Bad Acting

Mansfield Park2No, this is not another movie review (although I will be writing something about Love and Friendship next time). Think more Mansfield Park.

This past Saturday, June 25th, I presented a program on Jane Austen at my local library: “Twenty-first Century Jane” – how movies, sequels, and modern variations are helping to carry her popularity into the new millennium. As part of my preparations for the program, I watched (or rewatched) several of the film adaptations, including two of Mansfield Park. And because the book I’m currently working on (see Work-in-Progress page) will have a MP angle to it, I paid close attention.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about Fanny Price and, more specifically, that unfortunate episode of amateur theatrics. You may remember that while Sir Thomas was gone to Antigua, Tom Bertram and his friend Mr. Yates cooked up the idea of putting on a play at home, just to amuse themselves, and they recruited the Miss Bertrams, the Crawfords, and Mr. Rushworth to join in. They were soon assigning parts and making all kinds of plans, including sets and costumes.

Mansfield ParkSounds like harmless fun, right? I think it’s difficult, especially for today’s readers, to understand why Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price were so strongly opposed to the idea. And Jane Austen disapproved too, from how she writes. That may be the most surprising part, since the Austen family is known to have done the same – entertained themselves by creating and acting out amateur theatricals at home.

So what’s the difference here? I decided to look a little deeper into the business.

Edmund objected at once, saying he was certain Sir Thomas wouldn’t approve of his children acting. In a house where the head of the family’s word was law, that should have been enough. Tom chose to disregard what he knew to be true, though.

Then, to compound their error, the company of players made another bad choice. They decided to do Lovers’ Vows. (Presumably, the Austen family never chose to perform this kind of material.)

  The first use [Fanny] made of her solitude was to take up the volume [of “Lovers’ Vows”] which had been left on the table, and begin to acquaint herself with the play of which she had heard so much. Her curiosity was all awake, and she ran through it with an eagerness which was suspended only by intervals of astonishment, that it could be chosen in the present instance—that it could be proposed and accepted in a private Theatre! Agatha and Amelia appeared to her in their different ways so totally improper for home representation—the situation of one, and the language of the other, so unfit to be expressed by any woman of modesty, that she could hardly suppose her cousins could be aware of what they were engaging in; and longed to have them roused as soon as possible by the remonstrance which Edmund would certainly make. (Mansfield Park, chapter 14)

Lover's VowsIn the book and film adaptations, we get little snippets of dialogue as the rehearsals progress, and we see the trouble it creates. But I was still wondering what was so astonishing and improper (according to Fanny in the excerpt above) about the play itself. I found it online and read it. It is a real play, btw, which undoubtedly Jane Austen had read herself. (Read it here if you’re interested)

It didn’t seem so astonishing to me at first (not compared to what we’ve become accustomed to seeing in movies and on TV every day): a woman, who had been seduced by a nobleman under promise of marriage, was instead abandoned by him to raise their son alone in poverty. Twenty years later, just when she is near starving to death, her son chances to meet the baron, whom he discovers to be his father, etc., etc.

It takes a lot more than that to shock us these days. But consider that the story of Mansfield Park was taking place in a very different age and culture.

Although these sorts of things happened, even then, they were not talked of in polite society. Children of gentility – the girls at least – were carefully sheltered and guarded. And a career on the stage was absolutely out of the question for anyone from a good family. So to have the daughters of Sir Thomas Bertram participating in a play, especially when it meant that one of them would be posing as and speaking the part of the unwed mother of an illegitimate child, was shockingly bad indeed. Not to mention that the actress (Maria, in this case) would be embracing an actor who was definitely NOT her son or even the man she was engaged to, but bad boy Henry Crawford instead…

The only thing that could have made the situation worse was to have outsiders present to witness the impropriety, which is what Edmund finally consented to taking a role in the play to prevent.

Sir Thomas BertramSo, Edmund and Fanny were right all along; the acting scheme was a bad idea, at least within the given context. Tom and Maria, who were in denial before, knew it by their guilty consciences as soon as their father returned home unexpectedly. But in the end it wasn’t the words of the play that caused the real trouble; it was the permission the activity granted for bad behavior – all that close contact and sneaking off to “rehearse” in private. There’s little doubt it contributed to what ultimately happened: Maria being ruined by deciding to leave her husband to run off with Henry Crawford.

So, what I want to know is where was Mrs. Norris???

Mrs. NorrisThroughout the entire book she has been poking her nose into the Bertram family business, telling everybody what to do and not do, claiming to be upholding propriety and guarding against wasteful spending. Now, when we really need her to intervene, she fails us. Well, not us, but she does fail the Bertrams, especially Maria who is her favorite.

Doesn’t it seem inconsistent that she not only allowed the acting scheme to go forward but assisted in it? Or was she blinded, like so many people are, by the bright lights and the chance to see her darling Maria shine on stage? All I can say is, “Badly done, Mrs. Norris. Badly done indeed!”

 

 

 

 

Posted in English Regency culture, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, movies, Shannon Winslow, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Them are Stumbling Words

dictionariesEnglish is not a static language. It’s constantly changing, whether we like it or not.

Twenty years ago, “mouse” meant a rodent we hoped never to find in our houses. Now, it’s a friendly little gizmo we’ve grown quite attached to and use every day. In old black-and-white musicals, a guy might have sung about “making love” to a girl and simply meant he wanted to hold her hand and maybe steal a kiss. Today, it would mean he wants a whole lot more than that.

These are fairly recent examples of change. So it shouldn’t surprise us when some of the language in Jane Austen’s novels, written two hundred years ago, doesn’t sound quite right to our modern ears.

saloonActually, her language is one of the aspects of her books I enjoy the most. But emulating it as faithfully as possible has gotten me into some trouble. For instance, one reviewer on Amazon severely berated me for more than once using the word “saloon” in The Darcys of Pemberley, assuming it was a typo and that I surely meant “salon” instead. According to the definitions given in my 2004 Webster’s Encarta Dictionary (and every American western movie ever made), she would be right.

Saloon: commercial establishment serving alcoholic drinks to the general public. Salon: grand sitting room in a large house where guest are received and entertained.

formal sitting roomHowever, my higher authority was Pride and Prejudice (which possibly the outspoken reviewer had never actually read???). In this excerpt from chapter 45, Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner have just arrived at Pemberley at the invitation of Miss Darcy:

On reaching the house, they were shown through the hall into the saloon, whose northern aspect rendered it delightful for summer. Its windows opening to the ground, admitted a most refreshing view of the high woody hills behind the house, and of the beautiful oaks and Spanish chestnuts which were scattered over the intermediate lawn.

Austen repeated “saloon” a second time shortly thereafter, confirming it was no mistake. So when in The Darcys of Pemberley (and later in Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley) I called the same room the same thing, I was technically correct. Nevertheless, I had stumbled my reader and that’s not a good thing. She (and perhaps others) had come to that unexpected word and tripped over it, pulling her out of the story and giving her a negative impression of my work.

Elizabeth and WickhamAt least in this example my use of a troublesome word, whose meaning had changed over time, was only regarded as a typographical error. I got into more serious trouble with “intimate.” Austen used it 100+ times in her writings, and as far as I can tell, not once did she mean anything sexual by it. Yet, when in TDOP I have Darcy telling Elizabeth that it’s unfortunate she once had a rather “intimate” association with Wickham, noisy protests arose from more than one quarter. “Elizabeth would never!” “Darcy wouldn’t believed her capable of such a thing!” Obviously, some readers thought the word inferred a sexual relationship not intended by the author or by Mr. Darcy either. Yikes!

The word “intercourse,” used dozens of times by Austen to mean any type of exchange between people, usually conversation, must also be handled with care for the same reason. Even an innocent word like “nice” can be misunderstood. As often as not, Austen meant subtle/careful/fastidious/fussy rather than pleasant/kind. And “wonderful” was intended to describe something exciting particular admiration, surprise, or amazement (full-of-wonder), not simply good or great.

…and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books – or at least books of information – for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. (Northanger Abbey, chapter 1)

Hopefully, the modern reader reading Jane Austen isn’t led too far astray by the differences in her language and our everyday meanings. As for me, I’ve learned to steer clear of using potential stumbling words in my writing whenever I can, or at least to clarify what I mean through context. But it’s not always possible.

scrubbing floorsA case in point. The lady in charge of a manor house in those days was the estate’s “housekeeper.”  That’s what she was called; there’s no other word I can use for her. As the highest ranking position to which any female employee could aspire, the title carried with it a great deal of respect among the staff and also from the family they served. But unless the reader understands that, they will likely think of someone down on her knees scrubbing floors instead of what she really was: an important member of the household’s management team. I guess there’s nothing I can do about that.

It’s a continual balancing act: trying to use period-correct language while at the same time writing for the modern reader. I can get into trouble if I stray too far on one side or the other – using right words that now convey wrong meanings, or making the language sound too contemporary. Either error can detract from the reader’s enjoyment of the story.

Has this happened to you? In your reading, have you sometimes stumbled over a clunky word that didn’t seem to belong? Did you misunderstand Austen-style language when you first began reading Regency fiction? Any other related pet peeves?

Posted in English Regency culture, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, Shannon Winslow, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

A Gentleman’s Profession

Edward FerrarsEvery Jane Austen novel reminds us of the severe limitations society placed on females of genteel birth in her era. About their only honorable option was to become some gentleman’s wife. Although the men had a far better lot in general, their choices were also very restricted.

“It has been, and is, and probably will always be a heavy misfortune to me that I have had no necessary business to engage me, no profession to give me employment or afford me any thing like independence … I always preferred the church, as I still do. But that was not smart enough for my family. They recommended the army. That was a great deal too smart for me. The law was allowed to be genteel enough; many young men who had chambers in the Temple, made a very good appearance in the first circles, and drove about town in very knowing gigs.” (Sense and Sensibility)

As Edward Ferras outlines for us above, if a young gentleman needed an occupation, he could go into the church, the army, or the law. Those were the three standard choices. You could add banking to the short list if your daddy happened to own one.

“But,” you say, “I thought the mark of a gentleman was having no profession.”

Well, not exactly. Younger sons absolutely needed a profession; unless they were lucky enough to marry a fortune, they had to earn their living. The eldest son would, of course, inherit the family estate when his father died, giving him income and occupation thereafter. But what was he to do in the meantime? Too much free time got more than one heir apparent into trouble. Edward, in hindsight, recognized that his foolish involvement with Lucy Steele sprang from his idleness. And Thomas Bertram (Mansfield Park) gambled his father’s money away while waiting to come into his property.

Wickham2Better give that boy something to do! Joining the clergy was acceptable, but not stylish. A military life held more prestige, but also more danger (Napoleon and all). So, perhaps the law? Fine, but then he must be a swanky London barrister, and not (heaven forbid!) a humble country attorney like Lizzy’s uncle Phillips in Pride and Prejudice, who was considered one of her “low connections.”

To become a lawyer didn’t involve the years of intense study and rigorous exams you might imagine. One had to first acquire a standard degree (from Oxford, Cambridge, or Trinity), which hardly required breaking a sweat, before moving on to “study” at one of London’s Inns of Court (Temple, as mentioned by Edward, for example). There his progress was measured according to how often he dined on the premises (I’m not kidding) rather than by successfully completing courses. What a student actually learned during his “terms” was largely left up to him. If he paid attention in court and read the recommended books, he might come away with some level of competency to go along with his certificate. If not… well?

tom lefroy law studentAlthough I’m no expert, from what I’ve read, the haphazard education of lawyers seems only a symptom of a much larger malaise afflicting the legal system that existed at the time. Jo Walker (heroine of my book For Myself Alone) has this to say about it:

“The quality of Mr. Gerber’s advice notwithstanding, I come away from my first encounter with the legal system scarcely less ignorant than when I began. The little which I could understand, however, appears to contradict the very few notions I had entertained on the matter before. As it turns out, the law has only a nodding acquaintance with justice and an even more tenuous association with common sense.”

(Extra credit if you can identify and place the JA quote within this SW quote.)

So what will it be, gentlemen – the law, the church, or a military life? Aren’t we glad we all, women as well as men, have more freedom of choice now!

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Title Search

ShakespheareWhat’s in a name? No, wait, that’s Shakespeare. Wrong author! I’m supposed to be channeling Jane Austen! Let me try again.

“…But there is nobleness in the name of Edmund.  It is a name of heroism and renown – of kings, princes, and knights; and seems to breathe the spirit of chivalry and warm affections.”  (Mansfield Park, chapter 22)

Fanny Price imbues her beloved Edmund’s name with more latent significance than most of us would, but we at least consider the meanings in the Baby Name Book before deciding what moniker our children will be saddled with for life.

Authors give nearly as much thought to what to title their latest ‘darling child’ before sending it out into the world. It should be something catchy and memorable. It also should give the reader some clue as to what to expect inside the cover.

I actually have a lot of fun with titles, especially chapter titles or names for blog posts, where less is at stake. It tickles me when I can use a fancy word: Elucidation (used as a chapter title in not one but two of my books). I’m a fan of alliteration too, like Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility), as evidenced by these chapter titles among others: Sisterly Society, Richard Returns, Wardrobe Woes, Demands of Duty, Company Coming.  I’m not above borrowing a famous phrase now and then: The Play is the Thing, Miles to Go, Teacher Know Thyself, A Tale of Two Movies. And if I can incorporate an inside joke or some double meaning, so much the better: chapter titles Taken For a Ride and Bump in the Road apply literally as well as figuratively. “Persuasion” in my title The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen refers both to her novel and the fact that she herself was persuaded to give up the man she wanted. Even the title of this blog post has more than one meaning.

I may be outdoing myself on this new book, though (see work-in-progress ). I’m only eight chapters in and I’ve already got some delightful chapter titles, imho. Here they are: Light Dawns, Making Jambalaya, A Day at Disneyland, Possibilities and Perplexities, The Dearly Departing, A Two-Horse Race, Tie Breaker, Going for Broke.

The bigger challenge, however, is coming up with a title for the book itself.

Since it will be part of a series (see Crossroads Collection), I’d love to do something clever with all the titles, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money, Two for the Dough, etc.). I thought of copying the idea, only using First, Second, Third, etc. in each of the successive titles instead of One, Two, Three. Using the word “Leap” in each title would be another way to go. Appropriate, too, since the first one is already tentatively titled Leap of Faith and all will involve time travel. Or I could abandon using a theme word and title each one individually, in which case this new book may end up being called Pemberley or Bust!

Northanger Abbey coverI guess I’m not the only one who has struggled with indecisiveness in this area. Jane Austen changed the titles to at least three of her books before publication. First Impressions became Pride and Prejudice. Elinor and Maryanne became Sense and SensibilityNorthanger Abbey underwent the most transformations. Austen originally called it Susan, after the heroine. Then she changed not only the title of the novel but the heroine’s name to Catherine to avoid confusion with another book that had come out. It was ultimately published as Northanger Abbey after her death.

As for the titles of my upcoming novels (I hope to publish the first two in the series together later this year), I still have time to make up my mind. But I’d love to hear your opinions and brilliant suggestions on the subject! Themed or independent titles? Leap of Faith and Pemberley or Bust? Or propose something of your own.


 

3/28/16 Update:  After more thought and some reader feedback, I think I’m going to go with the idea of using the word “leap” in all the titles in this series. “Leap of Faith” for the first one, as planned, and maybe “Leap of Hope” for the second, allowing the subtitle and the cover design to supply more information as to what each of the books is about. I might even change the name of the heroine of the second from Katie to Hope to match the title. What do you think?

Posted in Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Zombie Date Night

P&P&ZI don’t really intend my blog to turn into a movie review site, but there has been more than the usual amount of activity in the period movie arena lately, begging some kind of response. (See previous post for my thoughts on Far From the Madding Crowd and Unleashing Mr. Darcy.) Most recently, we have the much delayed debut of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. I can hardly allow such a thing to pass without comment, can I?

I know I said I didn’t plan to go see it. And I meant it at the time. I read the book years ago, not because I thought I would enjoy it (zombies not being my thing at all), but because I felt I needed to keep up with what was going on in my corner of the literary world – specifically Jane Austen Fan Fiction. My reaction to the book:

  • intriguing concept (for the first few chapters)
  • quick and easy way to write a book, when someone else has already written 3/4 of it for you (at least Seth Grahame-Smith rightly gave Jane Austen top billing)
  • novelty quickly wears thin and then the concept is unsustainable

P&P&ZbookI shouldn’t admit my other thought at the time, which was, “Darn! Why didn’t I come up with the idea first?” I wouldn’t really have been interested in spending that much time thinking and writing about zombies, but I wouldn’t mind the paychecks associated with the franchise.

At any rate, one serving of zombies was quite enough for me, I decided. No need to see the movie version of P&P&Z.

That is, until it came out. I began hearing some pretty positive comments, and I was forced to reconsidered. Perhaps I should be more open minded and not prejudge. Perhaps it would be right (my duty, even) to support with my ticket purchase any company willing to risk millions producing a film paying tribute, however irreverently, to Jane Austen. After all, no one will make more Austenesque movies (The Darcys of Pemberley, I might suggest) if those already made lose money.

The deciding factor in the end was my husband saying he thought we should go see it together. Eureka! Date night!

In general, our tastes in movies cover very little common ground. My husband’s extensive private collection is mostly sci-fi, action, and adventure – lots of gun battles, car chases, and explosions, always with the fate of the entire world (or even the universe) hanging in the balance. By contrast, my more modestly sized collection heavily features romantic comedies, period dramas, and all things Austen. Finally, with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, we had a movie that combined our interests into one. The basics of the timeless love story are still there, just with the escalated stakes and swordplay of a horror movie.

So we went; we watched; we both enjoyed. Even laughed out loud in spots. It turned out to be more campy fun than graphic gruesomeness. And the story made better sense than in the book, from what I can remember. This may be one of those rare occasions when the movie actually improves on the novel on which it’s based. Or maybe it helped that it only had to hold my attention for two hours, not twelve. Overall, though, I’d give it a B. The jury is still out on whether P&P&Z will earn a spot in his/mine/our home movie collection.

  • Weak point: a less-than-swoon-worthy Mr. Darcy
  • Highlight: a decidedly different take on Darcy’s first proposal to Lizzy

tP&P&Zillustration“Do you think any consideration would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps forever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?” As she pronounced these words, Mr. Darcy changed colour; but the emotion was short, for Elizabeth presently attacked with a series of kicks, forcing him to counter with the drunken washwoman defense. She spoke as they battled: “I have every reason in the world to think ill of you…” (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith)

What say you? Have you seen it or plan to? Laughed out loud or hated it? I fear in this case there is very little middle ground.

 

 

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A Tale of Two Movies

20160130_130803_resizedI watched two new movies this past week – first the Hallmark Channel’s Unleashing Mr. Darcy and then, a couple of days later, I rented the recently released version of Far From the Madding Crowd.

I had looked forward to seeing them both. So few films are made for my particular demographic. “Mature women of refined taste and sensibilities” are largely neglected by Hollywood, it seems. But now I had not one but two excellent prospects, each looking like it would be right up my alley! I hoped to like them so well that they would both soon find places of honor, filed alphabetically in my permanent video library. (See related post: My Movie Picks)

As it turns out, though, one of the two will make the cut and the other won’t.

unleashing Mr. DarcyLet’s begin with Unleashing Mr. Darcya modern day take on Pride and Prejudice set in New York against the backdrop of elite dog shows and a posh country estate. Here’s the blurb:

Elizabeth Scott (Cindy Busby), is fishing for direction in her life and gets the opportunity to professionally show her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in a fancy New York dog show. Dog show judge Donovan Darcy (Ryan Paevey) comes across as aristocratic and rude and a chain of misunderstandings unfold during the competition, complicating their mutual attraction. In true Jane Austen fashion, Elizabeth and Donovan begin to see the error of their ways and it turns out Mr. Darcy is far more kind and interesting than Elizabeth ever imagined.

All the pieces were seemingly in place: rich and handsome but rather snobby guy, cute and spunky girl who’s a bit too outspoken for her own good, and counterparts for all the other P&P characters as well (Darcy’s sweet little sis, horrid aunt, and a Miss Bingley styled rival for Elizabeth). Unfortunately, the whole thing fell kind of flat, at least for me.

This was a typical Hallmark Channel production – no better and no worse than the rest.

You would think Hallmark movies were made just for me, since I’m all about romance and happy endings – Hallmark’s stock and trade. So it’s hard to explain why I’m not a big fan. Maybe it’s the same reason I don’t much care for standard “romance” novels. The formulaic, low-budget, mass-produced nature of both tends to result in less original, lower quality fare. Makes it difficult to sink my whole heart into the story and fall in love.

far from the madding crowdFar From the Madding Crowd, based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel of the same name, resides at the other end of the spectrum in so many respects. It’s clear no expense was spared in any department, from the well-written script, to the top-drawer cast, beautiful sets, costumes, locations, and wonderful cinematography. Here’s the blurb:

The story of independent, beautiful and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), who attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Mattias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer, captivated by her fetching willfulness; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a handsome and reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. This timeless story of Bathsheba’s choices and passions explores the nature of relationships and love – as well as the human ability to overcome hardships through resilience and perseverance.

I know that Thomas Hardy stories don’t always end well, but this one does, fulfilling one of my very basic requirements. And the movie does a good job sticking to the book in essentials. Apparently, the film’s producers didn’t feel the need to pointlessly “improve” on a story that has stood the test of time. Hooray!

20160126_223320_resizedAnyway, I watched Far From the Madding Crowd twice before being forced to return it. Now it’s at the top of my wish list for what my husband or sister can get me for my birthday in a few weeks. I can hardly wait to file it in the F section of my collection between The Family Man and Father Goose!

I guess the way I feel about these two movies also reflects my philosophy about my own writing. I would much rather produce one book per year to suit myself than to be obligated by contract to crank out one every four months to suit somebody else. Other authors may be entirely capable of maintaining quality under those circumstances; I could not.

I have a pretty good model in Jane Austen of striving for quality over quantity. As much as we might wish she had left us more, wouldn’t we all rather have her six wonderfully written novels than a whole slew of books we could not care for?

God willing, I will complete my sixth novel this year and hopefully a few more after that. I’m not likely ever to become rich or famous, though, and I’m okay with that. Like Catherine Morland below, I am content. I am perfectly satisfied with my share of public attention.

She was looked at, however, and with some admiration; for, in her own hearing, two gentlemen pronounced her to be a pretty girl. Such words had their due effect; she immediately thought the evening pleasanter than she had found it before – her humble vanity was contented – she felt more obliged to the two young men for this simple praise than a true-quality heroine would have been for fifteen sonnets in celebration of her charms, and went to her chair in good humour with everybody, and perfectly satisfied with her share of public attention. (chapter 2, Northanger Abbey)

 

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The Play’s the Thing

20151221_154845_resizedI hope you have all enjoyed your Christmas celebrations, in whatever form they take for you. What a busy time of year! But now that things have eased a bit, I thought I’d relate a special highlight for me from earlier this month. As of a couple of weeks ago, I can now add “playwright” to my resume!

It all started in October when I published an amusing little post about the Gardiners at Austen Variations for our Behind the Scenes of Pride and Prejudice series, where we write “missing scenes” to compliment the original novel. In this particular piece, I depicted a private conversation between Lizzy’s aunt and uncle after they returned to Lambton from Pemberley, comparing their impressions of Mr. Darcy.

the GardinersOne reader suggested – jokingly at first and later seriously – that the sketch would make a “delightful reading” at a meeting of her Vancouver, Canada, JASNA group. I gave my permission, and it was performed in full costume at their December 12th get together as part of the celebration of Jane Austen’s birthday (Dec. 16th). So I think that officially makes me as a playwright, don’t you?

How I wish I could have been there! But I received a full report with pictures, which is the next best thing:

“We had our Jane Austen Birthday meeting yesterday and were so lucky with the two members of our group who agreed to be Mr and Mrs Gardiner. They had obviously practiced well, arriving in full costume and really devoting themselves to the conversation you had created. It was very impressive and our attendees really enjoyed it… It was the highlight of the meeting.”

Very cool! Since you probably weren’t there either and may have missed the post at Austen Variations, I’ve included the piece below, with introduction. (BTW, the original scene took place in the bedroom. When performed in Vancouver, it was successfully relocated to the tea table.)


 


Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner have made their second visit to Pemberley – Mr. Gardiner to accept Mr. Darcy’s invitation to fishing and the ladies to wait on his sister. Elizabeth and her aunt talk over the day’s events on their return drive to Lambton, but neither of them is bold enough to open the topic that “particularly interested them both” – Mr. Darcy (end of chapter 45). Don’t you suppose Mrs. Gardiner would be champing at the bit for the next best thing, a private conference on the subject with her husband? Here is that scene.


“What a day we have had!” exclaimed Mrs. Gardiner to her husband when they climbed into their bed at the inn that night. She had barely been able to contain herself until they were alone, until they could discuss the events of the day in private, but even now she had to be careful to keep her voice down lest her niece should overhear through the thin walls. “What say you about Mr. Darcy, my dear, now you have spent more time in his company?”

“I say he has some of the finest fishing in the country. I wish you had seen today’s catch, my love – some of the best specimens I have ever had the pleasure of pulling in, I can tell you. There was one in particular that put up a heroic fight…”

12375250_10208372701855324_5806438123984147320_oHere Mrs. Gardiner impatiently interrupted, giving her husband’s arm a vigorous shake for emphasis. “Not the fish! It is your opinion of the man I am far more interested in. What say you about your host Mr. Darcy?”

“Oh! Well, my opinion of him is equally high, I should think. He is as fine a fellow as ever I have come across, and a great deal more civil than your average rich man.”

“No false pride, then?”

“None that I could see. He is perhaps a little reserved, but he could not have been more accommodating and more obliging to me. That speaks well of his character, I think, especially when you consider that there could be nothing in it for him. There is no reason Mr. Darcy should have gone out of his way for somebody like me. I am in no position to do anything for him in return. I am certainly not his equal in wealth or position, and I have no influence or acquaintance that could possibly interest him. Yes, I thought it the most positive proof of his generous character. But you had opportunity to observe Mr. Darcy’s behavior today as well, when he joined you and the other ladies. What is your own opinion?”

“Oh, I quite agree with you.”

“Very well, then.”

Mrs. Gardiner lay quietly for a moment, reviewing in her mind all she had seen and heard that afternoon. Her senses had instantly been called to high alert when Pemberley’s handsome proprietor had unexpectedly entered the saloon, and it had been the same for all the others – Miss Georgiana, Elizabeth, Miss Bingley, Mrs. Hurst, and that agreeable, genteel Mrs. Annesley. Every female eye was drawn to Mr. Darcy at once, which was not surprising considering his fine tall person and commanding presence. She herself, Mrs. Gardiner recalled, had noticed an involuntary flutter within her own breast. Then the maneuvering had begun. Miss Bingley had clearly been eager to impress him, and even Miss Darcy. Yet, there was something else…

“I must beg to differ with you on one point, however,” continued Mrs. Gardiner.

“Indeed? In what respect?”

“On your presumption of having no influence or acquaintance of value. I believe your niece may be of very particular interest to Mr. Darcy, in fact.”

“Elizabeth? That hardly seems likely. Their past acquaintance was only trifling, and you know the decided dislike she has expressed for the man.”

“First impressions are not always accurate, you must admit, and they are not always immutable either. I think a change may be at work here. Anybody who watched the two of them together this afternoon – how solicitous he was, how anxious to promote a friendship between his sister and our niece – must suspect there is more to the connection than Elizabeth has admitted.”

“Perhaps you are right, my dear. Now that you mention it, Mr. Darcy could not get away from the river quick enough once I told him that you and Elizabeth were calling on his sister. That was the end of fishing! Clearly, what was going forward at the house was more pressing in his mind, the company there more intriguing.”

“Imagine!” said Mrs. Gardiner, her hands raised to press against her cheeks and her eyes wide with wonder. “Our niece mistress of Pemberley!”

“Do not you think that may be leaping forward too far,” cautioned her husband, “or at least too rapidly?”

“I am impatient to know the truth of it, if only Elizabeth would begin the subject. You noticed how she talked all round the idea of Mr. Darcy after we came away – his sister, his house, his grounds, and even his table – everything in favorable yet guarded terms. Not one word did she venture on the interesting person at the heart of it all, the man himself, though I could have sworn she was near to bursting out with it one time and then another. That must mean something.”

“You seem a bit dazzled by the man yourself, my dear.”

“Nonsense. He is an impressive gentleman, you must admit, and not in an off-putting way either, not now we have seen him for what he really is. I am thinking only of Elizabeth, though. I truly believe her happiness would be safe in Mr. Darcy’s care. Yes, I would be very pleased to see her married to him as soon as may be. What a fine establishment it would make for her!”

“And what a fine thing for us if we should be welcome to visit her at Pemberley as much as we like thereafter. One cannot overlook that advantage to the match either,” Mr. Gardiner, propped up on one elbow, said with a conspiratorial wink.

Mrs. Gardiner muffled a laugh and blew out the candle. “That is quite true,” she whispered, nuzzling in close to her husband. “Remember how we were forced to abbreviate our walking tour the other day, and I am sure I shall never be completely happy until I have been all the way round the park by some means or another.”

“Ten miles, we were told! Perhaps next time a carriage of some sort – a phaeton with a pair of sturdy ponies.”

“Oh, yes, my dear! That would be the very thing!”


 


 

12362819_10208372711375562_631929278348601485_oTake a bow, Phyllis and Lindsay! (See news blurb about their performance here.)

Thank you, Joan Reynolds and JASNA Vancouver, for the honor of including me in your JA birthday celebration, reviving the Austen family tradition of amateur “theatricals”!


The party…comprehended a great many people who had real taste for the performance…; and the performers themselves were, as usual, in their own estimation, and that of their immediate friends, the first private performers in England. (Sense and Sensibility)

 

 

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