Jane Austen lived in rural Hampshire nearly all her life, and not surprisingly the heroines of her novels are all country-dwellers likewise; the turning year with its changing seasons and the ages-old routine of agricultural life that follows the seasons, gives a time-frame for their love-stories and underpins the development of the plots.
1. The midsummer strawberry-picking party in Emma
Perhaps the most famous rural scene, when Emma and the other guests wander round the grounds of Mr Knightley's home Donwell Abbey, which is supposed to be in Surrey, somewhere near Richmond. We see through her eyes that the grounds are well-wooded, including an avenue of lime trees, and the ample gardens stretch down to meadows washed by a stream. Further away is the Abbey Mill Farm, with the river curving around its orchards and rich pastures where the sheep are grazing; and all the prosperity and beauty of the countryside is seen in warm bright sunshine. Only later do we learn how significant this scene is in the outcome of the story.
2. Lizzie walking to Netherfield Park in Pride and Prejudice
Lizzie Bennet goes scampering across the Hertfordshire countryside to Netherfield Park where her sister Jane is lying ill with a cold: "crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise". Bingley's sisters sneer at her behind her back for this unladylike exercise, but it only makes Darcy find her all the more attractive.
3. Marianne sprains her ankle in Sense and Sensibility
Marianne and Margaret Dashwood are also very energetic heroines enjoying country life in Devonshire, climbing up to the top of the downs to relish walking in the teeth of a strong south-westerly gale; but when the clouds unite overhead and a rainstorm bursts, they run down the hill as fast as they can; and this is when Marianne falls and sprains her ankle, Willoughby suddenly appears and carries her home, and her love-story begins.
4. Anne and Wentworth walk in spring in Persuasion
Anne Elliot muses sadly as she and Captain Wentworth and the Musgrove family walk across autumnal fields, with their withered hedges and leaves turning brown, feeling that she has lost his love for ever; but presently they see ploughing in progress, with all its promise of new crops in the coming spring – and this is symbolic of his old love for her reawakening.
5. Mary contemplating Thornton Lacey in Mansfield Park
Thornton Lacey in Northamptonshire: an isolated little village between gently rising hills, with a stream running across its single lane, and the only two buildings bigger than cottages being the church and the parsonage, the latter next door to a farmyard and a blacksmith’s workshop; on a cold December day the only person visible is a labourer cutting a hedge. The town-bred Mary Crawford had been thinking she might marry Edmund Bertram; but realises that if she does, this tiny place will be her home, because he will not move to London to please her.