one occasion (91, 206, 273), we are told unambiguously that Highbury is in the county of Surrey.  It is therefore a relatively easy matter to draw the arc of a line through the county of Surrey at a distance of sixteen miles from the center point of Brunswick Square. 

The second piece of firm evidence as to the location of Highbury is its distance from the town of Richmond.  Since London does not agree with Mrs. Churchill’s nerves, Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, and therefore also Frank Weston Churchill, are to move to Richmond from a house that they have temporarily rented in London.  Frank is said by Austen to be looking forward to having “two months before him of such near neighbourhood” to Highbury, and Mr. Weston is delighted by the close proximity:  “It was the very circumstance he could have wished for.  Now, it would be really having Frank in their neighbourhood.  What were nine miles to a young man?” (317).  Once again, as with the distance of Highbury to Brunswick Square, the reader cannot help notice just how precise Austen is in the distances given.  Unless she had an actual place in mind, why should Austen say nine miles, rather than the more rounded ten (or she might have said “about ten miles from Richmond”)?  And unless it was an actual place, why say Highbury is sixteen miles from Brunswick Square rather than round it down to fifteen or up to twenty?  The distances given therefore strongly support the idea that Highbury is an actual place exactly nine miles from Richmond-upon-Thames, neither more nor less and, what is more, a place that we are meant to be able to identify for ourselves.  It is then a simple matter to draw the arc of a second line on our map of Surrey, this time with Richmond at its center, and to see where this line intersects the one we have already drawn exactly sixteen miles from Brunswick Square in London.2 

The third piece of evidence is given when Emma, the Eltons, Miss Bates, and others go on a day trip to the well-known Surrey beauty spot of Box Hill.  The party sets off from Hartfield and the vicarage:  “Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment” (367).  Once again it is a relatively easy matter to draw the arc of a line seven miles long through the county of Surrey, this time in a northerly direction, with Box Hill at its center, and once again this line passes through the arc of the other two lines we have previously drawn from Richmond and Brunswick Square. 

As Chapman says, then, Austen does indeed give very precise details to the location of Highbury and Donwell, but, contrary to what Chapman says, this precision would seem to suggest that Austen did indeed have an actual place in mind.  But one thing that Chapman says in the above reference is badly wrong.  Providing only that these distances of the lines drawn are long enough to intersect, it simply cannot be the case—the laws of geometry will not allow it—that “no possible place is at once 16 miles from London, 9 from Richmond, and 7 from Box Hill”; rather there must in fact be some place that corresponds to these directions, even if it is only a place of no particular significance or interest.  As a matter of fact, and contrary to what Chapman says, the intersection of any two such lines would be more than enough to settle the matter (triangulation providing the location of the third point), unless by some chance the arc of any two such lines happened to intersect at more than one place, as does sometimes happen. 

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Is it then possible to find in the county of Surrey a place exactly sixteen miles from Brunswick Square in London while simultaneously nine miles from the town of Richmond and seven miles from Box Hill?  In fact, it is:  these three lines are indeed long enough to intersect (Map 1); therefore, providing only that we can rely on the accuracy of the distances Austen gives in the novel, the one and only place where the arc of these three lines meets must be the location that Austen had in mind for the location of Highbury and Donwell Abbey in Emma.  

map 1Map 1
1. Brunswick Square; 2. Richmond; 3. Esher; 
4. Claremont Park; 5. Box Hill.
(Click here to see a larger version.)
(Use your browser’s zoom feature to see more detail.)

There are two points (Map 1) at which a line seven miles long and drawn in a northerly direction from Box Hill (to the south of the county of Surrey) intersects with a line nine miles long and drawn in a southerly direction from Richmond (in the north of the county).  These two places are, to the west, a large landed estate called Claremont Park, just to the southwest of the town of Esher in Surrey, and, to the east, a place called Howell Hill, on the road between Ewell and Cheam, and not too far from the town of Epsom.  Only one of these two possible locations between Richmond and Box Hill, however, that of Claremont Park to the west of the county, also intersects with a third line drawn exactly sixteen miles from Brunswick Square in London in the direction of Surrey (Map 1).  If we can take all of Austen’s map references seriously—if we do not say that she simply made these up from her own imagination or that she was mistaken—these three map references taken together strongly suggest that Claremont Park is the location of Donwell Abbey, the home of Mr. George Knightley, and that therefore the nearby town of Esher (one of the possible locations mentioned by Chapman) must also be the location of Highbury, no other place in Surrey being exactly these distances from London, Richmond, and Box Hill. 

Of course, when Austen says that Highbury is exactly nine miles from Richmond and sixteen miles from Brunswick Square, we don’t know whether she means in a straight line (“as the crow flies” as people say in England) or as one would travel these distances by road.  The distance by road seems to be the more likely, given that Austen herself frequently travelled from her home in Hampshire to London via Esher and Richmond.  Oddly enough, however, it turns out that this possible objection makes remarkably little difference to the distance from Richmond to Esher or from London to Esher, since the road from Richmond into Surrey is exceptionally straight for an English road, and even the road from Surrey to London—in fact the main London to Portsmouth route and the road that Austen herself would have travelled into London from Hampshire—is also remarkably straight.  It is only when we come to the third location that there seems to be any difficulty, since the road to Box Hill from Esher is in fact very winding indeed and therefore likely to be longer—though over a relatively short distance—than the distance between these two points drawn in a straight line. 

As the crow flies, a straight line nine miles from Richmond falls about one mile beyond Esher but passes directly through the grounds of Claremont Park.  If we make an allowance for bends in the road, the distance from the Bear public house in the center of Esher is exactly nine miles to Richmond Bridge in the center of Richmond.  A straight line drawn sixteen miles from Brunswick Square in London passes about a mile beyond Claremont Park, and therefore two miles beyond Esher, but falls much nearer to Esher when measured by road.  We cannot know for sure which route Austen might have taken from Kingston to visit her brother in London (it is possible to go via Brixton or Balham; both routes seem equally good).  It is, however, possible by placing a piece of string on ordnance survey maps of the roads at that time to measure the distance from the Bear public house in the center of Esher to Brunswick Square in London:  this distance is exactly sixteen and a half miles.  If the fictitious Hartfield house were a half a mile to the north rather than the south of Esher—in the direction of Kingston—then the distance to Brunswick Square might well be about sixteen miles. 

Alternatively, when Austen says sixteen miles, she might well have meant sixteen and a half.  A mile stone on the estate at Claremont, about a half a mile to the south of Esher, gives the distance from the estate as seventeen and three quarter miles to Westminster Bridge in London (and therefore about half a mile less from Esher itself); it may well have been this location that Austen had in mind when she said the distance from Hartfield house to Brunswick Square was sixteen miles.  As the crow flies, a line of seven miles long from Box Hill passes directly through Claremont Park and is therefore about a mile short of Esher/Highbury from where Emma and her party are supposed to set off; a line drawn by road passes through Esher Common, to the south east of Claremont Park, but not through the town of Esher itself. 

The strong impression given in Emma, therefore, is that Austen did indeed have some actual place in mind for the setting of the novel, and this sense of geography is one of the things that gives the novel its very great authenticity.  What is more, common sense supports this argument.  Why would any novelist invent an imaginary place, in all its detail, when she could describe an actual place she already had in mind?  It is therefore much more likely that Austen did have some actual place in mind when she wrote the novel than that she did not.  Nor can it seriously be suggested that Austen was trying to disguise the actual location she had in mind in order to protect the identity of any actual people living in Esher or Claremont House at the time she published Emma.  If this were the case, why give an exact location for Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley’s home in London?  Didn’t people living in Brunswick Square in 1816 deserve the same consideration as those living in Esher?  For that matter, didn’t people living in Gracechurch Street in London—mocked and ridiculed as a respectable address in Pride and Prejudice—deserve the same consideration as those living in Harpenden/Meryton at this time (Smith)?  Rather, I think it is quite clear that Austen is playing with her readers here, another example of her wicked sense of humor.  Those of her readers in the know—her sister, Cassandra, certainly, her brothers in the navy, perhaps even the Prince Regent—were meant to see through the clues and recognize places that they all knew well in Esher and Claremont Park, while the rest of us were left to work this identification out for ourselves.3 

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If the geographical location of Richmond and London alone and the method of triangulation are not enough to persuade the sceptical reader that Donwell Abbey is indeed Claremont Park and that Esher is Highbury—after all, as I have just pointed out, some point must coincide with each of these three references providing only that all three lines are long enough to intersect—we have something more to go on in identifying Claremont Park in Surrey as the probable location of Donwell Abbey.  In Emma the house and grounds of Donwell Abbey are described in great detail, and this description provides us with an opportunity to test the thesis that Claremont Park is indeed Donwell Abbey.  Normally, even in England, it is unlikely that a house built more than three hundred years ago would still survive today.  In fact, the original Claremont House (Fig. 1) was knocked down in 1769, just a few years before Austen was born, and rebuilt on a much grander Palladian scale and in a more elevated position than the original house on the road from Hampshire to London.  In fact, the “new” Claremont House, once owned by the royal family, is such an important building in English history that a great deal is known about its history, while the gardens of the former house are now owned by the National Trust (a quasi-government organization charged with preserving old buildings of national or historical importance) and have as far as possible been restored to their eighteenth-century condition.  It is therefore not only possible but in fact relatively easy—the grounds of Claremont Park being open to the public—to compare the description of the house and grounds of Donwell Abbey to both the surviving parkland and what is known of the former Claremont House. 

claremont houseClaremont House

Austen describes Donwell Abbey through Emma’s eyes: 

She felt all the honest pride and complacency which her alliance with the present and future proprietor could fairly warrant, as she viewed the respectable size and style of the building, its suitable, becoming, characteristic situation, low and sheltered—its ample gardens stretching down to meadows washed by a stream, of which the Abbey, with all the old neglect of prospect, had scarcely a sight—and its abundance of timber in rows and avenues, which neither fashion nor extravagance had rooted up.  (358) 

Although this description might well be said to be that of any number of large country houses of Austen’s time, this passage does describe remarkably well the situation and the appearance of the former Claremont House shown in Figure 1.  This original Claremont House was at the foot of the slope of a hill with, as Austen says, “all the old neglect of prospect” of an earlier time and with an abundance of timber growing round it. 

The description of Donwell Abbey itself also matches the original Claremont House. 

The house was larger than Hartfield, and totally unlike it, covering a good deal of ground, rambling and irregular, with many comfortable and one or two handsome rooms.—It was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was—and Emma felt an increasing respect for it, as the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding.  (358) 

The surviving picture of the former Claremont House (Fig. 1) shows exactly what Austen describes. 

Austen then describes a walk in the gardens of Donwell Abbey: 

[T]hey insensibly followed one another to the delicious shade of a broad short avenue of limes, which stretching beyond the garden at an equal distance from the river, seemed the finish of the pleasure grounds.—It led to nothing; nothing but a view at the end over a low stone wall with high pillars, which seemed intended, in their erection, to give the appearance of an approach to the house, which never had been there.  Disputable, however, as might be the taste of such a termination, it was in itself a charming walk, and the view which closed it extremely pretty.—The considerable slope, at nearly the foot of which the Abbey stood, gradually acquired a steeper form beyond its grounds; and at half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with wood;—and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey-Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.  (360) 

land plotClaremont House Garden Plot
(Click here to see a larger version.)

In the garden of the former Claremont House today, there is just such a lime walk (in fact, an avenue of what we would now call “line” or linden trees); this lime walk ends abruptly in a low stone wall with a view over the surrounding garden and countryside (Fig. 2), which, in the eighteenth century, might just have allowed one to see the bend in the nearby River Mole (Map 2) and the plain of a meadow in front of what was then known as Winter Farm, surrounded on three sides by the river.  (Because the position of the London to Portsmouth Road has been moved to enhance the Claremont estate and new trees planted to screen the Claremont estate from the road, it is no longer possible to see Winter Farm from the location that Austen describes.)  After a cold meal inside the house, the Donwell Abbey party goes outside to look at “the old Abbey fish-ponds” and “perhaps get as far as the clover, which was to be begun cutting on the morrow” (361).  There were just such fish ponds on the estate in Austen’s time, and a large part of the estate not used as a park was worked as a farm. 

It is therefore a relatively easy matter to match the description of Mr. Knightley’s house given by Austen in Emma to the picture of the former Claremont House and grounds that still survive today; to imagine Abbey Mill Farm, the home of Mr. Robert Martin, in the bend of the River Mole as shown in the plan; or to picture Emma (or even Jane Austen herself?) standing at the low stone wall that still exists at the end of the lime walk of trees, admiring the view of the considerable slope leading down towards the fish pond and the surrounding park on the Claremont estate today. 

We might also consider why Austen describes Donwell Abbey in quite so much detail in Emma.  No such detailed description is given of Hartfield house or the scene from Box Hill, for example.  Of course she is trying to build up the character of Mr. Knightley, whom Emma is going to marry and whose status is reflected in his home.  One is reminded here of Elizabeth Bennet’s description of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, which she says jokingly was what first attracted her to Mr. Darcy, or the even more detailed description of Sotherton in Mansfield Park together with much disapproving criticism by Austen of old houses being knocked down and gardens being “improved” in line with fashion and extravagance.  Mr. Knightley, we can be quite sure, would never have knocked down the perfectly adequate Donwell Abbey just to rebuild the house in a more elevated position:  he is far too conservative, if not to say boring, to do any such thing.  He certainly would never have rebuilt Donwell Abbey on the top of a hill overlooking the main road to London in the location of the current Claremont House. 

Even more compellingly, we also know that Austen knew Claremont Park well herself, and actually took a personal interest in its fate.  In one of the few surviving letters to her sister, Cassandra, Austen refers to the house by name:  

[F]rom a Mr Spicer’s Grounds at Esher which we walked into before our dinner, the veiws were beautiful.  I cannot say what we did not see, but I should think that there could not be a Wood or a Meadow or a Palace or a remarkable spot in England that was not spread out before us, on one side or the other.—Claremont is going to be sold, a Mr Ellis has it now;—it is a House that seems never to have prospered. . . . [A]fter dinner we walked forward, to be overtaken at the Coachman’s time, & before he did overtake us we were very near Kingston.  (20 May 1813) 

Although this reference to Claremont is the only one in her surviving letters, this fragment is enough to show that Jane and Cassandra had spoken about the house before the letter was written and that it must have been of some importance to them.  This letter also shows that Austen was familiar with Esher as well, as of course she must have been on her many trips from Hampshire to London.  The Mr. Spicer to whom she refers in this letter was none other than the steward of the Claremont Estate in 1813, employed by the then owner Charles Rose Ellis—later Baron Seaford—to manage the estate from 1802 to 1816. 

Why were Jane and Cassandra so interested in the fate of Claremont House?  Apart from the fact that Jane’s comments in Mansfield Park suggest that she disapproved of old houses being knocked down and rebuilt simply for the sake of fashion and elegance, there was also a family connection.  Claremont was at one time the property of the notorious British civil servant Robert Clive (known to this day in Britain as “Clive of India”), who later became Baron Clive of Plassey after his success at the battle of Plassey in 1757 secured British colonial domination of India for the next two hundred years.  It was Clive who bought and knocked down the former Claremont House, but, because he died in 1774, he never lived to see the new house he had commissioned built on the site, although his heirs owned the estate until 1786.  It is therefore perhaps this premature death that Austen refers to when she says that the house had “never prospered” (it would have been better for the district of Esher if such a wealthy man had been able to keep the house).  Clive was also known to Warren Hastings (1732–1818), later Governor of India, who, according to Clare Tomalin, may have been the father of Jane and Cassandra’s cousin Eliza, the daughter of their aunt Philadelphia (18–19).  The Austen family had a long-standing connection with Hastings.  It is possible then that their interest in India, and especially in Warren Hastings, might have extended to the former home of Lord Clive of India. 

There is yet another connection between Jane Austen and the house, this one even more tentative.  As is well known, Emma is dedicated to the then Prince Regent.  In November 1815 she was invited to Carlton House in London to meet the prince’s librarian, James Stanier Clarke, who suggested that she might dedicate her forthcoming novel to the prince and even suggested a storyline to Austen for a future novel about himself (16 November 1815).  It is a curious fact—even if just a coincidence—that the Prince Regent bought Claremont House from the above-named Mr. Ellis in 1816, the same year in which Emma was published, as a gift to his only daughter, Princess Charlotte, on the occasion of her wedding to Leopold, the future king of Belgium.  Is it possible therefore that Emma is dedicated to the Prince Regent not just as a compliment to the future King or because he was a known admirer of her work but also because this particular novel was by chance set at Claremont Park and was then dedicated to the prince when it became known that he was to buy the house? 

Finally, there is yet another reason for identifying Claremont with Donwell Abbey and Highbury with Esher.  It is a further curious fact—curiouser and curiouser as we might say—that there is a picture of a group of gypsies at Claremont House drawn by the Princess Victoria in 1836 when, as a young girl, the future queen was staying there.  It is described in the National Trust pamphlet as a drawing of “the Claremont gypsies” (Fig. 3).  Although nothing more is said about these gypsies in the National Trust pamphlet, their description “as the Claremont gypsies” suggests that the group living on the Claremont Park estate in 1836 had been doing so for some time; it is possible that the ancestors of this same group of gypsies gave Austen the idea for the otherwise most unusual scene in Emma, in which Frank Churchill rescues Harriet Smith from gypsies while she is walking from Highbury on the Richmond road (333-34). 

gypsiesA childhood drawing of Claremont gypsies by Queen Victoria who recorded the names of the children: Dinah, Job, Britannia, Emmeline and Helen (Royal Collection)

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If Donwell is Claremont, then is it possible to identify any actual place in nearby Esher with Hartfield?  Here things are much more difficult since we are told so little about Hartfield in the novel—other than that it is in a separate parish from Donwell and that Highbury is “a large and populous village almost amounting to a town, to which Hartfield, in spite of its separate lawn and shrubberies and name, did really belong” (7).  If Highbury is Esher, it is possible that Hartfield might well be a house now called Esher Place, a short distance from the center of Esher and on the other side of the London road to Portsmouth, and the home of Mr. Spicer, as mentioned in Austen’s letter.  At one time Esher Place was owned by one Henry Pelham, the younger brother of Baron Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Earl of Clare in Ireland and owner of Claremont House from 1714–1769.  Claremont Park, and therefore the small hill in Surrey on which Claremont house was built, was named by Pelham-Holles after his estates in County Clare in Ireland (hence Clare-mont), and it is possible that County Clare is the source of the frequent references to Ireland in Emma (related to Jane Fairfax’s supposed infatuation with Mr. Dixon). 

Pelham-Holles was twice prime minister of Britain and made Duke of Newcastle for the part he played in 1714 in inviting the Hanoverian Saxe-Coburg family to become the monarchs of England.  The Prince Regent, the future George IV, therefore owed his title in large part to Pelham-Holles’s influence.  The Duke of Newcastle was an exceptionally wealthy man, who owned estates in eleven counties in England and had an income of about £30,000 per year at a time when a lawyer or army officer could live well on a salary of £200 per year (National Trust 25); perhaps, because of its close proximity to London and Westminster, Claremont Park was his favorite home. 

It is important to remember that Austen cannot actually have seen the original Claremont House in which Newcastle lived—the house that I claim is the one actually described in the novel—but it seems likely that she saw drawings of the original house, perhaps when she visited the estate in 1813.  It also seems clear enough that she would have disapproved strongly of the behavior of the nouveau riche Lord Clive of India (who, in an infamous statement in Parliament, had been forced to defend his good name against money-making schemes in India) in knocking down a perfectly good country house—that “was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was . . . the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding” (358)—to replace it with one designed in the newly fashionable Palladian style that we see on the top of a hill today.  When Austen describes Mr. Knightley, then, she perhaps had in mind the young Pelham-Holles of 1714—a possibility that could suggest that Pelham-Holles’s wife, the Duchess of Newcastle, is a possible model for Emma. 

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There are, then, three and perhaps four very good reasons for identifying the location of Claremont Park with Donwell Abbey and Esher with Highbury.  The first is geographical and concerns not only the triangulation of the distances given by Austen in the novel but also the fact that Claremont and Esher are on the direct London to Portsmouth Road that Austen would have known so well from travelling from her home in Chawton to London.  The second concerns the description of Claremont House and the gardens of the house itself.  The description of the house by itself might not be conclusive (many houses in the eighteenth century might have looked like the former Claremont House), but the description of the pleasure grounds and the relation of the Claremont estate to a pronounced bend in the River Mole at just this point, creating a plane suitable for farming, seems compelling.  Anyone who stands at the low wall at the end of the lime walk, overlooking what Austen describes as the fish ponds and looking down across the park cannot help but think that he or she is standing on the exact spot described by Austen in Emma.  The third piece of evidence has to do with Austen’s family acquaintance with the distinguished Indian civil servant Warren Hastings (and hence a natural interest in the affairs of the even more infamous Clive of India) and their familiarity with Claremont House and with Esher.  The fourth and more tentative piece of evidence concerns the dedication of the novel to the future king of England and subsequent owner of Claremont House. 

That Austen did not describe the house and grounds of Claremont Park that existed in her own day suggests that—in terms of geography—she was reflecting back to a period some fifty to one hundred years before she was born, to the house and grounds that existed on the site at that time.  If I am right in what I have argued here, it is not the England of 1816 that Austen describes in Emma but rather—as romantic novelists of a conservative disposition are inclined to—a longed for and lost golden age.



I am very grateful to Andrew King, head of the National Trust at Claremont Park, who was very helpful as I was doing the research on which this essay is based.



1For an analysis of the location of Longbourn, see Smith.

2There are in fact (Map 1) only two places in Surrey where the arcs of these two lines cross.  One is a place called Esher Common, just to the south of Claremont Park, and the other is a piece of common land called Princes Coverts, just to the east of Oxshott in the county of Surrey.  A “covert” is an archaic name for a thicket of woodland providing shelter for game, especially birds, for hunting, in this case no doubt by a prince.  Once upon a time then, but not by Austen’s day, these would probably have been royal hunting grounds. 

3There are any number of other reasons for identifying Donwell Abbey as Claremont Park and Highbury as Esher.  Mr. Martin, the farmer who rents land from Mr. Knightley and who proposes to Harriet Smith, seems to travel to Kingston-upon-Thames on a regular basis.  Why go to Kingston—which is about six miles north of Esher—if there was another, nearer market town?  The only other principal town of any size nearer to Esher than Kingston is Cobham, to the southwest of Claremont; Cobham is also mentioned when Mr. Knightley writes to his sister-in-law in London to reassure her that the fever in Cobham has not yet spread to Donwell.  Donwell, then, must be somewhere fairly near to Kingston and Cobham.  Claremont and Esher are more or less exactly mid-way between these two towns. 

The Westons live in Randalls, a small house that seems to be on the other side of Highbury from Donwell (16), by Emma’s estimate three-quarters of a mile from Hartfield (129).  It is possible then to walk from Randalls to Highbury, of which Hartfield house, the Woodhouse’s home, is part (196).  Mr. Weston returns to his own home, Randalls, after a day in London on business and then walks, as Mr. John Knightley thinks, in amazement, half a mile from his own home to Hartfield (303).  It is possible then that one comes first to Randalls and then goes on to Hartfield before passing through Highbury.  It is a curious coincidence—yet another coincidence then!—that there is an actual place just north of Esher on the road from Esher towards Kingston-upon-Thames (the road that Austen describes to Cassandra in her letter of 1813) called Weston Green, although this actual place is perhaps just a bit too far to walk from Esher and perhaps even farther than Austen describes herself walking in that direction in her letter to her sister.

Works Cited
  • Austen, Jane.  Emma.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  Oxford: OUP, 1966.
  • _____.  Jane Austen’s Letters.  Ed. Deirdre Le Faye.  4th ed.  Oxford: OUP, 2011.
  • Le Faye, Deirdre.  Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels.  London: Lincoln, 2003.
  • National Trust.  Claremont.  Bromley, Kent: National Trust, 2000.
  • Smith, Kenneth.  “The Probable Location of ‘Longbourn’ in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice."  Persuasions 27 (2005): 234–41.
  • Tomalin, Clare.  Jane Austen: A Life.  New York: Vintage, 1999.
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