An Evening with Jane

Just had the strangest idea yet.

(And if you knew just a tenth of what I come up with on a good day, then you’d understand the profound nature of that statement.)  I am not a fan of Jane Austen, per se, but I’ve read a couple of her books and understand why people fall in love with her interpretation of Georgian Britain.  It’s a world of misunderstandings, not conflict – the people who are at odds with one another aren’t usually evil, just misguided.  As I’ve said on many an occasion, if the people in Jane Austen’s world just talked to each other instead of imagining insults, then her novels would be more like pamphlets.

Still, Jane paints a pretty attractive portrait of what life was like for those removed from the depravities of nineteenth-century London life, or the horrors of the Napoleonic battlefield.  Teas, dancing, whist, and the exchange of letters that noted (or not) the fancies one felt for someone else: There is enough romantic escapism to appeal to even the hardest of hearts, if only for a few moments.

Which brings me to my bizarre idea:  I’m wondering if I should make an attempt to have the school embrace a ‘Jane Austen’ theme for next term.  This would involve having the incoming student body read a Jane Austen novel (Pride and Prejudice seems to be the most common text for those not going into British Literature), to participate in campus related events that are Austen-centric, and to cap this trip down Georgian Lane with an Austen-themed dance, wherein participants could learn to trip the light fantastic, ala Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, and the Bennett Sisters.  If dancing isn’t up to one’s speed, then there’d be areas to learn whist, to sample Georgian-era foods, and to engage in other period entertainments.

For the record, schools participate (to some degree) in events like this annually.  A common book is selected and festivities are built around that text to involve the campus and community.  This would be no different.

But then, because this isn’t outrageous enough, I would engage the talents of our young thespians in the Theater Department.  Having been fully instructed before hand, they could – in period Empire dress – interact with student-participants as people from Jane Austen’s time.  Heck, I’d even have one appear as George, Prince Regent, just to toss the monarchy into the mix.

I’m not talking about having students dress up and mingle; I’m talking about having them role play as actual early nineteenth-century people.  They needn’t be all British; a couple of American (or French, or German, etc.) representatives might do just nicely.  These would be students who, while dressed appropriately, will also have attended some sort of “prep” session (in person or via prepared materials) that will allow them to present a first-person persona to other participants or attendees.  Having someone talk about the burdens of being middle-class (with so much free time); a gentleman and former officer who can relate the horrors of Waterloo; a young woman wanting to discuss the merits of gender equality – this could be a fantastic campus-wide event.

I think that, were money not an object, this would be a fascinating thing to pull off.  I think it would be even more fun to participate.  Of course, things being what they are, few schools would seriously consider such extravagance, but think of the learning they could accomplish if they did.


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