What’s the Jane Austen News this week?
This week at the Jane Austen News we had great fun reading Bustle‘s piece on underwear in the time of Jane Austen. At the Jane Austen Centre our guides are often asked what the underwear of the era was like, so it was nice to see that we got a mention in Bustle‘s article too.
In brief (sorry, the pun was too good) Melissa Ragsdale explained why, although the screen adaptations may look terribly genteel and elegant, in real life Regency England it wasn’t all tea and cake and comfort.
If you like feel like a lot of women and long to get home at the end of the day and ditch your bra and relax in a nice pair of comfy PJs, well, it would have been much worse back in Jane’s time…
Unlike Victorian corsets which hooked in the front and laced up the back, older corsets only laced up the back in a zigzag fashion using one string—cross lacing would be invented later on—and stiffened in the front with a carved wooden or bone busk which created a straight posture and separated the bosoms for the “heaving” effect, so popular at the time.
Although if you like going commando, you’d have been in luck…
According to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, ‘drawers’ (which were like loose shorts, and often crotchless) were invented in 1806, but it wasn’t common for adult women to wear them until after 1820. Drawers went on to merge into ‘knickers’ and ‘combinations’ during the Victorian era, and modern “panties” didn’t exist until the 1920s.
To see what else Melissa found out about Lizzy Bennet’s underwear drawer you can read the full article here.
For anyone who thinks Jane Austen’s stories are no longer relevant to real life, The Jane Austen Society of Pakistan is out to explain why her words still ring true for them.
Laaleen Sukera, a journalist and the founder of JASP, has been speaking to The Economist in an article published this week, and explaining why Jane Austen is so popular in Pakistan, one of the main reasons being because the etiquette and customs of the Regency are still alive and well in society. A couple of examples:
- Weddings are the equivalent of the Bath Assembly Rooms – it’s where people go to search for suitable partners.
- There is still a ‘season’ – three months crammed with parties, weddings and balls where girls put on their best jewels and finery and check out the most eligible suitors on offer.
- Inheritance laws still heavily favour male heirs.
- Marrying your daughters to rich men, from good backgrounds, who can take good care of them, is still the main focus of many families.
Austen resonates with us because Regency England is so much like today’s Pakistan. I know her books are 200 years old and set in small English county towns and villages but, really, her themes, her characters, her situations, her plots, they could have been written for us now.
At the Jane Austen News we found it fascinating to read all about the parallels between Regency England and Pakistan, and on Austen’s popularity there. The full article (well worth a read!) can be found here.
If shoot-em-up adventures or burning-rubber car chases aren’t your kind of thing, but at the same time you’re not completely averse to the whole idea of playing video games, then the latest reviews of a new virtual roleplaying game called Ever, Jane might well be of interest to you.
Ever, Jane is the new creation of Judy L Tyrer and her team at 3 Turn Productions. It sees the typical video games conventions being so-called “Austenified”. For example, instead of quests for lost diamonds, your progression through the game is based on avoiding scandal through gossip and orchestrating social engagements. Rather than a guild of wizards, you belong to a family whose social standing can be affected by the actions of individual players.
Tyrer’s aim is that Ever, Jane should help its players to find out what kind of thing the characters in Jane’s novels did, and to explore what the correct social etiquette of the Regency period really involved, as well, of course, as being an online forum where fans of Jane Austen can enjoy meeting each other online and live out their Regency dreams. Its current players come from all over and all walks of life. A 37 year-old man from Philadelphia had these words of praise for the game:
I enjoy games that are about physical challenges, but there’s also a world of amazing drama to be had when the focus is on what’s happening socially in an era of restrictions and startling debauchery. My characters have experienced sweet and tender poetic courtships, hot seductions, shame and subtle triumphs. They’ve loved in secret, made calculating connections and stupid mistakes in the name of friendship.
A full review of the game, currently in its free playable prototype stage, can be found here.
Cross Stitching and A Ukulele Love Serenade…
A one-woman musical that lovingly sends up all things Jane Austen (and won a theatrical prize against a field of 1,000 entrants at the Adelaide Fringe) is coming to the UK and Ireland.
New Zealand writer Penny Ashton brings Austenesque characters to life in Promise And Promiscuity through song, dance, appalling cross-stitching and… a ukulele love serenade. Not something we’ve seen before…
The idea for the show came in 2008 when a friend asked Penny to bring a show to a festival of improvisation. She got together with a group and presented Austen Found: The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen, which then inspired her to create her one-woman musical show.
I believe [Austen’s] dialogue and characters are the best things about her work. From fussy mothers to silly sisters to sensible heroines to malodorous suitors and downright evil dowagers. She has some withering one-line zingers and some delightfully sarcastic ripostes. I play nine characters in this piece and love jumping between their exaggerated selves.
Although she plays nine different characters, we were most intrigued by her protagonist who “wants to be a writer who writes pirate novellas under the male pseudonym of Wilbur Smythe and is fighting against expectations of ankle propriety in 1809.”
If you’d like to see the show it will be touring between the 4th of October and the 15th of November as follows:
October 4th – Clonter Opera Theatre, Congleton, Cheshire
October 5th – Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham
October 6th – Walker Theatre, Shrewsbury
October 10th – Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes
October 12 – 14 – Greenwich Theatre, London
October 16th – Theatre Royal, Winchester
October 18th – Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham
October 20th – Forest Arts Centre, New Milton
October 26th – Canterbury Festival
November 2nd – Siamsa Tíre, Tralee, Ireland
November 3rd – Friar’s Gate Theatre, Killmallock, Ireland
November 9th – Belltable, Limerick, Ireland
November 10th – Nenagh Arts Centre, Nenagh, Ireland
It was with great sadness that we learned that the actor Benjamin Whitrow, who did such a fantastic job of playing Mr Bennet in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, died this week.
As well as playing Mr Bennet, Benjamin Whitrow also played a great many other roles and was admired in his portrayals of funny, serious, major and minor characters. Laurence Olivier, who employed Mr Whitrow as an actor in his National Theatre company at the Old Vic for seven years in the late 1960s said of him: ‘Benjamin Whitrow has never given a bad performance”.
However it’s for his Mr Bennet that he is best remembered. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Hugh Massingberd hailed Whitrow’s “definitive” interpretation of a character too often “portrayed as henpecked cipher” as “the performance of his career”. In fact Benjamin Whitrow was nominated for a Best Actor Bafta for his portrayal (Colin Firth also being nominated for his Mr Darcy), but he lost out to Robbie Coltrane in Cracker.
Benjamin Whitrow passed away on Thursday, the 28th of September at the age of 80. He will be greatly missed by many.
If you’d like to read more about his life and career we can recommend his obituary in the Guardian as a good starting place.
And finally, although to many October heralds the season of all things spooky and Halloween, for us at the Jane Austen News, October is Sense and Sensibility month.
It was during October back in 1811 that Jane first became a published author when Sense and Sensibility was published by Thomas Egerton (even if it did say that it’s author was simply “A Lady”).
So these are some of our suggestions for how to celebrate Sense and Sensibility month:
- Re-read Sense and Sensibility (of course)
- Have a Sense and Sensibility movie marathon and watch all of the different versions back-to-back (or on consecutive nights)
- Host a Jane Austen tea party
- Host a special Sense and Sensibility book club meeting with your friends
- Hold a competition among you and your friends to design a new cover for Sense and Sensibility
- Hold a charity “dress-like-an-Austen-character” day at work
Whatever you do, enjoy October and Sense and Sensibility month!
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