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Blaise Castle

Blaise Castle. Photo by Ann Pacifico
Blaise Castle? What's that?

To many readers, Blaise Castle (or as Jane Austen wrote, Blaize Castle) would seem to be only a landmark which Catherine failed to visit. However, to the readers of the time, it represented much more. It represented the shallowness and falseness not only of the Thorpes, but of the fiction of the time, and the ideas it inspired. Blaise Castle, you see, is a fraud. Built in the 1766 (two years after the release of the spine-chilling "Castle of Otranto", the first of the gothic terror stories and a model for Ann Radcliffe's books, notably, "The Mysteries of Udolpho".) and remodeled by Humphrey Repton in 1796 (Repton's famous "Red Book" for Blaise Castle -sketches of his suggestions for his clients, with before and after plates, is now the property of the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. It was probably during the renovations that Jane Austen first heard of it). It was not the derelict ruin that Catherine supposed, but a rather snug, neat, and small country house, built to look like a castle. There were no long, dark passages with frights at every turn, but rather, a clean and bright interior, with excellent views to the very unforbidding woods surrounding it.On the Other hand..... The owners of the "castle", Thomas Farr and later, lived in modern comfort a few miles away on another part of his estate and used the building as a summer house, all the while encouraging the various myths and stories which were in circulation, and even going so far as to create a fake Loverís Leap and Robber's Cave.

Built in a triangle formation, the architecture features three corner towers and a center, round room. A later owner would add eight cannon to the top of the castle, to heighten itís not so forbidding, impression. Apparently the owners of the estate (Farr,and later, John Scandrett Harford, who bought the estate in 1789) liked to play "make believe" as they also built an "authentic" Tudor village for their workers to live in.

Blaise Castle. From Tours of BristolIn Northanger Abbey, no one ever disabuses Catherineís supposings about the castle. It is left in all itís wretched intactness in her imagination.....and that of the reader. Only those who know, will appreciate the joke Jane Austen has played not only on her heroine, but on her audience as well. No doubt Catherine would have enjoyed the delightful grounds surrounding the castle, but one canít help feeling she would have been very disappointed at the empty shell presented to her instead of the delightful ruins she imagined to be there. Is this not a picture of her friendship with Isabella? All is not as it first appears...or as we imagine it to be. This is the message in the novel...and the story of Blaise Castle.

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