29 January 2012

Fancy Becoming a Professional Hermit?

I'm reading a delightful book at the moment, "In the Garden with Jane Austen" by Kim Wilson. Not only is it beautiful and fascinating in its own right, the book is giving me little tidbits I can use in my writing.

I came across something today which I had to share. In a chapter about mansions and manor house gardens, there is a section entitled "Temples, Gothic Seats, Grottoes and Hermitages". The author discusses how certain garden features were supposed to conjure particular emotions according to the romantic tendencies of the eighteenth century.

Hermitages are discussed last, and I have to admit I have never heard of this as a garden feature before. To quote from the book:
The Bennets in Pride and Prejudice have a hermitage in their wilderness walk. Mrs Bennet wants to show if off to the visit Lady Catherine de Bourgh: 'Go, my dear', she cries, 'and show her ladyship about the different walks. I think she will be pleased with the hermitage.' A hermitage, meant to resemble the hut of a religious recluse and to inspire melancholy associations, ought properly to be located in a secluded wooded area, so the Bennets hermitage is sited correctly, though perhaps too close to the house for the best taste.

Estate owners occasionally advertised for hermits to fill their hermitages. Employers asked such men to let their hair and fingernails grow, wear simple clothing, live in the hermitage and interact with any passing visitors in the character of the religious ascetic. Some contracts promised large payments at the end of specified terms, because it was so hard to keep a good hermit. Eventually, the notion of hiring a hermit was considered so ridiculous that a play called The London Hermit lampooned it, and indeed it's hard to imagine even Mrs Bennet going so far.
That's right everyone, it's hard to keep a good hermit. Can you believe that was actually a profession? You could pretend to be like a monk, living a solitary religious life in the garden - but you were just faking it! I'm trying to imagine what kind of performance a hermit would give for the privileged few strolling in these gardens. Perhaps this novel might shed some light.

Quite amused by this idea, I decided to try to find out what a hermitage actually looks like. Here are a few examples:
Medieval Hermitage
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Classical Hermitage
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And what of the hermits themselves? Well...

That's him on the left
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That's him on the right
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What a cutie, I couldn't resist!
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  1. I could quite nicely live in a hermitage. Especially those you've shown. As long as I didn't have to talk to anyone. I could write in my little house all day, talking to my imaginary friends. I'm sure by the end of 6 months I would be quite mad, and therefore, might actually BE a REAL hermit.

  2. I love the hermit crab! I used to have one.

    Interesting post!

  3. " You could pretend to be like a monk, living a solitary religious life in the garden - but you were just faking it! "
    Just try for ONE week to fake living in silence and solitude... Without a PC I mean :-
    Faking living is not a brilliant idea anyway !
    I've been a monk, living the hermit life in a monastery (it does exsit!). The first day, after 30 minutes in my cell, I nearly run away. I was told the real story of someone who did literaly run away after a few minutes. He had dreamt of it for years...
    It is very tough. A total therapy, with your personnal devils jumping right in your face. It's not Le Club Med as most people imagine.

    " Can you believe that was actually a profession? "
    It became a profession when it became trendy in the upper class, and it partly became trendy because it was then fading... The XVIIIth century saw the last widespread movement of men becoming hermits.
    It has always been dangerous for women to live in solitude in a remote area. But there are some...
    Today there are about 3 to 5 hundred hermits in France.