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Why Jane Austen’s Persuasion Still Captivates Audiences

Jane Austen's PersuasionThis Spring 2018, Theatre6 is producing a touring production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Artistic Director Kate McGregor discusses why they’ve chosen to adapt the work for six actor musicians, and why Persuasion remains so captivating for today’s audiences. Adapting a novel like Jane Austen’s Persuasion for the stage, from the earliest planning stages until the opening night, is a project that absorbs your days and nights for at least two years. In making the decision to dedicate such time to a piece, it has to be one which you’d like to explore visually, conceptually, emotionally and intellectually. Most importantly, it has to be a story that will excite, captivate and be relevant for your audiences. For Stephanie Dale (the novel’s adapter) and I, our biggest inspiration for working on the piece was the character of Anne. We envisioned how the themes in Persuasion could transcend time and space, and imagined how Jane’s ideas could breathe and thrive in our modern world.   A novel must show how the world truly is, how characters genuinely think, how events actually occur, a novel should somehow reveal the true source of our actions – Jane in Becoming Jane.   Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, this is a story about heartbreak. It’s about making decisions you regret, about trusting the right people for the wrong reasons. It asks questions about the inner workings of why we love and who loves the longest. Most importantly it’s an expression of Anne inner thoughts (more…)
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Austen Superpowers: Finding Yours With Anne Elliot

anne elliotAnne Elliot: A quiet force to be reckoned with. Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels. Lizzy Bennet may be the one with all the flash and sparkle, but one should never underestimate one of Austen’s more reserved heroines, Anne Elliot of Persuasion. At first glance, Anne may not seem to fit the typical ideal of a cape-wearing, save-the-day superhero, but let’s take a closer look at Miss Anne: Austen Superpower 1: Grace under Fire. Who had the presence of mind that no one else had when Louisa Musgrove fell from the Cobb at Lyme? That’s right; Anne Elliot did. Everyone else was wailing and flailing while she was the voice of calm and reason in the midst of the emergency. She was the one who gave Captain Wentworth calm and rational directions as to how to help Louisa. Austen Superpower 2: Trusting Observation and Instinct. Who realized that Captain Wentworth was in love with her–despite his eight years of silence after she broke his heart, despite his ignoring her while happily being the Musgrove girls’ object of worship, and despite everyone else being ready to marry him off to Louisa Musgrove? You got it; Anne Elliot. Though not by any stretch of the imagination conceited or vain, and despite having been brought up to think of herself as beneath the notice of everyone in her family (aside, that is, from Lady Russell and Anne’s own (more…)
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A Library Talk About Jane Austen

by Margaret Mills

As a part-time adult education lecturer in English literature and history, I am never happier than when I am asked to deliver a course or a talk about Jane Austen’s life and work.

In October 2017 I was asked to give a talk at our local public library, and I was delighted to hear that this library, along with others in Essex, has decided to offer talks and refreshments in the evenings, when the library would normally be closed to the general public.  This particular library is offering a varied programme of different talks, and considering this is a fairly new venture, I was pleased to find that an audience of 18 people attended, all interested in learning more about Jane, aided by a slide presentation and followed by refreshments and a discussion.  Thanks to the articles and comments in the Jane Austen News I was also able to bring into my talk some more recent developments and discoveries about Jane, her life and times.

People are often surprised at how relatively unknown Jane was as an author at the time of her death.   The comment made by the verger of Winchester Cathedral to a gentleman visiting her grave is a perfect example of this: ‘Pray, sir, can you tell me whether there was anything particular about that lady: so many people want to know where she was buried?’ (Austen Leigh, James Edward. A Memoir of Jane Austen).  This really sums things up.   In today’s world, where we are inundated with the cult of ‘celebrity’, (too often based on very little in the way of genuine talent and ability), it strikes many people as amazing that she was seemingly content to stay in the background. Her letters to her beloved older sister, Cassandra, often project a wistful desire for recognition and acknowledgement, but this is concealed behind a self-effacing, dry humour.

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Austen Superpowers: Finding Yours with Lizzy Bennet

Lizzy BennetAusten Superpowers: Finding Yours with Lizzy Bennet Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels. We dream of them. We want to be them. We wish they were our best friend. Or our partner. And sometimes, we wish we could shake some sense into them. They are Jane Austen’s heroines and heroes. Each of them has a flawed humanity, but each also has a unique and special quality—an Austen superpower, if you will. Which is why they are so eminently relatable. Like them, we too are flawed. And like them, we have those same superpowers. They may be hidden away where we cannot see them, but they are there neverthless. All we have to do is believe. How do we do that? By following the lead of Austen’s leading ladies and men, who dig down deep within themselves to access their own superpowers. In this first of a series of posts, we turn to the heroine who is perhaps the most beloved of all: Elizabeth aka Lizzy Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. via GIPHY   What are Lizzy Bennet’s superpowers? 1. The ability to have a cheerful attitude and sometimes even laugh in the face of humiliation and disappointment. via GIPHY 2. The ability to recognize and admit that she has been as proud and judgmental as the person she condemned for those same qualities. Let’s discuss Superpower 1 first. This is a tricky one, because (more…)
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Jane Austen and the Oliphant in the Room

by Alice Chandler, author of Aunt Jane and the Missing Cherry Pie

I do apologize for the pun in my title.

The Olifant I refer to is Margaret Olifant (1828-1894), a prolific and popular nineteenth-century writer and said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite novelist. The reason that I figuratively place Olifant in the same room as Jane Austen is that she was such a trenchant and perceptive critic of Austen’s work.

Austen was not always fortunate in her woman critics during the century after her death. While famous male authors lauded her and often compared her work to Shakespeare’s, some notable women writers were very critical of her writing.  Her contemporary Mary Mitford, whose mother actually knew Jane Austen, was well-known in her time for her charming short novel, Our Village. Mitford disliked Elizabeth Bennett as a character and criticized “the entire want of taste that could produce so pert, so worldly a heroine as the beloved of such a man as Darcy.”

 Charlotte Bronte was particularly negative about Austen. She compared her writing to a “daguerrotyped portrait of a commonplace face” and complained that her work “lacked poetry.” She thought that Austen’s novels delineated “the surface… lives of genteel English people.”  But they ignored “what throbs fast and full… what the blood rushes through… the unseen seat of life.” Or to put it more simply, her books had no heart. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was similarly, though less violently, critical of Austen’s passionlessness. She found her novels perfect but shallow.

Whi Continue reading Jane Austen and the Oliphant in the Room

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The Enduring Love For Jane Austen

By Jon Michail

Jane Austen passed away 200 years ago, yet the names of Lizzy Bennet and Mr Darcy are familiar even to people who have never picked up one of Austen’s novels.

Then there are those who have read Austen’s works…. countless times. The academics, the Janeites, and those who simply appreciate her work for its place in classic literature.

Austen’s books have been translated into over 35 languages. Over 100,000 people make the pilgrimage to Jane’s homes each year and there are over 30 Jane Austen Societies worldwide, the largest of which (The Jane Austen Society of North America) has more than 70 branches. Over fifty Jane Austen events and festivals are held each year across the world and her works have inspired at least 75 movies or television series. More than 20,000 fan fiction novels have been published, based on Jane’s life, work, and characters, and there are over 7,000 Austen related websites and social media profiles online.

A new book aiming to satisfy this craving for all things Austen is Caroline Jane Knight’s Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage. Part history, part memoir, Knight’s book shines a new light on the places, traditions and family that shaped and were shaped by the author so many people love and admire.

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Is Jane Austen a Great Writer?

By Linore Rose Burkard

Quora is growing in popularity. What is Quora? A forum where anyone can ask a question to the world (the world as registered on the site, that is) and expect an answer. The good thing about Quora is that you can ask any question you want, and you might learn a thing or two while browsing answers. The bad thing is that anyone can answer your question—not only experts, but anyone—and the only possible “vetting” is by popularity: people either upvote an answer if they like it, or downvote it if they do not. An upvote doesn’t mean the answer is necessarily correct.  It just means the viewer liked it and voted for it.

What has this to do with defending Jane?

Since I am registered on Quora, I sometimes receive email notifications of new questions. I recently received the following: “Is Jane Austen a great writer?”

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In Defence of Jane Austen

by Rhian Helen Fender

Olivia Williams as Jane in the BBC film Miss Austen Regrets (2008)

 

“Mrs Edwards thinks you are a child still. But we know better than that, don’t we.”

So began the 2008 television adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, with the cad Willoughby seducing the naïve ward of heroic Colonel Brandon. The atmosphere seductive with low-light and fireplace burning, ripping bodices and whispered words… In its review, the Telegraph described how viewers tuned in “with jaws dropped, to this unexpected opening for an Austen adaptation.” The question is, why? Why would viewers deem a sultry scene unexpected in an adaptation of the work of Austen? Austen appears to have a reputation for representing everything that is light and lovely, with the admiring Sir Walter Scott describing Pride and Prejudice (1813) as “a very pretty thing.” Austen herself seemed aware – and concerned – of her delicate reputation, stating her fear that the novel Scott so admired was “too light, and bright, and sparkling.” Whilst it is true to state that Austen was largely focussed on the lower gentry of which she was personally aware, it would be a disservice to her work to suppose she did not consider larger social influences or events, nor the more scandalous actions of those whose world she so accurately depicts. Within Austen’s novels are various themes that are often ignored or unseen when analysing her work, considered too sinister in the works of the purportedly genteel Jane Austen.

Mansfield Park (1814) tells the story of young Fanny Price, a girl able to rise above her station due to the wealth and goodwill of her extended family. The source of that power, however, is controversial due to the head of the household’s links to the slave trade. It would be an exaggeration to proclaim the novel as slavery prose – allusions to the system are rare and implicit – yet the very fact that Austen chooses to even subtly reference slavery is a bold move. The one direct reference to slavery comes as Fanny describes a family conversation with her cousins and uncle: “And I longed to do it – but there was such a dead silence. And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject.” Austen leaves it to the reader to deduce why Fanny’s family might be silent when discussing slavery – disinterest, embarrassment, shame, ignorance –and it is this empowerment of the reader in reaching their own conclusions which gives this brief passage weight. Austen does not preach to her readers, but allows them to make their own deductions. Sir Thomas Bertram’s years at his plantation in Antigua is what allows much of the action of the novel to occur – unloving marriages, flirtation and seduction – and the reader is not incorrect in supposing that Sir Thomas’s focus would have been better placed at home, rather than in underhand dealings abroad. Continue reading In Defence of Jane Austen