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Jane Austen News - Issue 103

What's the Jane Austen News this week? 


Jane In The West End Some of our readers might remember that the UK was treated to a touring, musical-adaptation of Persuasion last year. Well now, rather than one of her novels, Jane's life has been adapted into a musical. Jane Austen the Musical is receiving great reviews as it continues its UK tour, which runs until March this year. The tour began in October last year and has visited the likes of York, Norwich, and Birmingham. It is currently playing in London and, as London is a theatre hub, the theatre critics have been going to see the show and making their verdicts.
Rob Winlow has fashioned a diverting, grown-up, pleasant (but not without its bite) chamber musical that captures some of the dilemmas faced by the quiet girl who scribbled immortal novels in a Hampshire rectory.
Rob Winlow's songs are pleasing, especially when the cast sing in harmony, with more than a hint of Gilbert & Sullivan in the patter numbers.
The audience amongst whom I sat were mostly women, though (as both the male director and male writer prove) Austen's work is universal in its appeal, as all great art must be. See it if you're a fan and, if you're not, see it anyway
The highlight of the production is Edith Kirkwood’s assured performance as Jane. She has a charming voice and vivacious presence. Jenni Lea-Jones is enjoyable as Mrs Austen and Thomas Hewitt and Adam Grayson provide game support as the suitors and Rev Austen.
Of course it's not everyone's cup of tea, and some critics have said that it is too flimsy ("frustratingly thin portrait of an author"), but we thought that if you like musicals and you like Jane, this is a production you might like to know about. Tour dates for the show are available here.

  Sometimes You Can Read Too Much Into A Book...
Jane Austen, The Secret Radicala book by Helena Kelly, caused quite a stir when it was released in 2016. In case you haven't heard of it before, Helena Kelly took Jane's novels and analysed each book to demonstrate that, while disguised as romance stories, Austen was really making pithy remarks upon society when she was writing; and doing so in such a covert way that it would not get her into trouble. In Mansfield Park for example, Kelly found an analysis of the slave trade and of the overbearing power of the church. We mention this because, while Helena Kelly had some salient points, it is possible to read messages into classic books that the author never meant to put there, and we can't help but feel that this is true of Peter Hunt's examination of The Wind in the Willows. In his forthcoming book, Professor Hunt, emeritus professor of Cardiff University, argues that The Wind in the Willows is a "gay manifesto". He highlights excerpts such as Badger's declaration to Mole and Rat, "Well, it's time we were all in bed", at which point they "tumbled in between the sheets in great joy and contentment." Yes, analyse books for covert meanings; there are many that do have hidden (and not so hidden) political commentaries in their pages. Gaskell's North and South is quite definitely an analysis of discrepancies between the rich and the poor and the effects of industrialisation. However we can't help but feel that taking away the innocence of classic children's books like The Wind in the Willows is a step too far. After all, would Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows who developed the book from bedtime tales he told his son, really have been purposefully reading homoerotic goodnight stories to his son?!
  40 Years of Virago Modern Classics
(Jane Austen, as we know, was a strong female author in a publishing world made up primarily of men, so we think she'd have been a fan of Virago. As such we bring you this news from the company...) Virago, the international publisher of books by women - for all readers everywhere, published their first book in 1973 and haven't looked back since. Their mission has been to champion women’s voices and bring them to the widest possible readership around the world. Well, as well as publishing new work by incredible female authors (Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Kate Mosse and Sarah Waters being just a few of their authors), they also have a branch of the publishing house which specialises in publishing modern classics - Virago Modern Classics, who are celebrating 40 years since their first published title (Frost in May by Antonia White). To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Virago Modern Classics, this May they are publishing thirteen stunning paperbacks, designed by Hannah Wood and featuring artwork by the incredible illustrator, Yehrin Tong. The authors of the chosen novels are: Antonia White, Elizabeth Taylor, Zora Neale Hurston, Angela Carter, Patricia Highsmith, Nora Ephron, Grace Paley, Janet Frame, Rosamond Lehmann, Mary Renault, Rebecca West, Muriel Spark and Elaine Dundy. The introductions in each books have been penned by prominant contemporary writers, including Sarah Waters, Hilary Mantel, George Saunders, Tessa Hadley, Zadie Smith, Gillian Flynn, Tom Holland, A. L. Kennedy, Elizabeth Day and Rachel Cooke.
Storytelling is central to what it is to be human, and giving a voice to generations of important but neglected women writers benefits everyone. History is incomplete without them. Donna Coonan, editorial director of the Virago Modern Classics.

 Looking Through The Eyes of Jane
Actress Hilary Duff (possibly best-known for playing the title role in the Lizzie McGuire series from the early 2000s) was asked by to design a range of fashionable and functional eyewear for their website. Duff decided to take inspiration for her Muse Collection of frames from iconic women in history: "the inspiration was wanting women to feel confident and naming them [after] people that are badass." Duff has named frames (which can be fitted with corrective lenses of any strength, but also as non-corrective sunglasses) after Marilyn Monroe, Clara Barton, and, that's right, Jane Austen. The "Jane" shades are pictured here. So what do you think? Suitable frames for the famous author?
Time For An Emma Crossword We've had Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey; this week the theme of the fun, exam-revision crossword is Emma. The first link is the PDF of the grid with the clues, the second link is the answers. Enjoy! Emma Crossword Emma Crossword Answers

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Wind in the Willows is still one of my favourite books – evoking so much that I loved about the English countryside and idyll of life on the river bank However, I have to admit that when I became a middle-aged woman, it did cross my mind that the close companionship of these male animals was something very like those close friendships I had observed between a few cohabiting, sweet and fussy bachelors I had known as a young person. I look back now and wonder whether some were possibly in a covert relationship at a time when open homosexuality was a criminal.offence But I think Professor Hunt is being just a little too literal. Regardless, it is still a wonderful book (As a UK exp-pat I always make a point to read the “Dulce Domum” chapter at Christmas!)

joanar July 26, 2020

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