In My Mailbox Today

A treat today in my mailbox ~ the November-December 2008 issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World, the cover graced with the latest Darcy incarnation, Colin Donnell, from the new Pride & Prejudice, the Musical.

A quick summary of the table of contents:

  • Austen Bank Goes Bust:  the story of Henry Austen’s bank failure, a regency economic crisis
  • P&P-the new Musical: by Tim Bullamore with the story behind the story.
  • One for the Ladies:  by Ian Kelly, author of a new biography of Casanova, on his importance as a chronicler of 18th century London life.
  • Lost in Austen:  a review of the series by Hugo Rifkind and JARW editor Sue Hughes.
  • The Jane Austen Font and the Missing X:  by Pia Frauss (see more below)
  • The English Type: by Philip Jansseune, on the type of William Caslon, chosen for the new design of JARW.
  • Christmas in Regency England: by Tim Bullamore.
  • Putting on the Ballroom Blues:  by Chris Coyle on Bath’s assembly rooms paint makeover (and in my favorite color!)
  • Elizabeth Inchbald’s Lover’s Vows: by Caroline Fitton on the novelist and actress and the play that formed the pivotal scenes in Mansfield Park.
  • Finding Pemberley: by JASNA’s own Iris Lutz on her visit to Chatsworth and other Austen-related houses on the JASNA-sponsored tour “Jane Austen’s Great Houses in Fact and Fiction.”
  • Lichfield Conference – Jane Austen and Dr. Johnson: by Marilyn Joice on the JAS conference in September 2008.
  • Book reviews: by Joceline Bury on Jane Odiwe’s Lydia Bennet’s Story, Carol Shield’s Jane Austen, and Penelope Byrd’s Jane Austen Fashion.

I like this new format and the in-depth articles…there are letters, news, news from Nov-Dec 1800, and of course, fabulous pictures throughout! 

The article by Pia Frauss, the creator of the Jane Austen font (and the one that JASNA uses in its logo), writes that she had to invent the capital letter X, as Jane never penned the letter.  You can read the  article and learn more at her website:  Pia Frauss’ Fonts

I highly recommend that you subscribe…a perfect holiday gift for yourself or your favorite Austen lover!

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‘Lost and Found’ Austen Find

The Hampshire Record Office, located in the city of Winchester, houses a treasure trove of primary artifacts, from original letters to period photographs, from local newspapers to public records. Its atmosphere is friendly, its staff helpful. Actual items, kept in the strong room in the bowels of the building, are highly accessible: HRO’s web-based catalogue makes it easy for visitors to know beforehand what HRO holds, and minimal paperwork gets the visitor entry into the reading room. So one would think that HRO would have a thorough knowledge of items within their vast collection… It seems, however, that at least one minor tidbit had gone unaccounted for – until now.

A letter in Friday’s post from a Winchester-based friend contained the following exciting news: ‘I was startled to find from our Record Office Annual Report that during reorganization a playbill for a performance of Lovers’ Vows 11 August 1809 had come to light among a collection.’ [HRO had been closed several months for renovations and reorganziation; they reopened Spring 2008.]

It will be remembered that Mrs Austen and the girls had only that May settled at Chawton.

As yet – there is no evidence that the Austens came to see the play. My friend thinks it ‘unlikely’ they would have attended, but she’s digging to see what further clues might be out there. She continues, ‘The theatre put on mixed entertainments, at 7 pm. I haven’t found that particular evening advertised in The Chronicle [Winchester’s newspaper] … [W]ith the horse races on, it was high season in August.’

Going online, we find other (later) playbills/handbills for LOVERS’ VOWS, so it was a play in demand – from Winchester to Edinburgh, even as late as 1820.

There are many possibilities for this particular appearance of the play, including a troop of actors just passing through. They perhaps did offer a very limited number of performances (either of one play, or a couple different plays over several nights). That no advance notice was given via The Chronicle may be accounted for in several ways: advertising was last-minute; the acting company may have ‘rented’ the theater for the evening; due to the races, a full-up Winchester might have given hawkers with handbills a good turnout based solely on word of mouth; it may have been a last-minute addition or change to a ‘mixed entertainments’ line-up. And we have all been visitors willing to sit through anything just to have a night out on the town, so tickets for any entertainment, for any play, will always sell when the ‘season’ is in swing. Handbills exist because it was easy to post ‘today’s’ lineup at the theater, or have people handing notices out to passers-by.

So this all begs the ultimate question: Could Jane Austen have attended, would she have heard about this play, offered in Winchester?

Family and friends did attend racing meets, at Winchester and elsewhere. Nephews brought Winchester within the Austen-sphere, as evidenced by a letter dated 9 February 1807, when Jane writes ‘We shall rejoice in being so near Winchester when Edward belongs to it’. At the time living in Southampton, thirteen miles were seen as ‘no distance’ once fourteen-year-old nephew Edward (Edward Austen Knight’s eldest son) enrolled at Winchester College; other nephews attended the same school, including James-Edward Austen (James’ son). A handful of Jane’s letters exist for 1809 – but none dated after July 26 (and the series doesn’t pick up again until 1811!). Winchester is sixteen miles from Chawton; it is conceivable that, after an absence of several years, the Austens planned to spend a day at the races or journeyed simply to enjoy the atmosphere of Winchester en fete.

Somewhere along this route, surely, the play and JANE AUSTEN crossed paths, even if only after the fact: she may have heard about its ‘local’ performance, or met up with someone who had been in attendance.

I will give more news as I hear of it.

* * * * *

More playbill information; some commentary (and a second) on Austen’s use of the play in Mansfield Park; synopsis, cast, and play at Austen.com and Digital Library (includes ‘The Mansfield Casting’); Susan Allen Ford‘s Persuasions (2006) article on the play and the players from Mansfield Park.