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Meeting Young Jane Austen

“It’s exciting to be contributing to the Jane Austen 200 celebrations, with performances of Young Jane and Meeting Miss Austen, my adaptations inspired by Austen’s Juvenilia.” – Cecily O’Neill

The exuberance and absurdity of the short novels, plays and letters known as the Juvenilia immediately captured my interest. Many of the characters, situations and issues in these teenage works clearly anticipate Austen’s mature novels, and the dialogue is as funny and revealing as anything she wrote later.

It was the power of the dialogue that made me think these delightful pieces might be adapted for the stage. This is Mary’s first speech from The Three Sisters,

I am the happiest creature in the world! I have received an offer of marriage from Mr Watts! It is the first proposal I have ever had, but I do not intend to accept it. At least I believe I won’t. Mr Watts is quite an old man, at least thirty-two. He’s very plain – so plain that I cannot bear to look at him. He’s also extremely disagreeable and I hate him more than any body else in the world! He has a large fortune but then he’s so very healthy

I could find no evidence that the Juvenilia had previously been dramatized, although the title of the recent film, Love and Friendship, which is based on Austen’s Lady Susan, borrowed the title from one of the minor masterpieces in the Juvenilia.

As well as The Three Sisters, I chose The Visit and Love and Friendship to include in Young Jane. Sell-out performances followed and this was the impetus for publishing the script of Young Jane.

I am currently at work on Meeting Miss Austen, another selection of works from the Juvenilia. One of the most compelling characters is Lady Greville, who prides herself on the fact that she ‘always speaks her mind’. This allows her to be as rude as she likes.

She objects to the fact that Maria, a young lady in ‘Distressed Circumstances’, is wearing a new dress to the ball.

I must own, for you know I always speak my mind, that I think it a needless piece of expense. It’s not my way to find fault with people because they are poor, for I always feel that they are more to be despised and pitied than blamed for it. But I must say that in my opinion your old striped gown would have been quite fine enough. To tell you the truth – I always speak my mind -I am very much afraid that half the people in the room will not know whether you have a gown on or not.

Does this remind you of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice? Elizabeth Bennet describes Lady Catherine’s manner as ‘dignified impertinence’, and Lady Greville, although not so dignified, certainly sounds like a close relation. She is only one of the many extraordinary characters to be encountered this year in Young Jane and Meeting Miss Austen.

As part of the Winchester Festival, Meeting Miss Austen will be performed in the Discovery Centre, Winchester, on July 8th and 9th, 2017. Young Jane will be performed at the Longstock Nursery, the Leckford Estate, Stockbridge, Hampshire, from July 12-15th, 2017.

 

Cecily O’Neill is a writer, director and workshop leader based in Winchester. She is the artistic director of 2TimeTheatre, a new performance and publishing venture dedicated to re-imagining classic and original texts for the stage. 

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