A weekend with Jane

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.

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10 responses to “A weekend with Jane

  1. What a lovely weekend.

    I spent mine involved in busywork (knitting and going for walks – and drinking too much wine, but that probably doesn’t count) and with Emily Brontë.

    The former was much more pleasant than the latter. I still hate Wuthering Heights, 15 years after I first read it. (I may have to cleanse my palate with some Jane.)

  2. I bought a CD of the music of Jane Austen at a National Trust property in the UK about 10 years ago.. no longer available according to http://www.cordamusic.co.uk/austencd.html but you may be able to pick one up second hand on the web.

  3. I am so glad they watched that version rather than the latest one with Keira knightly in it.

  4. Yes, that BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is great. Stands up well to a re-watch. Reading and watching Austen always makes me think about the lives of the women then as well.

    Being refused access to education and then admonished for only making small talk in conversation. Lovely to watch and read, but a tad claustraphobic under any analysis.

    meganwegan – I agree, Wuthering Heights was a struggle for me too.

  5. I am amused that Jane Austen owned the sheet music for La Marseillese. I can just imagine her trilling ‘Allons Enfants de la Patrie’!

  6. “Being refused access to education and then admonished for only making small talk in conversation. Lovely to watch and read, but a tad claustraphobic under any analysis.”

    I am always struck by the rules they lived with, and how defined the boundaries of relationships were. And sometimes I wistfully wonder if it wasn’t all a little bit easier then.

  7. Yes…. ‘though we have that one too. I enjoyed Brenda Blethyn’s performance as Mrs Bennet, especially in its emphasis on the economic imperatives behind her desperation to marry off her girls.

    Also, Matthew McFadyen is very easy on the eye…

  8. I’m so glad you enjoyed our concert yesterday! We enjoyed ourselves too, and it was a delight getting to know this music which is mostly, as you say, very little known today.

  9. The girls were entranced, but the Misses Eight think that there ought to be a sequel.

    With zombies. 🙂

  10. There is sortof a sequel to Pride and Prejudice (not the one with zombies). Look for a book called “Mr Darcy’s Diary”. I don’t know what to make of the endnote: it claims that actual diaries were found that detail the life of a man living in the correct time, and the last part matches exactly the ending of Pride and Prejudice. Wikipedia doesn’t say much about it though.