Locating Pride and Prejudice

By Emily Butt (MA Student, Lancaster University)

This semester, the new English Literature MA module Nineteenth Century Literature: Place – Space – Text asked students to complete a digital map for their formative assessment. Their brief was to select a nineteenth-century text and to use a digital mapping tool such as Google MyMaps or CartoDB to create a map of an element of their chosen text. That map should raise questions about the ways that we conceive of or understand place/space in the text. For more information about this task, please get in touch with the module tutor, Joanna Taylor. Here, Emily calculates the locations of key places in the novel, and suggests how this knowledge might develop how we read the novel.

For this mapping project I set out to explore the differences between the paths female and male characters take in Pride and Prejudice. After completing the map with the help of this theory, it highlights that there are indeed vast differences between the two. The clearest comparison we can make from this is that generally male characters move further afield but less often, whereas female characters stay in a localised area around Longbourn, Meryton, Lucas Lodge, and Netherfield Park but they visit each place multiple times. I suggest the explanation for this is that male characters talk frequently about traveling to different locations but rarely travel to these places. Female characters spend less time talking about where they will go, and actually just leave for these places.

From the map showing the movements of female characters between Longbourne, Netherfield and Meryton.

A problem with this particular text is that it is not always clear where the characters have come from or when they leave or even where they are in some cases as it is not explicitly mentioned for example, there are frequent references to walking along paths and roads for indeterminate times and distances that I could only estimate their locations. It is also unclear when both male and female characters talk about locations in the country if they actually go or only talk about going. For example, Mrs. Bennet suggesting different areas of the country her daughter could settle down in. However, this map does highlight more significant areas of Nineteenth Century society than solely focusing on the surface of these maps. The Lucas sisters are taken by carriage when they visit the Bennet sisters at Longbourn, however, when the Bennet sisters take the journey to Meryton, Lucas Lodge, or Netherfield, they walk, with the exception of Jane riding to Netherfield on horseback. Aside from it showing a lower social standing compared to other families in the area, it also reveals the Bennet sisters’ independence and perseverance as they have to travel quite some distance before they can begin undertaking the same social tasks as the Lucas sisters.

Triangulating the location of Meryton

We can begin mapping the text using real life locations, the first being Gracechurch Street in London. We know from the text that from Longbourn to Netherfield is “only three miles” (p.33), and “the village of Longbourn was only one mile Meryton” (p.29) and that from Longbourn to Gracechurch Street was “a journey of only twenty-four miles” (p.150). From this information and using OS maps of 1806, we can triangulate the possible locations of both Longbourn and Meryton. This is where we have two pieces of information that we can plot onto a map; where the two meet is the location we are trying to find. Knowing the distances between these locations makes triangulation possible, it is now a matter of where they lie in relation to one another. We must put Meryton in the centre of Lucas Lodge, Netherfield Park and Longbourn as this is where the gossip is. Through drawing a radius of 24 miles around Gracechurch Street we see that Harpenden and Redbourn are on this same line.  This leaves only one location to the north-west of London that is both 24 miles away, and has a small town about a mile away, this is the town of Harpenden. However, it is important to remember that no one travels in straight lines. Knowing these two key locations makes it much easier to locate Netherfield Park and Lucas Lodge.

From the First Series OS map, showing the area around Kimpton (from http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk)

What we find is a small area of Hertfordshire where all the main residences (Longbourn, Netherfield Park, and Lucas Lodge) are within walking distance of each other and right in the centre of all three is the town of Meryton where the sisters walk regularly to catch up on the gossip. Some locations in the novel are not where we would expect them to be, Kympton for example. There is a location named Kimpton nearby the town of Harpenden even though in the novel Kympton is in Derbyshire, this shows that Austen could have taken inspiration from the real world location of Kimpton and applied it to her own Kympton.

From this project, I have found that though the paths male and female characters are very similar, their motives behind it are vastly different. Male characters’ motives are mainly for work commitments to and from London, whereas female paths are more frequent inside a localised area for social arrangements, highlighting the clear difference in priorities between genders. Modes of transport between these locations alter our readings of the text by assessing how they move through a space and their social standing. The precise descriptions of distances between areas are invaluable when mapping imaginary spaces and Austen provides us with them in abundance, and makes it easier for us to triangulate precise locations.