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Jane and Fringe Theatre and Puppets

Jane Austen News

Jane and Fringe Theatre and Puppets

NORTHANGER-ABBEY-Box-Tale-Soup.-700x455As part of Brighton’s 2016 Fringe Festival, the theatre company Box Tale Soup performed their adaptation of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. It’s not like your average stage adaptation though. This one has been done with puppets. Which for some people will be a really interesting and fun change, but the show is a bit like Marmite – you’ll either love it or hate it.

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Fashion and Mourning in Lady Susan

Jane Austin News

Fashion and Mourning in Lady Susan

love-and-friendship-image-16Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, the costume designer for the film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, has been speaking about the choices she made to show Lady Susan’s transition from mourning widow to social butterfly.

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Feminist Lessons From Jane

Jane Austen News

Feminist Lessons From Jane

102b74d0-e9a5-0131-c047-0eb233c768fbBustle’s latest article in its series which have been focusing on the works of Jane Austen has moved away from quotes from each of the novels and has instead detailed a feminist lesson that can be learned from each of Jane’s heroines.

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Worthing as Jane Austen’s Sanditon, Then and Now

Jane Austen's Sanditon inspired by Worthing?

Could Worthing have been the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Sanditon?

by Donna Fletcher Crow

Jane Austen’s connection with Worthing was completely unknown until late in the 20thcentury when Fanny Austen’s diaries came to light and Austen scholar Deidre Le Faye began studying them. Before then, all that was known were the references in Jane’s letters regarding plans to visit Worthing. There was no confirmation, however, that the trip had actually come about, rather, considerable doubt was cast on the likelihood:

24 August 1805 Jane, who was at Godmersham, wrote to Cassandra about their 10-year-old nephew Edward who was ill and not recovering well.  It looked unlikely he would be able to return to school in Winchester with his brothers when term started that autumn, “& he will be of the party to Worthing.__If sea-bathing should be recommended he will be left there with us, but this is not thought likely to happen.”

Six days later she wrote of a new complication: “The journey to London [to visit brother Henry] is a point of the first expediency and I am glad it is resolved on, though it seems likely to injure our Worthing scheme. . . It gives us great pleasure to hear of little Edward’s being better,” he was expected to be able to return to school.

She concludes by saying, “We shall not be at Worthing so soon as we have been used to talk of, shall we? This will be no evil to us, and we are sure of my mother and Martha being happy together.”

Mrs. Austen and their friend Martha Lloyd went ahead of the others to Worthing, staying in Stanford’s Cottage, the house in Warwick Street which still stands today. It was a charming dwelling, whose south-facing bow windows in those days had an uninterrupted view to the sea. Today it is a Pizza Express, but retains some recognizable features of the Austen’s time there, including the bow windows, although the view is extremely limited.

The streets on the north side of the cottage had only recently been upgraded from a farm-track. The view northwards was therefore over fields with a few scattered buildings and the Downs beyond.

Looking for links to Austen and her time there, as I was, the Pizza Express was my first stop. I approached with a certain amount of skepticism, but was given a warm welcome, a delicious lunch and encouraged to enjoy the building.

The walls are covered with collages of Austen quotations, Regency drawings and framed Penguin editions of her books.

I was told that the Jane Austen Society holds a yearly meeting in their upstairs room.

Enjoying the sight of the sun reflecting from the bay windows onto the courtyard, I thought, “They have done well with their heritage.”

Jane Austen arrived in Worthing on Wednesday 18 September 1805 with Cassandra, their brother Edward, his wife Elizabeth, oldest child Fanny and her governess Miss Sharpe. Fanny gives us a detailed record of a day at the resort. They walked on the sands, bought fish on the beach, and bathed “a most delicious dip.” That afternoon they entertained a guest (Miss Fielding, who may have been a relative), dined at 4:00, and in the evening went to the Raffle where Jane won 17 shillings.

The next day Fanny waited for Aunt Cassandra to come out of Wick’s warm baths and walked on the sands again. They went once more to the raffle as well, but apparently none of the party was enriched by the event.

On Sunday morning Fanny attended church with Aunt Jane and others. This was probably at the parish church of St Mary at nearby Broadwater, since there was as yet no church in Worthing.

The Godmersham party left Worthing the next day.

We know that Jane stayed at least 7 weeks in Worthing because on 4 November she witnessed a signature to her mother’s will. The visit may have continued until 1 January 1806 when Jane and Martha Lloyd arrived at Steventon, but there is no certain record since we are not told where they arrived from.

This positive evidence of Jane Austen’s time in Worthing, however, gives the town a considerable boost in the “Discover the Real Sanditon” stakes. In spite of the persuasive claims I presented for Bognor Regis last week, there is no documentation of Jane Austen having ever been there.

Indeed, Jane Austen not only spent considerable time in Worthing, she also seems to have become good friends with Edward Ogle, Worthing’s chief citizen and front-runner among contenders for the model of Tom Parker, Sanditon’s developer.

“Sweet Mr Ogle”, she wrote 8 years after their visit to Worthing, “I dare say he sees all the panoramas for nothing, has free admittance everywhere. He is so delightful! Now you need not see anybody else.” This, in a letter to Cassandra at Godmersham, it seems to be in reply to something Cassandra said to her in a previous letter—perhaps reporting on a letter she had received from Mr. Ogle.

Mr. Ogle’s entrepreneurship makes him a likely model, but not, perhaps his personality. In several readings of Sanditon, “sweet” was never a word I would have applied to the energetic and rather over-bearing Mr. Parker. Although, it’s always possible Jane was making a pun, since Edward Ogle and his brother James were involved in the sugar trade with the West Indies.

One writer explained the references to the panoramas Jane mentions as the splendid views of London from the river, which Ogle was able to see for nothing because he could travel up and down the Thames on his barges whenever he liked.

I take the reference more literally, though, as does Deidre Le Faye, who references Henry Aston Barker’s Panorama in Leicester Square which exhibited views of great cities, of battles, and so forth. LeFaye suggests Ogle may have been a friend of Barker and therefore given free admission. Jane, however, seems to attribute his free entry to his pleasing personality.

In 1801, four years before Jane Austen’s stay in Worthing, Edward Ogle purchased Warwick House and began to build Worthing into a thriving seaside resort. The house had been built in 1781 by the town’s first speculator-developer John Luther. Ogle laid out the gardens and made other improvements. Many believe this was the model for Mr. Parker’s Trafalgar House, although it was not on a hilltop. In the summer of 1807 seven-year-old Princess Charlotte’s stay in Warwick House brought Worthing to national prominence.

At this time Worthing had only a few terraces of lodging-houses and was not much more than a straggling overgrown village, largely reliant on farming and fishing. The only road into the town was essentially a sequence of winding lanes, which were all but impassable in severe weather. There was no drainage, no market, no church, no theatre and indeed no proper modern hotel.

Ogle’s first project was to build the Colonnade, at the corner of Warwick Street and High Street, just across the road from his house. The building consisted of three lodging-houses at the northern end, together with a library at the corner. Libraries were the main social institutions in seaside resorts of the period. As well as reading, they offered opportunities for gossip, gambling, musical entertainment, and shopping—“you can get a Parasol at Whitby’s,” Mr. Parker tells his wife.  The Colonnade Library and its rival, Stafford’s Marine Library, which had opened in 1797, would have been the main meeting-places for visitors to Worthing.

The Austen ladies could choose between the Colonnade Library practically across the street from where they were staying, and Stafford’s Library some two hundred yards away on the seafront. Mr. Parker offers just such a visit to Charlotte Heywood on her first evening in Sanditon right after dinner: “Mr. P. could not be satisfied without an early visit to the Library and the Library Subscription book;”

They had chosen a quiet time. “The Shops were deserted – the Straw Hats and pendant Lace seemed left to their fate both within the House and without, and Mrs. Whitby at the Library was sitting in her inner room, reading one of her own Novels for want of Employment. The List of Subscribers was but commonplace.”

Today’s fully modern library focuses on reading and information, but still offers meeting rooms.

Most importantly, Worthing possessed that prime requirement for a seaside resort—bathing facilities. As we saw in Fanny’s diary, Wick’s warm water baths were patronized by Cassandra, and the sea-bathing was “delicious”. This detail from a print of the time shows Wick’s on the right and bathing machines perched on the left.

Mr. Parker declares Sanditon, “the favourite – for a young and rising bathing-place – certainly the favourite.” “The finest, purest Sea Breeze on the Coast – acknowledged to be so – Excellent Bathing – fine hard Sand – Deep Water ten yards from the Shore – no Mud – no Weeds – no slimey rocks. Never was there a place more palpably designed by Nature for the resort of the Invalid – the very Spot which Thousands seemed in need of!”

Worthing today offers a beautiful seafront with art deco and Italiante buildings, their white and cream stucco gleaming in the sun.

Unlike Mr. Parker’s “fine, hard sand” Worthing has a pebble beach with crashing waves. It made me hope that Jane had a strong dipper to keep her upright in the surf.

Edwardian lampposts and fishermen lined the Victorian pleasure pier. “What do you catch?” I asked.                              “Bass and all sorts, really,” was the reply. It made me think of Fanny Austen buying fish on the beach with her grandmother.

The first theatre, which we know Jane would have enjoyed, wasn’t built in Worthing until two years after her visit. Today Worthing offers two theatres. The Connaught, built 1914, and the Pavilion, built 1926, host theatrical productions, concerts and cinema.

One of the pleasures of a visit to Worthing today is walking in the Steyne Gardens, just west of the former Stanford’s Cottage, running parallel to the footpath Jane and all the Austens would have taken to the shore.

The echoes of Jane Austen and Sanditon are strong in Worthing. Its location on the coast of Sussex, its enthusiastic, charismatic developer, library, sea-bathing, a grand house, lodgings to let . . . the list of similarities is persuasive. Ultimately, though, it’s unlikely that anything could be more real for Jane than the structure in her own head. That’s the resort I most long to visit.

*****

This article about Jane Austen and Dawlish was written by Donna Fletcher Crow, and the article is reproduced here with her permission.

Donna is a novelist of British history, and a traveling researcher who engages people and places from Britain’s past and present – drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today’s reader. Her website can be found here.

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Cassandra Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Queen Victoria and a Destruction of Letters

Cassandra Austen in Becoming Jane

What did Cassandra Austen have in common with Charlotte Brontë and one of Queen Victoria’s daughters?

 

Cassandra Austen and Jane Austen in the film ‘Becoming Jane’

Whatever possessed them to do it?  This can be a question that springs to mind when reading about the deliberate destruction of material left behind after the death of a famous person.  It doesn’t matter from what sphere of the arts the deceased came, whether the artist in question was a singer, musician, poet, painter or writer: anger is raised that part (or all) of their unreleased material has been “disposed of” or censored in some way by a third party, whether relative, business associate, or other.  We know that after Jane Austen’s death, Cassandra Austen, her beloved older sister, was no exception to destruction or censorship of this kind and quantities of Jane’s letters may have been destroyed.  Certainly many were censored by having contentious comments removed.

As the two sisters were often apart, visiting different members of the large Austen family or their connections, a considerable number of letters would have passed between the two.  Some Jane Austen commentators have vilified Cassandra for what they deem acts of wanton vandalism, and have sometimes concluded these acts were probably inspired by jealousy of her talented younger sister.  But is this really the case?  Is this vilification fair?

Two other famous women who have faced charges of wilful censoring and destroying much of a deceased relative’s work are novelist Charlotte Brontë and Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria.

Charlotte Brontë is widely believed to have destroyed the draft of a second novel written by her sister, Emily, although it is unclear what stage any manuscript second novel had reached when Emily died, in late 1848.   The accusation rests on Charlotte’s known opinion of Emily’s first work “Wuthering Heights“.  She once wrote of it as  “….a rude and a strange production”, and mentioned its’ “….harshly manifested passions”, so it seems quite possible that she feared this second book would be even more controversial than the first.  A published author herself at the time of Emily’s death and understandably anxious to continue to sell her work to the public, she may have felt that any impropriety would reflect badly on her own reputation.

Princess Beatrice with her mother, Queen Victoria

Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, was the recipient of a sacred charge left to her by her mother, compelling her to go through Victoria’s voluminous diaries, kept since childhood, and to expunge anything considered unfit for eyes other than those of the Queen and her daughter. It appears that Beatrice had received strict instructions on exactly what she was to censor, and the instructions were faithfully followed and carried out over a period of many years.

We who come later may criticise the decisions of Cassandra, Charlotte and Beatrice, but we need to try to put ourselves in their situation:  not long after Emily’s death in 1848, Charlotte Brontë became the last surviving child of the Reverend Patrick Brontë and at the time of Emily’s death, her widowed father was in his seventies.  By 19th century standards, it was quite likely that within the next 5 years he would die, leaving her completely alone with no blood relatives apart from distant cousins in Cornwall, on whom she had no claims. As her father was a clergyman from a humble family background, little money would be forthcoming from his estate, and Charlotte hoped she could continue to earn her own living by her writing. The success of her writing depended on the public’s reception of her work and their view of her as a novelist. Can we blame her for taking the long view and being anxious to maintain her reputation and that of her sisters’ work?

There is another aspect that also warrants consideration:  the temperament of Emily herself.  Always a fiercely private person, and protective of her writing against outside eyes until she deemed it right to be revealed, it was perhaps Emily herself who exacted a solemn promise from Charlotte that on the event of her death, Charlotte should ensure that any remaining manuscripts were destroyed before there was any chance that they might come to public attention.

Were these actions partly motivated by self-interest?  Perhaps we’ll never know, but I think if they were, we should be tolerant, considering the realities of life for a woman in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including the need to preserve an unblemished reputation.  There was also the feeling that the deceased would not be able to answer any criticisms that arose as a result of further material coming under public gaze.

Princess Beatrice as a child

Princess Beatrice, always the shyest, most deferential and malleable of Victoria’s five daughters and the one who, even after her marriage, still lived in her mother’s home, is likely to have been deliberately selected by Victoria to access her private diaries and follow her wishes to the letter.  Obedience was bred into Beatrice, and as an archetypal Victorian lady and Princess of Great Britain to boot,  it would not have occurred to her to refute what would be looked on as a sacred task and her mother’s final wish. The fact that she was leaving large ‘holes’ that later historians would attempt to fill in probably did not occur to her, nor was it likely to have made much difference if it had, in the face of her mother’s royal command.

It is quite possible that Cassandra Austen was in a similar position to that of Princess Beatrice, albeit 84 years earlier. As Jane’s adored only sister and confidante, Cassandra was the recipient of all Jane’s confidences, whether written or spoken, and was the usual first audience for her manuscripts.  With Jane’s talent for lively social commentary about family, friends and acquaintances (and her sometimes forthright and acerbic comment at that), Cassandra may have wished to avoid anything that might later taint the memory of her adored sister or cause upset within the family and we remember how ‘prickly’ her sister-in-law, James Austen’s second wife, Mary (nee Lloyd) could be. Within the family circle of brothers, sisters-in-law, nephews and nieces there was plenty of material for observation, comment and the forthright views Jane was never reluctant to express in letters to her sister (their brother Henry’s failed banking venture, which occurred about 3 years before Jane’s death, and which necessitated yet another change of career for him, would have caused the whole Austen family much grief and surely much comment).  Dearly as she loved her family, Jane is likely to have wanted to spare them any unnecessary pain after her death.  Fully aware that she was dying, Jane may have herself tasked her sister with undertaking the melancholy duty following her death, and exacted her promise that this would be done.

To inflict charges of wanton destruction and jealousy on Cassandra – or Charlotte Brontë and Princess Beatrice – without any apparent evidence to support the charges is, I believe, too harsh and simply unfounded.  What we can say about Jane Austen is the same as can be said about Emily Brontë and Queen Victoria:  we can only speculate about possible evidence of uninhibited comment on joy, passion, unhappiness, disappointment and so on, which has been denied to posterity by the absence of part of their legacy.

****

This ‘Cassandra Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Queen Victoria and a Destruction of Letters’ article was written by Margaret Mills
About the author:
Margaret’s admiration for Jane Austen began many years ago in her early teens, when she was inspired by a wonderful English Literature teacher who introduced her to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and the wit and wisdom of Jane Austen. She still re-reads the novels at least once a year, finding new insights every time and admiring Jane’s brilliant writing.
History and literature are her passions and she teaches part-time in adult education. Needless to say some of her courses are on the subject of Jane Austen!
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A Jane Austen Acrostic Poem

This week we were sent a charming acrostic poem by Violeta Murray.
Jane Austen

 

Jewel in the English crown
Attar of a rose in bown
Nectar and a garden bliss
Eden in it’s Golden Fleece
An anointed Goddess made
Unsurpassed in her trade
Salutations oh divine
Troth of all the written words
Echoes in our souls a stirred
Nectar from the Gods a spurred
Acrostic Poem jewellery
Georgian “Regard” brooch, circa 1810.

An acrostic is a poem (or other form of writing) in which the first letter (or syllable, or word) of each line (or paragraph, or other recurring feature in the text) spells out a word, message or the alphabet. The word comes from the French acrostiche and from post-classical Latin acrostichis.

Using letters to hide a message, as in acrostic ciphers, was popular during the Renaissance, and could employ various methods of enciphering, while in the Regency period, acrostic jewelry came into vogue. These brooches, rings and other ornaments used gemstones beginning with each letter of the alphabet to spell out sentimental sayings such as LOVE, DEAREST, of REGARD.
( If you’re a fan of acrostic puzzles, you might like to have a look at the Jane Austen acrostic puzzle book. )
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In Defence of Mrs Bennet

Mrs Bennet and Elizabeth Bennet in the Jane Austen News
A Defence of Mrs Bennet, written by Jean Main-Reade
Mrs Bennet and Elizabeth Bennet in the Jane Austen NewsIn Pride and Prejudice, and in every stage, screen and fanfic adaptation, Mrs Bennet is a comic character.  She was made to be mocked, first by her husband and then by millions of readers.  Indeed, we see an empty-headed, uneducated woman.  “The business of her life was to get her daughters married.  It’s solace was visiting and news’. Look at the first half of that in isolation.  In working to get husbands for her daughters, I contend that Mrs Bennet was a caring, conscientious mother.

 

The Longbourn property was entailed, and in default of heirs male would revert to Mr Collins.  Mrs Bennet was not clever enough to understand the workings of an entail, but she certainly understood what would be her daughters’ fate if their father died before they had acquired husbands to support them.

 

Jane Austen’s novels drive this point home. In Sense and Sensibility,  the Dashwood family were forced into reduced circumstances by Mr Dashwood’s death.  In Emma, Mrs and Miss Bates would have starved but for the generosity of their neighbours.  In Mansfield Park, Mrs Price did marry, but her poor choice of husband meant that she, and her children, had to live in poverty.

 

When Charlotte Lucas announced her engagement, Elizabeth was horrified and did not withhold her disapproval.  I feel this was unfair.  Charlotte was ‘around twenty-seven’, and plain.  Elizabeth was twenty, and pretty.  Charlotte had faced the possibility of being dependent on her brothers in the future.  Her single state delayed her sisters’ coming out.  The younger Bennet girls were not affected in this way as Mrs Bennet defied convention and brought all her daughters out early.  When we realise that Charlotte preferred life with Mr Collins to spinsterhood, I think that illustrates what Cecily Hamilton spoke of as ‘the fate of every woman not born an heiress’.

 

We should give Mrs Bennet her due.  Was she not more on the side of the angels than her husband?  When faced with the possibility of pre-deceasing his wife all he said was “My dear…let us hope for better things.  Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor”.  To put it another way “I’m all right, Jack”.
***

About the author:

Jean lives in Truro and, in between writing articles for the local press and volunteering as a presenter on the community and hospital radio, she is working on an exciting writing project about the life of former resident of Falmouth who lived in the 1800s.

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Sense and Sensibility Church To Reopen

Sense and Sensibility Church To Reopen

14182076-largeThe village church in Upton Pyne near Exeter is believed to be the setting for the marriage of Elinor and Edward in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

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