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'Pride' of Jane Austen is worth a celebration

The novel’s 200th anniversary excites fans and experts alike

By Raymond M. Lane
Washington Post

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While universities worldwide are gearing up to remember the anniversary of “Pride and Prejudice,” Goucher Collge is planning a lighthearted celebration.

“Pride and Prejudice: A 200-Year Affair” will probably appeal to ordinary readers as well as hard-core “Janeites” – the sometimes-dismissive term used to describe Austen fans.

“We’re expecting a mob,” said Tara Olivero, curator of special collections and archives at Baltimore’s Goucher College. “Something for everyone who loves Jane Austen, we hope.”

Jan. 28 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen’s masterpiece “Pride and Prejudice,” the romantic novel spun around the love-angst of privileged country gentry in Regency era England.

“We feel kind of special about Austen,” said Olivero, who oversees the only comprehensive Austen archive in America. Over a lifetime of collecting, Henry and Alberta Hirschheimer Burke of Baltimore amassed first editions, letters, documents, pictures, drawings and more from Austen’s era – even a lock of her hair (“mousey blond,” the librarians say). The Burkes’ endowment supports the celebration, Olivero said.

Festivities include “Pride and Prejudice” movies, and a tea and a talk with Austen scholar and college professor Juliette Wells about her new book, “Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination.”

A Regency dance by the college’s Choreographie Antique dance ensemble will showcase the dances Austen loved, which appear throughout her novels.

Would-be Elizabeth Bennetts and Mr. Darcys are invited to take free lessons on the dance floor. After that, visitors may sample a collection of replica gloves, scarves and parasols, and are invited for tutorials on how ladies would use them to signal their intentions in Austen novels.

“There’s a language,” said ensemble director Chrystelle Bond, explaining that visitors will be encouraged to try on and use the replicas, “so you’ll get a sense of the material world of Austen.”

Bond said Austen wrote key moments around movement in “Pride and Prejudice,” as well as elsewhere in her six novels.

The Goucher demonstration, she said, will explore Austen’s notion that a “woman drawing her handkerchief across her lips invites a man standing across the room to speak. Fanning very slowly, and placing the fan over her left ear signals, ‘I wish to get rid of you.’ ”

On exhibit will be three rare first editions of the novel, plus artwork, translations in dozens of languages, children’s books, cut-out dolls, DVDs from around the world, 10 Austen scrapbooks collected by Alberta Burke, fabrics from the era and a CBS radio script from a 1940s adaptation of the novel.

Olivero said there is a romantic side to the Goucher collection, telling the story of two husbands who phoned ahead separately to arrange a tour for their wedding anniversaries. “Just the two of them quietly looking over our Austen stuff,” she said. “You got to give the guy his propers for that one – that has to be a great marriage – and it just shows you how powerful Austen’s attraction is today.”

The Free Library of Philadelphia will hold a festival Jan. 28.

The 2005 film adaptation that stars Keira Knightley will play continuously in the lobby, and film critics will parse three great actresses playing Elizabeth Bennett – Knightley, Greer Garson and Jennifer Ehle.

Be ready when actress Julia Wise, in period dress, flays Mr. Darcy, declares that he would be “the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

Isaiah Price responds with the Regency male put-down, “You have said quite enough, madam.”

“My own darling child” is how Austen described the first printing of the novel. The never-married author, an unknown country vicar’s daughter, plunked down 18 shillings for her first edition of the book, which she wrote anonymously as “a lady.”

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