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‘An Habitation Enforced’ — genealogy, manners, and a (Georgian fixer-upper) manor

I just found this story, “An habitation enforced,” in an odd volume of Kipling in the East Washington barn.

A young Gilded-Age Baltimore businessman, convalescing after nervous exhaustion, lands with his Connecticut wife for a rest-holiday on a farm in the English countryside. He regains his health as they fall in love with the place, eventually buying the decayed Georgian manor and farms, and adjusting to its slow rhythms. Only once they’ve bought the manor and are seated at the manorial pew in the parish church, do they notice a gravestone under the pew bears the wife’s mother’s maiden name, suggesting the coincidence of a blood connection. The link, mentioned precisely once by the couple, is confirmed through quiet and efficient investigation by the local tenants, while the wife’s only attempt to research the connection (a letter to a pompous DAR aunt in Meriden) comes to naught. So the whole village knows about the connection before the newcomers do.

The story is an ‘English origins tale’ par excellence, a rose-tinted paean to belonging. But what is important to the locals is not so much that the rich American newcomers turn out to have a blood tie to the manor, but that they don’t talk about it. For the English country way, as Kipling sees it, is that all that’s important to know — including this remote but crucial aspect of belonging — should be known without telling or asking. The old family’s motto, Wayte awhyle, could teach patience to a genealogist as well to a parvenu landowner.

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