One of the joys of re-reading Jane Austen’s novels is finding something new each time, bringing with it a deeper understanding of her characters and the society in which they live. Although Austen is known as a romance writer (and, I would argue, the inventor of modern romance structure), I find her illustration of family dynamics to be the most appealing aspect of her work, and the reason she has fans around the world, across time and culture. She invites us into her life and times, and we recognize ourselves and our families in her characters.
Sometimes a re-read lets me see something I’ve missed the dozens of reads before. For instance, in Pride & Prejudice, when Jane catches cold and has to stay overnight at Netherfield, I had read the book countless times before it occurred to me that this wasn’t a ‘Regency thing’. It was just as embarrassing for Jane as if it had happened to someone in the 21st century. Mrs. Bennet’s brazenness in engineering the whole thing became even worse when I looked at it from that standpoint. Can you imagine — going to a stranger’s house for tea and then having to stay overnight for days? And the doctor has to come? Poor Jane!
This 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…)
“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.” —Persuasion, Chapter 4
I’ve encountered three reactions from those who learn we’ve adapted Jane Austen’s final complete novel Persuasion as a musical. The first is delight. This comes from people who hold certain Austen adaptations near and dear to their hearts … usually the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. The second is indifference. These souls were forced to read Austen in high school and tend to confuse her with Charlotte Brontë. The third is dread. These are Janeites who anticipate a chorus line of naval officers high-kicking atop a painted reproduction of The Cobb in Lyme Regis.
Let me reassure, and perhaps disappoint, everyone: our musical does not feature zombies to attract a teen audience, will not turn Captain Wentworth into an Iraq veteran to show social relevance, and will not relocate Act II from Bath to Havana as an excuse for a climactic mambo. We chose to musicalize Persuasion for a simple and perhaps naïve reason. We believe that if any art form can be true both to the novel’s wit and to its aching melancholy, it is musical theatre … not the musical theatre of spectacle but of emotional immediacy and intimacy.
What reading material do you turn to if you are unwell? The novelist Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell wrote a letter early in 1865 to John Ruskin, about one of her own books, in which she said: “whenever I am ailing or ill, I take Cranford and – I was going to say enjoy it (but that would not be pretty!) laugh over it afresh!”
For a couple of months last summer, my own life was temporarily disrupted because I was “ailing or ill”, and spent most of my time indoors. No real hardship this, as I am, and always have been, a great reader, and at times like this I turn to one of my favourite authors, the divine Jane Austen. Well or not, I can’t begin to estimate how many times I have read Jane Austen’s works over the years. My favourites are probably Pride and Prejudice and Emma, but the reason I settled on Pride and Prejudice as my first selection rests partly on the first chapter alone: the immediacy of the introductory paragraph plunges you straight into the story, and I have always adored the dry humour of Mr Bennet, the father of those “silly and ignorant” daughters! Continue reading Jane Austen and Illness
Jessica A. Volz’s latest book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney (London and New York: Anthem Press, March 2017), examines how four famed women novelists publishing their oeuvres in Britain between 1778 and 1815 used visuality – the continuum linking visual and verbal communication – to achieve a degree of rhetorical freedom in a way that concealed resistance within the limits of language.
In contexts dominated by inexpressibility, penetrating gazes and the perpetual threat of misinterpretation, Jane Austen, Ann Radcliffe, Maria Edgeworth and Frances Burney used references to the visible and the invisible to comment on emotions, socio-economic conditions and patriarchal abuses. This title offers new insights into the evolution of strategic/diplomatic communications and women’s rights during a period shaped by revolutions, empires in transition, the Enlightenment and changing attitudes towards freedom of expression. Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece, contributed the foreword. The cover features a painting by Mary Moser, one of the Royal Academy’s two founding female members.
By Jenni Waugh I recently replied to an email enquiry from a student who was looking for an opinion on the question “To what extent does Jane Austen present her heroines as ideal women within their social contexts?” My reply ended up being fairly lengthy and is below. Let me know what you think! Personally, I’d say that very few, if any, of her heroines are presented as ideal women within their social contexts. They all have their own unique flaws. Elizabeth Bennet is outspoken and opinionated; just think of her responses to Lady Catherine’s enquires about her age, and her dismissal of Mr Collins, and then later of Mr Darcy. Were Lizzy an ideal woman in society she would have accepted Collins in order to secure her family’s home as per her mother’s wishes, or Darcy when he asked her in order to secure an even better future for herself and her family. Emma, likewise, is outspoken, opinionated and meddlesome. Although on a positive note she is at least relatively rich; a most desirable quality in any wife. Anne Elliot is rich and polite, and certainly obeys her family’s wishes, which is why she turned down the Captain’s initial offer of marriage all those years ago. However, Anne would be considered by many to be too old to make a good bride. You could be out in society and looking for a husband from the age of 15, and by the age of 26 you were seen as on (more…)
It’s been an extremely varied 12 months here at the Jane Austen Gift Shop as far as reading matter goes… Our biggest sellers have been the Jane Austen Classic Colouring Book and the Pride and Prejudice Colouring Classic. Whether young or old, it’s hard to resist getting out the pencils, paints or crayons to add a splash of colour to these enchanting illustrations. Some said the colouring craze was just a passing fancy, but if the popularity of these titles is anything to go by, there’s plenty of life in it yet, especially among Jane Austen fans! Of the official releases, you certainly enjoyed The Annotated Emma. This ingenious and illuminating book book pairs the full original text with explanations of historical context, maps and illustrations, definitions of historical terms and concepts, comments and analysis and cross-referencing to Jane’s other novels, letters and writings. The result is almost like reading the novel for the first time, and it’s full of information on everything from English attitudes towards gypsies to the social status of spinsters and illegitimate children, to the shopping habits of fashionable ladies. A gourmet feast for Janeites, it’s one of those books that is sure to drive your friends mad, as you constantly stop and them and say: “Did you know this?” The big movie news of the year was the release of Love and Friendship, based on Jane’s early work Lady Susan. If that’s inspired you to catch up (or re-acquaint yourself) with the juvenilia, we have (more…)
‘These lively, attractive little volumes are ideal. Charmingly presented and skilfully written, they capture the flavour and tone of Jane Austen’s peerless craft while simplifying the narrative and dialogue. Even as a purist, I think these Real Reads are a Real Help for the younger, novice reader.”
Josephine Ross, author of Jane Austen: A Companion
When my daughter was young, we began a tradition of “Girlie Movie Nights” (when Daddy was away), trimming bonnets, watching Jane Austen films and eating chocolate (if you ask her today, she’ll still insist with solemn assurance that “chocolate is good for girls”.) Once she began to read fluently, I looked for a way to share the same stories with her in a form she could read for herself.
I considered the popular “illustrated classics” series, but found the illustrations a bit dated. I was, therefore, completely delighted when I discovered Real Reads, a series that focuses on classic literature, retelling it in a simplified way, easy for children to understand and yet maintaining the tone of the original. In each book, be it Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare or some other “classic”, the authors (in this case Gill Tavner) condense the story and “extras” into 64 full color pages. Each book is lavishly illustrated (the Austen books are drawn by Ann Kronheimer) in a fun, watercolor style. Naturally, I purchased all six Austen titles! Continue reading Real Reads: Jane Austen’s Novels