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Archive for August, 2008

The Hampshire Record Office, located in the city of Winchester, houses a treasure trove of primary artifacts, from original letters to period photographs, from local newspapers to public records. Its atmosphere is friendly, its staff helpful. Actual items, kept in the strong room in the bowels of the building, are highly accessible: HRO’s web-based catalogue makes it easy for visitors to know beforehand what HRO holds, and minimal paperwork gets the visitor entry into the reading room. So one would think that HRO would have a thorough knowledge of items within their vast collection… It seems, however, that at least one minor tidbit had gone unaccounted for – until now.

A letter in Friday’s post from a Winchester-based friend contained the following exciting news: ‘I was startled to find from our Record Office Annual Report that during reorganization a playbill for a performance of Lovers’ Vows 11 August 1809 had come to light among a collection.’ [HRO had been closed several months for renovations and reorganziation; they reopened Spring 2008.]

It will be remembered that Mrs Austen and the girls had only that May settled at Chawton.

As yet – there is no evidence that the Austens came to see the play. My friend thinks it ‘unlikely’ they would have attended, but she’s digging to see what further clues might be out there. She continues, ‘The theatre put on mixed entertainments, at 7 pm. I haven’t found that particular evening advertised in The Chronicle [Winchester's newspaper] … [W]ith the horse races on, it was high season in August.’

Going online, we find other (later) playbills/handbills for LOVERS’ VOWS, so it was a play in demand – from Winchester to Edinburgh, even as late as 1820.

There are many possibilities for this particular appearance of the play, including a troop of actors just passing through. They perhaps did offer a very limited number of performances (either of one play, or a couple different plays over several nights). That no advance notice was given via The Chronicle may be accounted for in several ways: advertising was last-minute; the acting company may have ‘rented’ the theater for the evening; due to the races, a full-up Winchester might have given hawkers with handbills a good turnout based solely on word of mouth; it may have been a last-minute addition or change to a ‘mixed entertainments’ line-up. And we have all been visitors willing to sit through anything just to have a night out on the town, so tickets for any entertainment, for any play, will always sell when the ‘season’ is in swing. Handbills exist because it was easy to post ‘today’s’ lineup at the theater, or have people handing notices out to passers-by.

So this all begs the ultimate question: Could Jane Austen have attended, would she have heard about this play, offered in Winchester?

Family and friends did attend racing meets, at Winchester and elsewhere. Nephews brought Winchester within the Austen-sphere, as evidenced by a letter dated 9 February 1807, when Jane writes ‘We shall rejoice in being so near Winchester when Edward belongs to it’. At the time living in Southampton, thirteen miles were seen as ‘no distance’ once fourteen-year-old nephew Edward (Edward Austen Knight’s eldest son) enrolled at Winchester College; other nephews attended the same school, including James-Edward Austen (James’ son). A handful of Jane’s letters exist for 1809 – but none dated after July 26 (and the series doesn’t pick up again until 1811!). Winchester is sixteen miles from Chawton; it is conceivable that, after an absence of several years, the Austens planned to spend a day at the races or journeyed simply to enjoy the atmosphere of Winchester en fete.

Somewhere along this route, surely, the play and JANE AUSTEN crossed paths, even if only after the fact: she may have heard about its ‘local’ performance, or met up with someone who had been in attendance.

I will give more news as I hear of it.

* * * * *

More playbill information; some commentary (and a second) on Austen’s use of the play in Mansfield Park; synopsis, cast, and play at Austen.com and Digital Library (includes ‘The Mansfield Casting’); Susan Allen Ford‘s Persuasions (2006) article on the play and the players from Mansfield Park.

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Another week, and just a few things about Jane…my next post will be on some reading thoughts with several book reviews…..

*Head over to She is Too Fond of Books blog and  “simply leave a comment mentioning what you would find most appealing and most challenging about living in Jane Austen’s world” …and enter to win the free giveaway of Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict.  The contest ends September 5…

*And again, you MUST visit Austenprose and Laurel Ann’s ongoing tribute to Mansfield Park.  The posts and giveaways are nearing an end (oh! woe is me!…they have been delightful!), so be sure to visit the last few posts on the final chapters of the novel, the several sequels, and some contemporary opinions of MP. It all ends today August 30…

*See a reproduction of a Jane Austen quilt at JASA (this was sighted on the blog Quiddity Quilts.)

*Great Brampton House up for sale for £5 million… Lady Pidgeon’s Recency style home in Herefordshire.

Click here for more on the Duchess, being released on September 5, with Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes and Charlotte Rampling; the Sept / Oct issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine (recently revamped with a whole new look by its new owners) has Knightley on the cover.  Click here  for the Table of Contents.

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The latest sequel from Sourcebooks by Marsha Altman is titled The Darcy’s & the Bingleys: a Tale of Two Gentlemen’s Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters (Sourcebooks September 2008)

 

Three days before their double wedding, Charles Bingley is desperate to have a word with his dear friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, seeking advice of a most delicate nature. Bingley is shocked when Darcy gives him a copy of The Kama Sutra—but it does tell him everything he needs to know.

 Eventually, of course, Jane finds this remarkable volume and in utmost secrecy shows it to her dear sister Elizabeth, who goes searching for a copy in the Pemberley library…

By turns hilarious and sweet, The Darcys & the Bingleys follows the two couples and the cast of characters surrounding them. Miss Caroline Bingley, it turns out, has such good reasons for being the way she is that the reader can’t help but hold her in charity. Delightfully, she makes a most eligible match, and in spite of Darcy’s abhorrence of being asked for advice, he and Bingley have a most enduring and adventure-prone friendship.

(quoted from Sourcebooks) 

Please join us on Tuesday September 2nd to view a guest post from the author Marsha Altman on the recent appeal and abundance of Austen sequels!  We will also be giving away a copy of her book, courtesy of Sourcebooks, to the winner of a random drawing…so please visit and post a comment or ask a question of the author to enter the drawing!

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Some interesting items this week to pass on:

*JASNA-New York Region has published its Fall 2008 newsletter online with much on the Austen-Byron Conference, the news that New York City will host the 2012 AGM, and other chapter happenings.

*The Rethinking Jane Austen blog has a post on Austenmania, the blog author’s efforts to find the strangest item “boasting Jane Austen’s image”….. there are a few good ones out there!

*Jane Austen’s World has posted Ellen Moody’s take on the Mansfield Park 2007 movie.  See also Austenprose’s ongoing MP discussion.

*The Guardian.uk and a blogger’s review of Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley.

*A blog on vintage fashion, ZipZip’s Vintage Clothing, offers “thoughts about vintage and period sewing patterns, lists of links to worthwhile online vintage sewing resources, comments on sewing with treadle sewing machines.”

*Click here for the Sunday Herald (Scotland) interview with Keira Knightley on playing the Duchess of Devonshire

*A resource on Regency Information has been compiled by the Favors and Fortunes blog: there are some great links here, including references to a map of London for 1827, card games, cost of living values, a slang dicitonary, and many others.  But NOTHING compares to the links to Regency Social Life and Customs than those compiled by Ms. Place at Jane Austen’s World… if you have an extra 24 hour day sometime in this long upcoming winter, take a look at this grand resource!

*And more on ITV’s Lost in Austen show at Austenblog, with numerous comments, as well as the show’s fansite filled with all sorts of information on this Pride & Prejudice in space!

And just added: The Musee McCord Museum in Montreal has posted an interactive game on 19th century women’s fashion.  Click here for the game and instructions.  There are also other interactive games on 19th century high fashion (for beginner and expert), interior decoration, and games and toys:  click here for the Museum’s website and list of games.

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A few thoughts for this week….

  • Again, I encourage you to visit Austenprose for the delightful and on-going discussion of Mansfield Park.  Laurel Ann has created an inspiring 17-day journey through the book, movies, audios, etc.  Please particpate by posting your thoughts on Fanny and perhaps win one of her giveaways along the way…
  •  The JASNA site has added a most helpful section:  a map for each book to guide the reader around the England of Austen’s fiction.  This section reproduces maps of the novels from Where’s Where in Jane Austen . . . and What Happens There, by Patrick Wilson, published by the Jane Austen Society of Australia (JASA). The maps include both real and fictional places, and the book provides information about more than 400 locations in Austen’s fiction. The book is available for purchase on JASA’s web site
  • The JASA site is a minefield of Austen information… there is a great selection of book reviews; and click here for their reviews comparing ten biographies of Austen….
  • And back at the JASNA site, you can read the winning essays for 2008 from High School and College students.  The topic was on the new Masterpiece Theatre adaptations (essays are available in full-text) 

I have discovered the Dressing Jane website…read the newsletters about fashion in Jane Austen’s time as well as the Dressing History site for all possible types of fashion reproductions for purchase.

This has little to do with Jane, other than the fashion obsession, but see this great article  “Dressing by the Decades” in the Calgary Herald on what to wear this season….you can pick your favorite fashion style and rest easy (but alas! no regency gowns in sight!)

 

  • Oxford University has several online courses of interest:  on Jane Austen; the Brontes; Reading Victorian Fiction (Dickens, Trollope, Eliot, and Hardy); Fiction of Victorian Women (Eliot, Gaskell, Oliphant, and others) [but alas! the courses are quite expensive for a non-EU participant]
  •  For you Walter Scott fans (and indeed, Scott loved Austen, so he should be reverenced…), the Edinburgh University Press has just published two of Scott’s “undecipherable and unfit for publication” stories.  See the full article at the Guardian.uk
  • For those costume-drama lovers out there, link to this Mail Online (U.K.)  article about the latest P&P (Lost in Austen) and Hardy’s Tess, both starring the latest Bond girl….
  • A new book titled “Who the Hell is Pansy O’Hara?” tells the back stories of 50 of the greatest books… and Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is one of the books discussed…
  • Becoming Jane Fansite has been posting an Austen quote each week…. click here for this week’s choice, one of my favorites from Persuasion…
  • Jane Austen’s World has another lovely post on The Etiquette of Calling Cards
  • Pamela Aiden, the author of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman Series,  has a new work she is publishing online called Young Mr. Darcy…. click here for the first 2 chapters (this news as per the Central New Jersey JASNA Chapter)
  • The New Jersey Chapter is also again requesting comments on Jane Austen…10 words that best describe Austen and her work.  Click here to participate and see other comments.

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I’ve mentioned before (see review of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma) that I am no lover of sequels; yet these past few months have brought many to my bedside table and the pile is slowly being depleted (in an effort to be somewhat prepared for the October JASNA AGM)…Syrie James’ The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen was a most enjoyable task in this journey of mine.  My co-blogger, Janeite Kelly, and I don’t see eye to eye on this book (see her review ), and I just needed to say a few words from the other side of the inkwell…

The Lost Memoirs should head its own category of “Fictionalizing Jane Austen’s Life.”  Like Becoming Jane, James also gives us a fictional tale of Jane’s lost love, this time, not her girlish love of Tom LeFroy, but her mature love, the “mystery man” that Jane met at the seaside as per Cassandra’s brief mention to her niece Caroline, and hence we have a lovely piece of romantic fluff, giving the reader along the way all sorts of references from Austen’s letters and a storyline that harkens back to the novels (and alas! sometimes even footnoted for your edification!) and the many biographies.

James’ knowledge shines throughout- she obviously knows her Austen- she says herself in the Author’s Note, that despite all her efforts to suggest this is the real “lost memoir” of Austen, indeed it is not- only a fiction derived from her Austen-obsessed imagination.  All of us who read and study Austen have always wanted the Jane who wrote such brilliant love stories to have had that experience herself.  Cassandra’s grand conflagration and excising much in those letters that survived, created a literary future for her sister of so much speculation and theory- certainly, we believe, everything that was destroyed would answer all our questions…

So James has done for us, as she says herself, much like the gift we were given in Shakespeare in Love – a tiny glimpse into the author’s life that indeed explains almost EVERYTHING that comes after.  She creates the story of that mystery man and names him Frederick Ashford; we meet him (appropriately in the third chapter) saving Austen from a fall off the infamous steps at the Cobb in Lyme Regis…. we are thus swept into Persuasion with names and incident (and Frederick is, of course, in a DARK BLUE coat, not the dreaded “light” coat of Tom LeFroy…)  We hear Austen in this first person narrative speaking the words as they appear in her letters and novels (this reader does question if there is anything original here!).  We see characters appear with names similar to her fictions:  Mrs. Jenkins (Mrs. Jennings in S&S); Charles Churchill (Emma), married to Maria (MP, though she behaves like Mary in Persuasion and then slips into Isabella-mode from NA); Charles’s sister Isabella Churchill (from NA who falls for the scoundrel Wellington [a.k.a. Captain Tilney, but who morphs into Willoughby from S&S])…have I lost you yet??  there is plenty more…. Ashford’s home in Derbyshire is called Pembroke Hall, and the almost exact scene is played out as Lizzy in P&P  visiting Pemberley; Mr, Morton is Mr. Collins right down to the bizarre marriage proposal…the list goes on, this constant weaving of fact and fiction- the family history; life in Bath, Southampton and lastly Chawton; Austen’s writing habits; publishing history; the Bigg-Wither proposal; her niece’s request for help with her writing; Austen’s love of nature and walking (rhapsodizing about a tree as Fanny does in MP); her reading of Udolpho in two days “my hair standing on end the whole time” (Henry in NA); her views on novel-reading (the letters and NA); Austen’s own obsession with fashion and “trimmings” — all are blended together seamlessly. 

But this is the story of Jane and Frederick, their meeting, falling in love and how that changes their lives (no spoilers here!)… James gives us the story of Sense & Sensibility, as it may have occurred in Austen’s own life and Austen’s subsequent re-writing of the novel.  It all falls into place…if you have wondered why Austen wrote nothing in her Bath years, why there are such gaps in correspondence, James creates for us a delightful fiction and a love interest who is part Darcy, part Edward Ferrars, part Wentworth (“you pierce my soul”), a bit of Colonel Brandon (he is soooo old…) and Knightley all rolled into one perfect fellow…who could want for more?

If you are not a certified “Janeite,” you will find this a fine romance; but if you know Austen like James does (i.e you can recite verbatim and by page number everything she ever said or wrote!), then you will marvel at this confection filled with so many facts, so much speculation, and so much of Austen’s fiction…you will have a fun time reading it and seeing all this together in one place!  I offer only one caveat:  by creating this grand illusion (“if I believe in your story as you have told it, then it is as good as if it were true?”), James conjures up a fine tale, but there is nothing of Austen’s turn of phrase, or humor or characterization that keeps us returning again and again to her writings, just a sort of pale carbon copy, a re-telling of all, mashed together in a fictional blender… but I shook this off and stepped back a bit and just offer high marks to Syrie James for bringing Austen into our life; this book is like the movie adaptations that are so far from the original source, but we like them all the same, and it might just send you scurrying back to your bookshelves for another Austen re-read!

3 full inkwells…(out of 4)

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                        Breaking news from the Mirror.UK:  8/19/08.  Enid Blyton beats JK Rowling and Jane Austen to be Britain’s best loved author of all time: 

Noddy creator Enid Blyton yesterday beat literary heavyweights Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters to the title of Britain’s bestloved author of all time.

The late writer, who still sells eight million books a year worldwide – over a million of them her Famous Five novels – topped a 2008 Costa Book Awards poll to find the top 50 most cherished authors.

Children’s writers swept the board, with Blyton followed by Roald Dahl and Harry Potter creator JK Rowling.

A spokesman for Costa said: “Enid Blyton has kept millions of children entertained over the years with tales of mystery, adventure and magic.

“This research demonstrates how influenced we are in later life by the authors and books we read as a child.”

Top 10: 1 Enid Blyton; 2 Roald Dahl; 3 JK Rowling; 4 Jane Austen; 5 William Shakespeare; 6 Charles Dickens; 7 JRR Tolkien; 8 Agatha Christie; 9 Stephen King; 10 Beatrix Potter.

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