Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Battersby-on-the-Hill. Small English farming village that is based on Butler’s own childhood home at Langar Rectory near Nottingham. Dominated by a large hilltop rectory, this clergyman’s abode appears to be a cherished stronghold of Victorian family values, but it is here that Ernest is subjected to incidents in which his natural trust and affection is betrayed by his father, the rector Theobald Pontifex, and his slavishly devoted wife Christina. For Ernest, the rectory, which appears idyllic, is in reality the venue where his complacent, self-congratulatory parents subject him to relentless abuse. Battersby-on-the-Hill’s name suggests the psychological and physical battering Ernest must endure at the hands of his parents.
Roughborough Grammar School. School that Ernest attends. Typical of the exclusive British public schools of its day and based on the Shrewsbury School, which Butler attended as a child, this school is presided over by Dr. Skinner, a character modeled on the headmaster who succeeded Butler’s own grandfather. Seemingly a figure of unassailable moral rectitude, Dr. Skinner is portrayed as foolish, pedantic, and self-deluding. At Roughborough, whose name, like that of Ernest’s home, is apt, Ernest struggles against an impervious educational system that seems to exist solely to dog him with demerits. His only safe haven is his kind Aunt Alethea, who has moved to the area to make his life bearable.
Emmanuel College. Fictionalized college of Cambridge University. Cambridge has an Emmanuel College, but Butler based this setting on St. John’s College, Cambridge, which he attended himself. This setting is distinctive in that it is one of the few places in which Ernest finds himself truly happy. Cambridge University, located in the south of England and long renowned as one of the finest universities in England, is presented as a venue in which personal development and intellectual freedom are valued far more than in the rest of Victorian England. It is here, however, that Ernest comes under the baleful influence of his classmate Pryer, who persuades him to invest money unwisely in a venture called the College of Spiritual Pathology. It is at Cambridge that Ernest also becomes fervently religious and is ordained as a minister.
Ashpit Place. Small working-class street in London near Drury Lane Theater. A more raffish, fictional version of Heddon Street, in which Butler actually lived during this time of his life, it is in a boardinghouse here, run by the colorful and eccentric Mrs. Jupp, that Ernest attempts to convert and minister to the poor. However, Ernest fails to do anyone in the area any good and instead undermines his own faith in his vocation. After mistaking a respectable boarder for a prostitute, Ernest is sentenced to six months in jail.
Coldbath Fields. Prison to which Ernest is sentenced to six months of hard labor. Here he loses his religion, realizes he is nothing but an insufferable prig, and begins to sense a great chasm opening up between his past and his future.
*Blackfriars Bridge Road. Street on the south side of the River Thames near the public house known as the “Elephant and Castle,” where Ernest and his wife, the former Pontifex housemaid Ellen, live above a shop where they sell old clothes and books. It is here that his two children are born and where his wife reverts to her old, alcoholic ways.
*The Temple. Set of courts and buildings in London by the Thames, with rooms originally intended for lawyers. Here Ernest finally lives as a contented bachelor and finds his true vocation writing iconoclastic books which question the conventional wisdom of the Victorian era.