Category Archives: Pride and Prejudice

Thank you!

Wow! Lifeline’s benefit last night (“An Austen Soiree”) was a ball! (Seriously, we were in a ballroom!) Plus we raised a bunch of dough. THANK YOU to the cast of Pride and Prejudice and all our artist friends who suited up in regency wear to create the ambience. Thank you to Aly Renee Amidei for her time, talent and patience in outfitting the team (she’s our hero!) Thank you to all our friends who came, who donated and who bought raffle tickets. Thank you to our friend Kimberly Bares from RPBA, to our Education Director Lea Pinsky and to New Field teacher Patty Beyer for the best most heartfelt speeches ever. We are lucky indeed to know you all.

Pride and Prejudice is selling like hot cakes. Hot. Cakes.

Yowza! Pride and Prejudice is a runaway train! Audience demand is such that we announced a 4-week extension about two minutes after we opened (or, as fast as the press release could be typed)! Erica also reports that two different couples buying tickets have told her that coming to Lifeline to see P&P together 20 years ago was their first date and they are celebrating anniversaries by attending the 2012 production. Love is in the air at Lifeline Theatre.

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

The Entail that Drives a Novel

Note: This is a guest posting from Maren Robinson, production dramaturg for our spring/summer MainStage production of Pride and Prejudice.

“I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children, I am sure, if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.”
-Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

The entail provides the source of drama in a number of British novels. For fans of the British television series Downton Abbey it is still providing drama.

A modern and American sensibility may find the concept of an entail outrageous; both the favoring of an oldest child and the exclusion of daughters is offensive to any democratic notions. Mrs. Bennet’s lines above while a joke to Austen’s readers may actually sound like a good question to modern readers.

The entail or fee tail is a legal contract which settles the succession of an estate and its farmlands on the next male heir. It prevents the current holder of the estate from selling it or determining an alternate heir. The estate was entailed by one generation to the male heir of the next generation. In essence, Mr. Bennet has only a life interest in his estate. If Mr. Bennet owned the estate outright, as Mr. Darcy owns his estate, it would be a fee simple. Since Mr. and Mrs. Bennet did not plan for this contingency and did not live frugally they are in a situation where it is imperative that their daughters marry well or they will be destitute. This is only one of the consequences of a fee tail. Often owners of landed estates saw increasing debt but could not sell any of the lands to settle those debts. This led to the popularity of marrying American heiresses, such as Cora in Downton Abbey or as depicted in the Edith Wharton novel The Buccaneers.

What is particularly remarkable about most entails is that they legally had to be renewed each generation, but the younger generation would agree to the entail or be disinherited. However, Mr. Bennet would never have imagined he might not have a son.

The Bennet daughters would have always known and understood about the entail. In fact they try, in vain, to explain it to their mother.

“Jane and Elizabeth tried to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted to do it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond reach of reason, and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favor of a man whom nobody cared anything about.”
Pride and Prejudice

In a book in which both the entail and the financial circumstances of the characters are featured so prominently it is important to understand how income and the circumstances in which wealth was earned were matters of common knowledge in Regency England. The novel tells us that the Bennets have an income of 2,000 pounds a year, Bingley 5,000 and Darcy 10,000. To put this in perspective, an American visiting Regency England suggested 3,000 pounds a year would be necessary to entertain in style and 6,000 pounds a year would be preferable. The average farm laborer in 1810 received £15-20 per year.

The wealth of most families was in land and property. Annual income for wealthy families would primarily be in rents from tenant farmers so owning a lot of farmable land is desirable for any wealthy family. These property owners are referred to as the landed gentry. Lizzy is a gentleman’s daughter because Mr. Bennet has never had to work for his income. Being “in trade” means doing some form of work to make money. While “being in trade” becomes a point used against Lizzy Bennets Aunts and Uncles it is important to note that the Bingleys’ fortune was acquired through trade. It is a large fortune and they are of the next generation that has not had to work. Austen describes Bingley’s sisters as follows:

“They were of a respectable family in the North of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that that their brother’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.”

Scholar Sandra Macpherson persuasively argues in her article on the entail that Austen was well-aware of these legal nuances and that the novel makes use of these legal short term and long term obligations.

While Lizzy Bennet jokes with her sister Jane that her affection for Mr. Darcy started after seeing his beautiful estate at Pemberley, the underpinnings of this romantic novel and its marriage plot are decidedly tied to the stability or instability of an estate.

Sources: Our Tempestuous Day, Carolly Erickson; What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, Daniel Pool; “Rent to Own; or What’s Entailed in Pride and Prejudice?”
Sandra Macpherson, Representations, Vol. 82, No. 1 (Spring 2003), pp. 1-23.

The Regency you might not know might seem strangely familiar

Note: This is a guest posting from Maren Robinson, production dramaturg for our spring/summer MainStage production of Pride and Prejudice.

The clothing, the customs and the class system of the Regency may seem distant from our own time, but ongoing foreign wars, a fragile economy, criticism of the wealthy and an active Evangelical movement could be taken from our own headlines.

Jane Austen’s novels were published during the Regency. King George III had been declared unfit to rule because of his famous “madness” the symptoms of Porphyria, which made his behavior erratic. His son was named by Parliament to rule in his place as Prince Regent. The Regency of the prince lasted from 1811 until his father’s death in 1820 when the Prince Regent became George IV. The Prince Regent was known for his decadence: a series of mistresses, a love of food and drink, extravagant spending on clothing, art furniture and renovating his Royal Pavilion at Brighton. He became physically enormous and suffered from gout and heart palpitations. He was estranged from his wife Caroline who matched him both in girth and extramarital affairs.

Jane Austen supported Princess Caroline and felt her husband treated her shabbily. She wrote that she would support Caroline, “as long as I can because she is a woman.”

George Cruickshank satirical engraving of the Prince Regent, May 1, 1812

The era, if viewed solely from the perspective of the drawing room of an English country house, might seem quiet. It is important to recall that England was in a state of political and civil unrest within the country as well as fighting various foreign wars. The French Revolution had lead many in the upper classes to fear a similar revolution in England. England had been intermittently at war with France for almost a century. Taxes were needed to pay for the wars. Indeed, these same idyllic country houses were subject to a tax based the number of windows the house possessed. The militia and navy, which feature so prominently in Austen novels, were either fighting wars against the French or guarding the homeland from French invasion and political unrest.
(At right: the Music room in the Royal Pavilion at Brighton)

Economic difficulties in England contributed to the Luddite Rebellion in which looms were broken and houses burned by secret groups who claimed to be acting on behalf of “General Ludd.” In fact, these attacks were mostly led by the knitters themselves, who were being pushed to make cheaper products and found it increasing difficult to making a living. Their attacks compounded fears of the Gentry in the British countryside.

The same era gives us George Gordon Lord Byron and his infamous decadent lifestyle and liaisons including an affair with his half sister. At the same time, the evangelical movement, as epitomized by the prolific writer Hannah More was growing in England as a counterpoint to the excesses of Byron and other fashionable members of society. Jane Austen was critical of the Evangelicals. She was quite critical of one of More’s popular novels, Coelebs in Search of a Wife which disrupted the plot with helpful moral extracts.

Above: Two Regency extremes, the scandalous Lord Byron and the religious reformer Hannah More

“I am by no means convinced that we ought not all be Evangelical and am at least persuaded that they who are so far from reason and feeling must be happiest and safest.”
– Jane Austen, commenting on the Evangelical movement of the Regency era

Underneath the layers of empire dresses, bonnets, and Beau Brummell cravats, the issues facing the Regency were not unlike our own which is perhaps why the very real financial and emotional concerns of Austen’s characters seem familiar too.

Sources: Our Tempestuous Day, Carolly Erickson; An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England, Venetia Murray

The Enigmatic Jane

Note: This is a guest posting from Maren Robinson, production dramaturg for our spring/summer MainStage production of Pride and Prejudice.

There is something enigmatic about Jane Austen that makes it difficult for readers to have a sense of her beyond her novel and a few meager biographical details and this sense of her as a canny observer of human nature in her. Her family burned many of her letters and her brother and literary executor was careful about her image. Often she has been portrayed as the retiring daughter of a country clergyman, when in fact she wrote lively letters, travelled and had a network of friends and correspondents.

“Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony”
– Jane Austen in a letter to her niece Fanny Knight, March 13, 1817

Jane Austen was born in 1775 to George and Cassandra Austen. She was raised in the village of Steventon. Her father was a clergyman who had been educated at Oxford who supplemented his income with proceeds from farming. The Austen children in order of birth are: James, Edward, Henry, Cassandra, Francis, George, Jane and Charles. Jane would be closest with her sister Cassandra and brother Henry, who also served as her literary agent.

At the age of 8 Jane was sent, with her sister Cassandra to boarding school where she would have learned language, music and dancing. Reverend Austen had a significant library, which was open to all the members of his family including Cassandra and Jane who both read widely. The family also enjoyed amateur theatricals of their own creation. By 1787 Jane was keeping notebooks of her writings and she completed her first novel by age 15. Austen’s stories were read aloud to her family and they encourage her work. She had created drafts of the books that would become Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice by the age of 23.

In 1795, Jane began spending time with the nephew of their neighbors, a law student named Tom Lefroy. Both families noticed the pair spending time together and felt an engagement would be impractical since Tom was being supported by his family while training to be a barrister and Jane and her family could not offer financial settlement to make the match. Lefroy’s family sent him away and the families made efforts to make sure the pair did not see each other again.

“I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend (Lefroy) and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself, however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday.”
-Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra Austen, January 9, 1796

Her father retied in 1800 and the family moved from Steventon to Bath. In 1802, Austen accepted a proposal from Harris Big-Wither, the wealthy brother of her friend, only to retract the next day because she did not care for him, but knew that a marriage meant social mobility and stability, the subject of many of her novels.

Her father died in 1805 and Austen, her Mother and her elder sister Cassandra lived in a small house in Chawton, which was provided by her brother. Her own personal stability fluctuated as her brother’s fortunes changed leaving her and her mother in a precarious situation. She seems aware of both the benefits and dangers of a single life. In letters to her niece, Fanny Knight, she playfully refers to the poverty being a reason in favor of matrimony, yet in another letter she urges Fanny not to commit her self if she doesn’t really care for the man.

“Anything is to preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.”
-Jane Austen in a letter to her niece Fanny Knight, November 18, 1814

Her books were published anonymously because writing novels would still not have been an acceptable occupation for a woman of her class and background. She did get to enjoy a sense of success for her writing. She died on July 18, 1817 at age 41 after a protracted illness.

“I must make use of this opportunity to thank you dear Sir, for the very high praise you bestow on my other novels. I am too vain to wish to convince you that you have praised them beyond their merit.”
-Jane Austen in a letter to James Stanier Clarke, Librarian and chaplain to the Prince Regent, December 11, 1815

It is somehow irresistible not to find in her biography something of the concerns of her novels, the financial precariousness of being a middle class woman, attempts to balance love and security, interfering and embarrassing relations. In both her letters and her books she is keenly observes the foibles of those around her and herself. Yet for all that readers feel such a kinship with Austen, much like one of the portraits painted by her sister Cassandra, in which her face is obscured by her bonnet, there is something in the humor of her letters and lightness of her tone that seems to keep Austen’s deepest emotions out of reach. We have to be content with the play of emotions of her beloved characters.

Above: An enigmatic portrait of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra
Sources: The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen, Penelope Hughes-Hallett; A Memoir of Jane Austen, J.E. Austen-Leigh; Jane Austen: The World of her Novel, Deirdre Le Faye

Pride and Prejudice is coming…

…and we can’t wait! (It began previews on April 20th and opens on April 30th.) P&P was last produced at Lifeline Theatre in 1992 and an artifact from that long-ago production was recently unearthed and posted on Facebook by Mr. Darcy 1992 (Frank David Nall). We re-post it here, in all its sepia-toned glory.

1992 Pride and Prejudice, backstage. How many people can you name?

Back: John Sterchi, Leticia Hicks, Gregg Mierow, Frank Nall, Adrianne Cury, Sandy Snyder, Rick La Fond.
Front: Maggie Carney, Steve Totland, Jenifer Tyler, Dorothy Milne.

And now, here they are! Just waiting to burst from the dressing room and take the stage: Pride and Prejudice Team 2012. They will rock you! Get your tickets now!

Back row: Wm. Bullion, Micah J. L. Kronlokken, James Gasber, Dennis Grimes, Don Bender
Middle row: Laura McClain, Chelsea Paice, Cameron Feagin, Jan Sodaro, Phil Timberlake
Front row: Amanda Drinkall, Kirsty Rivett, Cassidy Shea Stirtz, Kelsey Jorissen

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

What is this connection we have to Pride and Prejudice?

Note: This is a guest posting from Maren Robinson, production dramaturg for our spring/summer MainStage production of Pride and Prejudice.

Dear Reader, “What is this connection we have to Pride and Prejudice?”

(This being a blog post in which neuroscientists and I will state the obvious about reading and still fail to capture the ineffable quality of a novel beloved by generations.)

I have been struggling to write a blog post that does justice to the complex relationship many readers have with Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice in particular. Time studying literature through undergraduate and graduate degrees has changed how I read literature. I can read Pride and Prejudice and see rich material about class structure, the role of women, inheritance and the legal system. However, the ability to analyze the features of a book does not diminish the strong emotional response that I still have to reading the book.

Almost all fans of the book seem to recall the year of their first reading and maybe even have a dog-eared original copy. (I read it the summer after 8th grade; my copy is a now yellowing Signet Classic edition. The green cover features a painting of two women in dresses that I now know are not quite the right time period). Fans have their favorite lines, their favorite film adaptations (there are many to choose from). There are blogs and websites devoted to Austen and there are endless books by other authors that promote themselves as sequels, insert zombies, or murders at Pemberly. Where does this favored status spring from? What is it about the books and their author that inspires such love and such a sense of intimacy with these characters?

A March 18, 2012 Sunday Times article on neuroscience confirms what many inveterate readers already know, in short, that books offer, “the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.” However, the article goes beyond this easy reduction. Scientists have discovered that parts of our brain beyond those associated with reading words are activated when we feel a connection to what we read.

This makes perfect sense to me, and, I suspect, many readers. I am among those readers who keenly felt an empathetic shame on Lizzy’s behalf when her family behaves badly at a ball, to the point of feeling anxious and a little upset every time I read that passage.

The same article cites a Canadian analysis of MRIs which,

“concluded that there was substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals — in particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others. Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions ‘theory of mind.’ Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.”

That could be a description of almost any Austen novel with “characters trying to guess hidden motives” and “navigate interactions with other individuals.” So in spite of the changes in social codes, class and conduct there is still something about trying to understand and connect with others that resonates for contemporary readers.

Most of us did not need neurologist to tell us that we identify with characters in books and empathize with them. It is more a testament to Austen’s skill at capturing the range of human emotion that we continue to have such strong responses to these characters. If Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet learn to understand their own failings, their own minds and their own hearts, science suggests through them we learn sympathetically something about our own hearts and minds.

In bringing Pride and Prejudice to the stage, there is something that is familiar about these neurological impulses that will be familiar to all actors. Readers become audiences but actors work to understand and recreate the longings and frustrations of the characters. True, readers can share individual experiences of a novel through comparison and reminiscence, but the stage offers a very immediate way to share the story and participate in the lives of characters we come to feel we know as if they were real.

I was struck by hearing the cast read the play in one of the early rehearsals at how strange it felt to laugh out loud at Mrs. Bennet or Mr. Collins because so often that laughter has been in my head as I read and not shared with others.

I also laughed out loud when I got to the last line of the Times article,

“These findings will affirm the experience of readers who have felt illuminated and instructed by a novel, who have found themselves comparing a plucky young woman to Elizabeth Bennet or a tiresome pedant to Edward Casaubon. Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.”

Lizzy Bennet was the first literary example in the article showing just how large her character looms both in the literary world and the world at large. Mr. Darcy might agree since in his definition of an accomplished woman he said, “to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”