Jessica Baskin

Architecture Styles in Jane Austen’s Life 

When defining the architectural styles of Jane Austen’s lifetime, it is important to remember that there are two phases: the architecture that Jane was living in, and the architecture that was being built while she was living. The first period of style, the building that Jane was living in, was Georgian. Georgian architectural style typically dates from 1700-1800. During the Georgian period, influential, wealthy young men took “Grand Tours” through Europe. It was thought that this exposure to the classical traditions of architecture would bring its influence to Britain.

Some trademarks of the Georgian style include:

At this point in time, the “rich” of Britain were just getting richer. They were putting tremendous amounts of money into their homes and creating huge landscaped parks. These enormous homes were called “country houses”. It was a mark of stature to own a country home, as well as, apparently, great amounts of grass.

Palladianism was one of the great influences on Georgian architecture as well. The basic concept of Palladianism is that, where Baroque had gone over the top with its ornate finery, Palladianism is simple elegance using classical orders. There was a great point made of the symbolic importance to Palladianism. This was an opportunity for architects to give a statement of personal philosophy, or even to let the family’s philosophy become a motive for the architecture. If, for instance, there were a mock temple of Apollo built on someone’s land, that building was not simply a building, but could also symbolize war. This could be downright war, war in the English world, or an intellectual battle. Nothing built in Palladianism was simply “put there.” Everything had a philosophical meaning behind it. A great example of classic Palladian form is the Christ Church of London. Enclosed is a picture that highlights the use of simple rectangles, semi-circles, and circles to create an incredible piece of work. There is remarkable use of the characteristic Palladian arch in the church.

Another important concept of the Georgian Era was terraces and town houses. Terraces are, essentially, groups of town houses. These terraces characterized the Georgian Period. There were groups of very high windows in the townhouses, one on either side of the front door. The farther up the building, the shorter the windows got, until, on the top floor, the windows are nothing more than squat little squares. The terraces tended to be 4 stories with common walls separating them. It was very important to have thick walls to prevent the spread of fire, however, this concept seems ironic to me as the chimneys were encased in these walls, therefore the best location to spread fire. Hmmmmmm. Another important difference to remember when comparing England to the United States is that, in England the 1st floor, as we think of it in America, is not the ground floor. There is specifically a ground floor, with the next floor being the 1st floor.

The type of buildings being built while Jane Austen was living were of the Regency period. The Regency period is often split into two major streams of style: the Gothic Revival and the Classical Regency. Gothic Revival lived far on into the Victorian period and carried into the homes of the United States. The Gothic period took most of its influences from the typical English medieval Gothic churches of the late 13th and early 14th centuries. During the Gothic Revival, there was a great call to imitate the decorative elements of the churches, but at a much lower cost, therefore, stucco took the place of the typical medieval stone. The cost of construction was much cheaper. There was also the forethought to create the same elements, but with a greater chance for long-term use. Frail Gothic ironwork on balconies seemed frail, but was actually held up with hidden iron struts.

The Classical stream of the Regency period used the same Greek and Roman influences as the Georgian period, but was also a “cheap substitute” for the original. Brick was covered in stucco or plaster, and what were traditional fluted Greek columns, cornices, and other trademark decorative elements of Grecian architecture were all done in cheap stucco. Ironically, the Classical Regency architects of the period called it “refined elegance.” 

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