We spent the weekend engaged with Jane Austen.
My lovely mother has been staying with us, but coming from cool Taranaki, she is not accustomed to hot Adelaide days. On Saturday, it was 37 degrees, and windy, so we retreated indoors. I had various chores to get done, as did Mr Strange Land, but the strangelings begged to watch Pride and Prejudice. (They have such good taste!) Mum and the girls settled down on the sofas, and watched it all. I managed to catch most of the highlights, including that scene, and eventually gave up pretending to do any housework, and sat down with them for all of the last episode. The girls were entranced, but the Misses Eight think that there ought to be a sequel.
On Sunday, Mum and I went to a concert in the Adelaide Fringe Festival, Jane Austen’s Music II. It was delightful. Soprano Gillian Dooley has put together a programme of songs from Jane Austen’s music books, the manuscripts and books held at Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton. Some of the songs are well known, but others are the comic and parlour songs of the day. All are songs that Jane Austen herself would have played.
Gillian Dooley has a pretty voice, and an affectionate approach to the songs. As she sang, I could imagine Elizabeth Bennett and Marianne Dashwood, and the happy Misses Musgrove singing just such songs.
The songs were interspersed with readings from Austen’s works, and some solo piano pieces, played by accompanist Fiona McCauley. I thought she was excellent. She played unobtrusively, supporting Gillian Dooley beautifully, except for some songs where there was real interaction between piano and singer, and in those songs her playfulness and delight in playing come to the fore. It was a very effective partnership.
As I watched Pride and Prejudice on Saturday, I was struck by the forced emptiness of the Bennet women’s lives. They had so little to do, except for the busy-work of pressing flowers and embroidering and going for walks in the countryside. One of the few duties that young ladies were expected to fulfill was that of providing music, to while away the long evening hours in polite society. This concert gave me a better understanding of just what that music might have sounded like.
And it was very enjoyable. I love Jane Austen’s books, and I love singing; this was an ideal combination for me. Gillian Dooley and Fiona McCauley are presenting the programme again at this year’s Jane Austen Festival in Canberra (15 – 19 April). I’m not trekking over to Canberra for the festival (that’s just a step too far, literally and metaphorically for me), but if I were, I would happily listen to this concert again.