‘Repton famously found villas distasteful, and it as though exposure to villas would bring out a case of the shudders in him. So his comments at Scarisbrick at the beginning of 1803: ‘In addition to the arguments in favour of a Gothic house for this situation, I may mention that while in the neighbourhood of great manufacturing towns the whole county is dotted with spruce villas spreading their little wings and ready to perch on every acre of unoccupied land’ are matched by those he made at Stanage at the end of the year – ‘In the wild scenery of Stanedge Park, how discordant would appear the three window bows of these modern “scarlet sins” against good taste or how sprucely would glitter the white washed Villa from the neighbourhood of the Capital.’ It hardly seems possible that it was not a single exposure to Birmingham that now rippled through his work. Yet he would build and design for villas.
A sentiment he shared with Jane Austen – yet Repton lived in one villa-like cottage on the outskirts of Romford, and Jane Austen in another at Chawton – and even Emma’s house, Hartfield, was just another such. Here Austen reports on Emma’s conversation with Mrs Elton:
The very first subject after being seated was Maple Grove, “My brother Mr. Suckling’s seat;”–a comparison of Hartfield to Maple Grove. The grounds of Hartfield were small, but neat and pretty; and the house was modern and well-built. Mrs. Elton seemed most favourably impressed by the size of the room, the entrance, and all that she could see or imagine. “Very like Maple Grove indeed!–She was quite struck by the likeness!–That room was the very shape and size of the morning-room at Maple Grove; her sister’s favourite room.”– Mr. Elton was appealed to.–“Was not it astonishingly like?– She could really almost fancy herself at Maple Grove.”
“And the staircase–You know, as I came in, I observed how very like the staircase was; placed exactly in the same part of the house. I really could not help exclaiming! I assure you, Miss Woodhouse, it is very delightful to me, to be reminded of a place I am so extremely partial to as Maple Grove. I have spent so many happy months there! (with a little sigh of sentiment). A charming place, undoubtedly. Every body who sees it is struck by its beauty; but to me, it has been quite a home. Whenever you are transplanted, like me, Miss Woodhouse, you will understand how very delightful it is to meet with any thing at all like what one has left behind. I always say this is quite one of the evils of matrimony.”
Emma made as slight a reply as she could; but it was fully sufficient for Mrs. Elton, who only wanted to be talking herself.
“So extremely like Maple Grove! And it is not merely the house– the grounds, I assure you, as far as I could observe, are strikingly like. The laurels at Maple Grove are in the same profusion as here, and stand very much in the same way–just across the lawn; and I had a glimpse of a fine large tree, with a bench round it, which put me so exactly in mind! My brother and sister will be enchanted with this place. People who have extensive grounds themselves are always pleased with any thing in the same style.”
Emma doubted the truth of this sentiment. She had a great idea that people who had extensive grounds themselves cared very little for the extensive grounds of any body else; but it was not worth while to attack an error so double-dyed.’
Maple Grove is being criticised as a villa somehow, but it is the same as the much loved Hartfield. Repton of course worked all over Bristol and would have known its Maple Groves.
The point here, as the Editor might say, is that Mrs Elton felt at home at Hartfield because it was so like Maple Grove – and thus Austen showed (and Repton would have agreed) that all the perfection of the village life that she lived to portray was replicated throughout the country. [Notes from the Professor, trans. the Type-Setter]