Monday, March 22, 2010

Jane Austen in New York

I love visiting New York City, for many reasons, but I had a very special mission last week: It was the final weekend of The Morgan Library's exhibit of A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy. The exhibit featured many documents in Austen's own hand (letters, manuscripts, etc.) as well as early printed copies of her novels and a short film about her contributions.

When I entered the exhibition hall it did not seem to be very large, yet it was full of things to pore over: Letters, drawings, rare books...I spent a great while taking them all in.

I have read many of Austen's letters in books – But there was a certain thrill to walk up to the display case and see those tiny precise brown squiggles shift into focus and become the letters and texts I've read so often. I also had a chance to see evidence sister Cassandra's censoring of some of the letters. (She is supposed to have taken her scissors to some sections as they contained less than flattering opinions about family members or dealt with “too much information” descriptions of health matters.)

I particularly enjoyed reading the manuscript copy of the short parody “Plan of a Novel”. I have it almost memorized, so it was a treat to recognize those snarky little lines in the hand of the witty woman who wrote them.

After the exhibition, I took a turn around the gift shop. There was, of course, an ample selection of note cards, books and other Austen memorabilia. I was also fortunate enough to meet Patrice Hannon, a fellow Janeite and author of 101 Things You Didn't know about Jane Austen. She very kindly autographed the copy I purchased.

Afterward, we repaired to the New Victory Theatre to see The Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – It was my first time attending an RSC show, and it was a wacky, wild ride!

The next day we saw the musical In The Heights (solid material, solid cast - highly recommended) and Looped, starring Valerie Harper as Tallulah Bankhead. I enjoyed the play very much, and I am quite confident that my fellow audience members did as well. A good chunk of the laughs come from the use of Miss Bankhead's many bon mots (though, I daresay, she was rather more brash than Jane Austen ever was.)

We also pursued some more of my favourite New York activities: Walking about and shopping. I was particularly looking for a topaz cross to wear as a part of my costume. (Charles, Jane Austen's brother, gave her a topaz cross as a gift.) I found what I was looking for on 38th St., near 6th Avenue. There are several costume jewelry shops in the neighborhood and walking through them is a glittery (and sometimes gaudy) delight. I found this piece and loved its simplicity. (The fact it only cost $10 didn't hurt either!)

On our return trip, I read The Watsons (one of Austen's unfinished novels.) I was a little sad to get to end of what Austen wrote, it was a very promising beginning. Emma Watson's sister Elizabeth seems to be a most fascinating character - she definitely has a few secrets (including what really happened between her and her former suitor Purvis). Unfortunately, Austen only gave her family a brief outline of the ending, but set it aside and it was never completed. Now I am moving onto Lady Susan.



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