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The Other Downton Abbeys: Nine Illustrious Houses in Fiction (Photos)

The Abbey is not the only famed but fictional residence. From Pemberley to Brideshead, Elizabeth Wilhide surveys the most memorable.

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Simon & Schuster

The Other Downton Abbeys: Nine Illustrious Houses in Fiction

Downton Abbey is not the only famed but fictional residence—here’s a survey of the most memorable manors in literature. Elizabeth Wilhide is the author of the new novel Ashenden, whose title ‘character’ is also a house. Ashenden Park is based on Basildon Park (pictured), the Berkshire stately home that featured as Netherfield Hall in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The novel traces its 240-year-long history as readers meet those who lived in it, worked in it and loved it, along with those who subverted it to their own ends. Architects, housemaids, prisoners of war, soldiers, and the privileged are among the cast whose individual stories are interwoven into a tapestry of history and architecture.

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From the moment Elizabeth Bennet sets eyes on Pemberley, a “large handsome stone building” that sits naturally in its grounds, the prejudice that has prevented her from appreciating Darcy’s true character falls away. The house is the measure of the man—an obvious testament to his wealth (which she knows all about), but also a reminder of the responsibilities that come with it (which she hasn’t considered). Later, she confesses to her sister Jane that she fell in love with Darcy “when I first saw his house.” She’s joking, but only just.

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One of the most memorable first lines in fiction, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” introduces Daphne du Maurier’s best-loved novel, Rebecca. Manderley, the English estate by the sea where Maxim de Winter brings his young bride after their wedding on the Riviera, is haunted by the spirit of his first wife, the beautiful, accomplished Rebecca. To the inexperienced and unnamed narrator, the ghost of Manderley’s former chatelaine is everywhere, a constant reminder of her own shortcomings and failure to possess the house, its master, and her destiny.

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Thrushcross Grange

Epitomizing gentility, the home of the Lintons is a tamed oasis within the rugged windswept Yorkshire Moors. Its red carpets and white ceilings bordered in gold are a far cry from the gray, rough homestead of Wuthering Heights. Torn between nature and culture, Catherine Earnshaw chooses safety and pays the price with her death. When her true love, the foundling Heathcliff, eventually becomes owner of the Grange, social order is usurped.

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The Burrow

Higgledy-piggledy, several crooked stories high and seemingly held up by magic, the home of the Weasleys and their seven children is the polar opposite of sterile, mundane, suburban 4 Privet Drive, where Harry Potter has spent his childhood banished to a cupboard under the stairs. The cosy Burrow, cluttered with “rusty cauldrons and old Wellington boots,” introduces Harry to a family life where warmth, humor, and magic are part of everyday existence.

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Thornfield Hall

Great houses have their secrets and none so forbidding or menacing as the mad woman locked away in the attic of Thornfield Hall. Isolated and gloomy, Thornfield represents the state of mind of its master, Mr. Rochester, at the time when Jane Eyre arrives to take up the post of governess. Both Jane Eyre and Rebecca, which was directly inspired by it, feature house fires as their climaxes, conflagrations sweeping away the past in all its forms.


Orchard House

Louisa May Alcott’s childhood home in Concord is the setting of Little Women, not so much a house in fiction as a fictionalized house. Attics often symbolize the life of the mind. Orchard House’s attic is a hive of creativity where Jo writes plays for herself and her sisters to perform and discovers her own stubborn individuality within a framework of domestic duties and convention. Modest, at times threatened by poverty, the house bears witness to the consolations of the ordinary and familiar, even at the saddest times.

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West Egg

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” Gatsby’s ostentatious pile in West Egg is “a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden.” Like Gatsby, the mansion has a bogus, fictional past. It’s also a lure with which to tempt Daisy, who lives with her husband Tom Buchanan across the bay in a red-and-white Colonial house that speaks of old money and taste.

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Written in 1944, when the English country house appeared doomed—and when many were requisitioned for the war effort—Evelyn Waugh’s elegiac Brideshead Revisited looks back at a gilded Downton-esque age of privilege through the eyes of Oxford undergraduate turned army captain Charles Ryder. Later Waugh admitted he had “preached over an empty coffin.” Many great houses like Brideshead were lost, but many others survived, notably Castle Howard, which starred in the 1981 miniseries.

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This grand house and plantation, founded by first-generation Irish immigrant Gerald O’Hara and dearly loved by his daughter, home of the spoiled hot-housed Southern belle Scarlett, is the model of wealth (and oppression) in the years leading up to the Civil War in Gone with the Wind. In succeeding years, it falls into decay, is ravaged, and occupied, before coming back to life and prosperity through the efforts of our sadder, wiser but no less resilient heroine. Twelve Oaks, however, the gracious home of Ashley Wilkes, and emblem of the old regime, is not spared and is burned to the ground.