Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 662
Headlong Hall. Welsh manor house in the vale of Llanberis in Caernarvonshire. Its four principal “scenes of action” are explicitly identified in chapter 2 as the cellar, the library, the picture gallery and the dining room. The last is the most important as a setting for the philosophical conversations that form the principal substance of Thomas Love Peacock’s story. The hall’s grounds are, however, far more important than the house itself as a backdrop to these discussions. These wild spaces have been targeted by the landscape gardener Marmaduke Milestone, who is eager to substitute lawns and flowerbeds—embellished by pagodas, Chinese bridges, and artificial fountains—for the surroundings that nature has provided.
Milestone’s specific proposals are contrary to the tide of contemporary fashion; in 1816 many of the orderly lawns and flowerbeds of southeastern Britain were torn apart in favor of artificial wildernesses, complete with the ready-made ruins that were known by the appropriate name of “follies.” The hall’s grounds already contain an authentic ruined tower, which Milestone purposes to obliterate in the service of his relentless desire to change things, thus demonstrating the authority of human ingenuity and technological power. His ambitions, as fostered by Squire Headlong, form the context of the arguments between Mr. Escot, the “deteriorationist” philosopher who asserts that humankind has been corrupted by civilization and luxury, and Mr. Foster, the “perfectibilian” champion of progress. As these and other characters arrive at the hall for a weekend party they all have opinions regarding the “tremendous chasms” that surround them as their coach makes its way along the rough-hewn road.
Cemetery. Graveyard in the grounds of Headlong Hall that provides a second significant location. Located in the estate’s churchyard, the cemetery symbolizes the continuity of past and present, although the sexton’s fanciful claims about the identity of one of the skulls in the bone-house remind readers that history, also, is a cultural artifact.
Ballroom. Although not listed as one of the four principal scenes in the early pages of the novel, the most significant interior setting, apart from the dining room, is the hall’s ballroom. This is the location in which the various romantic couplings that provide the story’s closure are finally cemented, and it is another setting whose cultural significance is ingeniously debated by Mr. Escot, this time in discussion with Mr. Jenkison. Although the making of various marriages complements the lessons of the churchyard, stressing the continuity of the family and human nature, Headlong Hall is—as its name indicates—in danger of losing its balance as it hurries into an unknown future.
*Vale of Llanberis
*Vale of Llanberis (hlan-BEHR-us). Ancient county of Caernarvonshire (now part of the county of Gwynedd) that forms the northwestern part of Wales, facing the Isle of Anglesey. The town of Llanberis is five miles inland, in a valley between two spurs of the foothills of Snowdonia. Most of the region’s inhabitants still speak Welsh even now, and in the early nineteenth century there would have been clear-cut distinction between the region’s intrusive English aristocrats and the indigenous Welsh population—although the Headlongs are careful to claim descent from an ancient Welsh family, the Cadwalladers.
The landscape of the region outside the Headlong estate includes the pass of Aberglaslynn, which the text describes as “sublimely romantic,” and mountain peaks that symbolize the unchangeable. This scenery functions within the story as an opposite extreme to the supremely civilized interior of the hall; the hall’s grounds extend between the two extremes as an intermediate territory whose fate is yet to be determined—although it is the desires of its human owners rather than the dictates of nature that will decide the issue. The fact that Mr. Milestone’s illustration of the merits of gunpowder as a means of clearing land goes awkwardly awry, nearly causing the death of Mr. Cranium, is a clear indication of where Peacock’s own sympathies lie.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 182
Burns, Bryan. The Novels of Thomas Love Peacock. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1985. Sound but not authoritative criticism, with unsurprising insights. Includes Headlong Hall.
Butler, Marilyn. Peacock Displayed: A Satirist in His Context. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979. The most influential book on Peacock in recent years, with acute critical discussions of the novels, including Headlong Hall.
Dawson, Carl. His Fine Wit: A Study of Thomas Love Peacock. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. A comprehensive survey, with sections devoted to his poetry, nonfictional prose, and novels. Good discussion of Headlong Hall.
Kjellin, Hakan. Talkative Banquets: A Study in the Peacockian Novels of Talk. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1974. Hard to find, but an interesting discussion of Peacock’s use of dialogue.
McKay, Margaret. Peacock’s Progress: Aspects of Artistic Development in the Novels of Thomas Love Peacock. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1992. The most recent book-length study of Peacock. Traces his growth as a novelist through all seven novels.
Mulvihill, James. Thomas Love Peacock. Boston: Twayne, 1987. A brief but up-to-date introduction to the man and his works. Includes discussion of Headlong Hall.
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