Portrait of Jane Austen
script is based on
of the excellent biographies available, particularly A Memoir of Jane Austen
by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh. Jane Austen's own surviving letters
also provided wonderful material. Extracts include Sense and Sensibility,
Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Emma. Devised to be staged as a rehearsed
dramatised reading by a flexible team of performers, scripts are used, but some
passages are best memorised. There are many opportunities for imaginative
movement and action. Period costume would be a colourful option and the number
of players involved can be easily adapted to suit. This script is
available in two versions with running times of 80 minutes and 1 hour 40
Universally Acknowledged was specially written for my own
drama group and played to sell-out audiences for a week when it was premiered at the 2004 Edinburgh
Festival Fringe. It has since been produced by Forest Forge Theatre Company
in Gosport , Hampshire; by the New Quorndon Shakespeare Company in Quorn,
Leicestershire; and by Folkestone-Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society in
"A light-hearted and
often amusing evening which casts a very different light on the author from the
traditional idea of the writer as a dowdy spinster. Unkind, scurrilous, non-PC;
no wonder her sister censored some of Jane's correspondence!" - Chris
Marlow (New Quorndon Shakespeare Company)
picture of a genius who totally understood the narrow world she lived in and the
people who inhabited it. The whole story was kept fluid and fresh by the
constant interplay of the company. A thoroughly enjoyable evening... in the company
of a woman who might arguably be called the first truly feminist writer, Jane
Austen herself" - Loughborough Echo
(Note: NAR =
Narrator. FR1 = First female reader. FR2 = Second female reader. FR3 = Third
Saturday, 9th January, 1796. The twenty year old Jane writes to her
almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved”.
“Irish friend” was Tom Lefroy, a visitor to Hampshire, who had completed a
degree at Dublin and was about to study law in London.
to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and
sitting down together. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young
she did have a problem with his dress sense.
morning coat is a great deal too light”.
following Thursday, she had high hopes.
except to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening. I shall
refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white Coat”.
the next day, she wrote to her sister:
“At length the Day is
come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, & it will be over —My
tears flow at the melancholy idea”.
Tom’s studies were
financed by a rich great-uncle who was alarmed at the prospect of a marriage
with a penniless girl, and he was quickly sent packing to London. He became a
successful barrister and returned to Ireland to do the right thing. He married
Austen’s letters, mostly to her sister, Cassandra, provide a fascinating
glimpse of her everyday life. It may seem strange to us that so many letters
were exchanged by sisters who lived under the same roof, but social visits were
a regular feature of their life, and when either sister was away from home,
correspondence followed. Jane’s letters covered topics such as the weather.
“What dreadful Hot
weather we have! ― It keeps one in a continual state of Inelegance.”
And family health.
“My Aunt has a very
bad cough; do not forget to have heard about that
when you come.”
There was news about
“I give you joy of our
new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are
too old to care about it.”
“Mr. Waller is dead, I
see ― I cannot grieve about it, nor perhaps can his Widow very much.”
New acquaintances to
“If Miss Pearson
should return with me, pray be careful not to expect too much Beauty.”
And gardening hints.
“I will not say that
your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”
The hazards of staying
away from home.
“You express so little
anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert’s
servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not.”
The latest gossip.
“Mr. Richard Harvey is
going to be married; but as it is a great secret, & only known to half the
Neighbourhood, you must not mention it.”
“Lord Lucan has taken
And being scandalous.
“Mrs. Hall of
Sherbourn was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she
expected, oweing to a fright. ― I suppose she happened unawares to look at
By the time
of her brief fling with Tom Lefroy, Jane was already working on her most
ambitious piece yet, a mature novel titled Elinor
and Marianne, about two very different sisters. When their father dies, the
sisters and their mother are left dependant upon the charity of the girls’
elder half-brother, John Dashwood and his wife, Fanny. In this scene, John feels
obliged to fulfil his late father’s request and provide his poor relatives
with three thousand pounds, but Fanny has other ideas.
was my father’s last request to me, that I
should assist his widow and daughters.
did not know what he was talking of, I dare say; ten to one but he was
light-headed at the time. Had he been in his right senses, he could not have
thought of such a thing as begging you to give away half your fortune.
He did not
stipulate for any particular sum, my dear Fanny; he only requested me, in
general terms, to assist them, and make their situation more comfortable. The
promise, therefore, was given, and must be performed. Something must be done for
let something be done for them; but that something need not be three thousand pounds. Consider, that
when the money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters will
marry, and it will be gone for ever.
to be sure, that would make a great difference. Perhaps, then, it would be
better for all the parties if the sum were diminished one half. Five hundred
pounds would be a prodigious increase to their fortunes.
beyond anything great! What brother on earth would do half so much for his
sisters, even if really his sisters!
And as it is ― only half-blood! ― But you have such a generous
I would not
wish to do anything mean. No one, at least, can think I have not done enough for
them: even themselves, they can hardly expect more.
There is no
knowing what they may expect, but we
are not to think of their expectations: the question is, what you can afford to
and I think I may afford to give them five hundred pounds a-piece. I do not know
whether, upon the whole, it would not be more advisable to do something for
their mother while she lives rather than for them ― something of the
annuity kind I mean. My sisters would feel the good effects of it as well as
herself. A hundred a year would make them all perfectly comfortable.
To be sure,
it is better than parting with fifteen hundred pounds at once. But then, if Mrs
Dashwood should live fifteen years, we shall be completely taken in.
years! My dear Fanny; her life cannot be worth half that purchase.
not; but if you observe, people always live for ever when there is any annuity
to be paid them. An annuity is a very serious business; it comes over and over
every year, and there is no getting rid of it.
certainly an unpleasant thing to have those kind of yearly drains on one’s
income. One’s fortune, as your mother justly says, is not
and, after all, you have no thanks for it. They think themselves secure, you do
no more than what is expected, and it raises no gratitude at all. I would not
bind myself to allow them anything yearly.
you are right, my love; it will be better that there should be no annuity in the
case; whatever I may give them occasionally will be of far greater assistance
than a yearly allowance, because they would only enlarge their style of living
if they felt sure of a larger income. A present of fifty pounds, now and then,
will, I think, be amply discharging my promise to my father.
To be sure
it will. Indeed, to say the truth, I am convinced within myself, that your
father had no idea of giving them any money at all. The assistance he thought
of, I dare say, was only such as might be reasonably expected of you; for
instance, such as looking out for a comfortable small house for them, helping
them to move their things, and sending them presents of fish and game, and so
forth, whenever they are in season. I’ll lay my life that he meant nothing
further. They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all.
They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep
no company, and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable
they will be! And as to you giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it.
They will be much more able to give you something.
word, I believe you are perfectly right.
The cast of the first production by the Mercators.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, August 2004.
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