NM and I have talked some about how surprised she was to find that the Hermitage is so small. Rich people in Europe want you to see how rich they are so they put up these huge, sometimes labyrinthine buildings. But the antebellum home in Tennessee? In general, they’re not huge. And the layouts are pretty consistent. There’s the kind you see all over this area–two rooms downstairs separated by a wide hall with a staircase; two rooms upstairs separated by a wide hall. Doors at either ends of both halls, leading to porches.
And considering how many people were living in one room houses or dog trots, you can see that a house even this size was enormous. Literally four times the size of what most people were living in.
But then you had even richer people–Isaac Franklin, the McGavocks, the aforementioned Jacksons, etc.–whose houses are even larger. Four rooms on the downstairs floor, an even larger hall, four sets of chimneys instead of two, and the upper floor has more variety in the number of room. Often there’s an attic.
Still, until you get to houses built in the 1850s, they’re just not that large.
In the first iteration of the Hermitage, before the fire, Jackson could have stood at the top of his stairs and had a pretty good view of what was going on in most of the rooms in his house.
And I had been thinking about something I noticed when I was at Riverwood–the windows are amazing. You literally have this sense, no matter what room you’re in, of the outside being right there. I kept an eye on this at the Hermitage. It’s a little harder, because the tour is set up to encourage you to look at the house and the things in it and not to imagine what the house must have seemed like to the people who knew it so well as to be oblivious to it most of the time. But same thing–huge windows designed to let a person have a huge view of what’s going on outside.
It makes me wonder if one way to view the main house is as the guard house in the panopticon–the place from which the people in power observe their prisoners without being observed. A luxurious guard house, yes, but a guardhouse. From that perspective, the smallness of the house (and the seeming disorganized ways you tend to see the outbuildings arranged on old plantations) makes sense. The house’s first purpose is not to show off the opulence of the owner. The luxury–the thing tour guides ask us to focus on–is just a disguise for the house’s main task–to provide a comfortable way for the “warden” to monitor the inmates while giving the inmates the sense that they could, at any time, be being watched.