Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Headlong Hall

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...

(The entire section is 662 words.)