Jane Austen Summer Program co-director Inger Brodey knows her way around Sotherton Park — judging by the hypothetical map she created with architect John Harvey. We got a peek at her process.
What made you try to map the estate? A long time ago, I was struck by the allegorical style and content of the Sotherton Park outing. I saw lots of symbolism there, centering around Austen’s only use of a ha-ha. There are three main doorways, and the young group struggles for liberty throughout the scene, escaping successively from the house, then the garden, and then the wilderness. Each character defines liberty a little differently, and as a whole, their individual choices foreshadow the ending of the novel. I had started drawing the path in classes while teaching “Mansfield Park,” when I encountered Nabokov’s map of Mansfield Park from his lectures on teaching Austen. I combined the ideas from my maps and charts with the general shape of Nabokov’s map, and then proceeded to add many more details from the novel. I asked John Harvey, an architect friend, to help me draft the map. I’m not sure it works 100%, but it is striking what a precise visual image Austen had in mind.
How did you go about doing it? What do you look for in the text? Chapters 8-10 are rife with information about Sotherton — the different aspects of its landscape, such as its avenue, its wilderness, its plantings, and details about the fences, as well as its architectural style. From the style of ha-ha, for example, we know that there were deer at Sotherton.
What’s the best way for someone to draw their own map? Try to visualize as you read, and draw a little more each time you read. It helps to have friend who is an architect!
Have you thought about mapping other estates? Part of the fun with “Mansfield Park” is how much attention Austen plays to landscapes and estates. We have seven named estates, each with their own characters, and attention to small details, including Austen’s only references to “soil” conditions. Fanny is a bit like a plant herself, transplanted and needing tending to thrive. I have, though, thought it might be fun to try to map out events in “Persuasion.” When I went to the site of Stevenson Parsonage last summer, I saw a hazelnut thicket, and that made me think more about the landscape in her last novel as well.