Lady A~ enlightens readers of the history behind the Houses and Homes of The Amiable Cassandra
In Residence: Cassandra Ashton-Dennis, Eliza Ashton-Dennis, Mrs. Ashton-Dennis, Anne Purcell.
Gouldham Cottage is: ‘a cottage orné, its walls dressed with honeysuckles and its window shutters painted green’. But unlike the Dashwood ladies’ rather spartan Barton Cottage in Sense and Sensibility, and its living arrangement that was thought to be inspired, in part, by Jane Austen’s final home, Chawton Cottage, it is the deliberate counter-representation of just such a place. Gouldham Cottage is an ‘elegant little middle-class retreat’, with ‘French windows and verandahs’; small but ample in its refined ‘propriety’ and framed with the ‘lawn’, ‘shrubberies’ and ‘gravel walks’ that define its ‘natural artifice’; the true touch of the architect John Papworth’s tribute to the true country idyll in ‘cultivated design’. Internally and externally Papworth desired to reflect a way of living for the gentry that was painstakingly crafted to reflect the bucolic situation of such a home and complementing the ‘romantic and utilitarian landscapes’ of the feted landscape architect, Humphry Repton.
Gouldham Cottage is at the very epicenter of everything...
Gouldham Cottage is at the very epicenter of everything that revolves around my singular heroine. Indeed it is the seat of all composition and creativity, as represented in the very vivid character of Cassandra Ashton-Dennis; a sanctuary—a home that harnesses the ephemeral imagination of a wholly intangible creature. Cassandra’s home is the brick and mortar of what cannot be delineated in material terms as she fashions illusory worlds within a world, and it is the portal through which her reality passes and from which she draws her fiction through her pen. Not unlike Chawton Cottage must have done for Jane Austen, Gouldham Cottage offers a place for a literary protagonist to ‘romantically’ craft characters and stories from the utilitarian landscapes of life going on internally and externally to the cottage. It is the conduit of the ‘throng’ which feeds Cassandra’s creativity just as Jane Austen managed to live ‘unperturbed in a throng’ and ‘the pressure of close quarters’. A veritable cauldron of inspiration that was all frenetic activity through the Austen family, and its connections, who comprise the ‘small social commonwealth’ associated with it.
Just like Chawton Cottage, Gouldham Cottage is the base for this socio-political nucleus, i.e., ‘the family at the centre of the political agenda’ or ‘the little platoon’ (as Edmund Burke called it) that is ‘the first principle of public affections’. A microcosm reflecting the macrocosm of a larger world in which influence of social and political agendas are manifested through the personal histories, perspectives and personalities of the persons living in it. And just as Jane must have done, Cassandra Ashton-Dennis looks out from Gouldham Cottage onto the socio-political landscape of the Regency to capture, with the razor-sharp perspective of a single-minded prodigy, its triumphs and tribulations, and within the rare privacy of the bedroom she shares with her sister. As her real life evolves the surreal lives of the ‘little platoons’ she creates in each of her novels become emblematic of art imitating life, and not unlike those famous families of Austen’s six celebrated novels.
Cassandra’s home is a piece of art within itself, being a Papworth creation that is elegantly fashioned to reflect the aesthetic ideals of the architect’s philosophies about how the gentry should ‘fit’ into the aspect of the rural idyll. And not unlike the effect of the ‘appearance’ of Chawton Cottage and what we necessarily draw ‘romantically’ from it today about Jane Austen and her life, there is more to Gouldham Cottage than meets the eye in its little verandahs, honeysuckled walls and green shutters. Just as Chawton Cottage was the ‘Small House’ to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight’s ‘Great House’, Chawton House, Gouldham Cottage shares exactly the same relationship to Gouldham Park. Though the houses are united as properties within one family or ‘social commonwealth’, they are worlds apart. Inside the Cottage four women reside in the economy of close proximity and limited resources, while at Gouldham Park, Cassandra might find herself ‘keeping to the library with five tables, eight-and-twenty chairs and two fires’. A disparity that accurately reflects the Regency’s inequitable macrocosm through microcosm of Cassandra’s home, and its ‘small social commonwealth’.
Gouldham Cottage is lastly, then, one of the key barometers of the ‘health’ or ‘sickness’ of this greater Regency macrocosm in The Amiable Cassandra, and as reflected through the character of Cassandra Ashton-Dennis herself. When Cassandra returns to her home after an uncomfortable sojourn in Bath, for instance, the sight of the Cottage is enough to uplift her spirits and restore her emotional health. Conversely when she is forced to leave her beloved home in a tenuous state, ‘The chief light of Gouldham Cottage’ was ‘utterly extinguished’. The latter, then, truly functions as the ‘seat’ of consciousness of the writer-protagonist. Cassandra Ashton-Dennis drives everything from the residence of her imagination, and just as Jane Austen ostensibly did from Chawton Cottage. As the ‘shining’ standard-bearer of the new rational meritocracy, Cassandra’s being physically removed from the crucible of all her creativity literally casts ‘a shade impenetrable’ on the Cottage and those left behind and connected to it.And so, as a veritable portal, Gouldham Cottage permits readers to experience the alchemy of fiction mirroring fact, and fact fashioning fiction, as they step back into what appears to be an alternative representation of Jane Austen’s life. In so doing they experience the ‘reality’ of what it might have been in a parallel universe. In this way it is an imaginary house like no other. It truly brings Janeites ‘home’ to their inimitable ‘imaginist’ Jane, by allowing them the freedom to imagine her as not just being the Cottage’s ‘most fascinating resident’, but also divertingly dressed in the most bewitching guise of the very amiable Miss Cassandra Ashton-Dennis—and all that it portends…
PURCHASE & POSSESS the very novel The Amiable Cassandra.