Many of the places in this novel are real, and yet many are fictitious. These facts aren’t pointed out until you look into it and start matching up the locations on a map. The anonymity of some areas is further suggested when Austen blanks out the names of towns with a “-“. But where does the boundary between reality and fiction lie? Most Pride and Prejudice readers will tell you that Longbourn is a completely fictional town in Hertforshire. But is this really so? I probably would’ve said that the place was a creation of her mind until last week, when I stumbled across a research piece by Kenneth Smith (a lecturer in criminology- Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, High Wycombe, UK) where he uses the information provided in the novel as well as practical techniques such as triangulation (used in the WW2 to locate enemy radio transmissions) to come up with a location for Longbourn. And the results are outstanding.
If there is anything that brings warmth to my heart then it is this simple fact. That an academic in an unrelated field (and a male, no less) bothered to put that much effort in to looking for a possibly completely fake place in Britain. I can’t imagine it would generate much money (although it is of priceless interest to me), nor much interest in his own field, but he still bothered.
If you are interested in reading the whole thing then I have linked The Probable Location of “Longbourn” in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice here (I highly recommend sitting down with this and taking the time to look at it all). It also has some fabulous 19th century maps (although the quality isn’t the best) and it explains each process in simple terms, so it’s easy to follow. It isn’t just longbourn either, he also has possible localities for Netherfield Park and Meryton. It’s really interesting to wonder if perhaps Austen holidayed there and used the inspiration for P&P. What do you think? And more specifically- if you have been to the places mentioned in the report (Harpenden, Redbourn etc) do they seem accurate to you, even in their changed 21st Century states?
While you may wonder if Austen actually based Longbourn and her other ‘imaginary’ places on real towns or if they were in reality just made-up, you might want to consider what Smith brings up in that piece concerning Austen’s accuracy and need for details to be correct. If this much is true, then it might be apparent that she would have made everything else just as accurate as well (and it seems this way when you look at the precision of the evidence against that in the book).
Following that little gold-nugget of a discovery, I figured I would plot a map of the places that are important in Pride and Prejudice. Looking at a map explains a few things, and gives it a great new context to think about. I used several different websites, including the book itself, for reference, and basically plotted them all onto a modern map (the different counties seemed to shift borders here and there). What you see below is my attempt at this (each county is correct, but the markers aren’t that well placed. The star marks where Austen was born):
It’s also interesting to note what I read somewhere else and that is that Miss. Bingley and Mrs. Hurst believe that Jane’s uncle lives in cheapside. This isn’t actually true, he lives a bit further outside of cheapside. I just thought it was a nice little confusion, no doubt added in by Austen with a degree of amusement intended.
I wonder if Austen actually based things like The Rose and Crown on real places? And if all of that is true… could she have potentially based the characters on real people she had met? Now that’s what I call food for thought!