$13.5m plan to restore Wentworth Woodhouse raises ire

LONDON • When the chancellor of the Exchequer announced recently that the British government planned to pour £7.6 million (S$13.5 million) into restoring Wentworth Woodhouse, an English stately home "said to be the inspiration for Pemberley in Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice", he probably did not expect a backlash.

But that is just what he got.

"There is absolutely no evidence Jane Austen ever travelled further north than Lichfield in Staffordshire," the Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom said after the announcement, part of the Autumn Statement by the chancellor, Mr Philip Hammond, which outlines the government's overall spending plan.

Wentworth Woodhouse is about 110km north of Lichfield.

"Jane Austen, herself only too keenly aware of the value of money, and of the need for veracity, would have been savvy enough to know that a building the size of Wentworth Woodhouse with its estimated number of over 300 rooms and its estate of over 15,000 acres could not possibly have been supported on Mr Darcy's reported income of a mere £10,000 per annum," the statement continued.

Mr Darcy, the taciturn but dashing leading man in Pride And Prejudice, lives in the monumental but understated (and fictional) Pemberley estate.

Ms Maureen Stiller, the society's honorary secretary, said over the telephone last Thursday its statement, first provided to The Guardian after it asked for the group's reaction to the spending plan, was intended to be lighthearted but factual. "You have to work on likelihood rather than supposition," she said.

Two years ago, the current owners announced that they wanted to sell the house and a trust has been focused on arranging its purchase. The trust will acquire the house imminently, said a spokesman for Savills, the real estate agency overseeing the purchase.

The government grant will go to restoring it, rather than directly to supporting the trust in acquiring it.

The government's plan provoked immediate backlash in conservative press outlets such as The Daily Mail, which ran an article with the headline: "Was it wise for the Chancellor to give YOUR millions to save Britain's biggest house?"

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline '$13.5m plan to restore Wentworth Woodhouse raises ire'. Print Edition | Subscribe