I 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.
One 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…”
Here 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!”
Take 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)