This week I have been feeling quite a bit of envy; AGM-induced envy, because I will not be joining thousands of other Janeites to share in the glory of Jane Austen and her “Emma.”
However, in August, I was able to take a great little trip to Washington, DC with my family to enjoy a viewing at the Folger Shakespeare Library, to see the Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity exhibit. I thought it would be great fun to share my pictures with my readers and offer a little giveaway too, so that other readers who also couldn’t be at the 2016 AGM this weekend can enjoy some pictures of the exhibit.
Janine Barchas, from the University of Texas at Austin and Kristina Straub, from Carnegie Mellon University, prepared this exhibit to celebrate the glorious work and fandom of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Duke Journals has this informative article, titled, Curating Will & Jane, which describes the exhibit in great detail, along with the two families whose dedication to collecting items celebrating Will and Jane, have also contributed to the success of this exhibit.
“Will & Jane tracks the parallel afterlives of arguably the two most popular writers in the English language. As household names and literary celebrities, both William Shakespeare and Jane Austen are, thanks initially to the eighteenth-century impresario David Garrick and more recently to Hollywood, on a first-name basis with the reading public. Since this year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, just as next year will mark the bicentenary of the death of Austen, our exhibition is a unique opportunity to consider the rise of literary celebrity in real time—and in terms of 200-year cycles.2 Does today’s Cult of Jane, we asked ourselves, resemble the first exuberant wave of Bardolatry witnessed in the Georgian period?” (Barchas & Straub, 2016)
I hope you enjoy this visit to the Will & Jane and I wish all of my friends at the AGM this weekend best wishes for a wonderful weekend! Please follow me through the entryway…
“Will and Jane are beloved not just for their writings, but for the flesh-and-blood people that readers imagine them to have been. The earliest portraits circulating in print are considered as origins for that imagining rather than as definitive likenesses and the walls of our exhibition offer a sampling of images from the first flush of their posthumous celebrities—200 years after their respective deaths.” (Barchas & Straub, 2016)
These images and sculptures revealed the various images that have been created over time and that have stayed with readers for hundreds of years.
This was a case of beautiful figurines, some from the Franklin Mint too.
This display of screenplays, show below, was one of my favorite displays because I learned that even Jane Austen admired her own favorite author by writing a play based on his book, Sir Charles Grandison, which is believed to be Jane’s favorite book. Below is a messy manuscript of a dramatization of Sir Charles Grandison written in young Jane Austen’s own hand and hints at her beginnings as a participant in and writer of family theatricals.
Shown above is the manuscript that Emma Thompson wrote for her 1995 adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility.
These sticks, shown above in the case, and below, are reputed to belong to a chair that Shakespeare once sat in.
In the case above, the historical distance between these two authors allows the exhibit to point to additional moments when the performance of Will in Jane’s lifetime brought them together in the same space. In the table case above, we see items devoted to “Jane’s Shakespeare.” Austen, born in 1775, experienced Shakespeare’s early rise to celebrity status firsthand. She read and admired his work, referred to him often in her own fictions, and saw his plays performed on London’s stage. In Mansfield Park (1814), Austen’s fictional people “all talk Shakespeare” while staging amateur theatricals. Two characters in that novel, Yates and Crawford, intentionally share surnames with then-famous Shakespearean actors. A playbill of the performance of Merchant of Venice seen by Austen on 5 March 1814 is accompanied by her letter to her sister describing Edmund Kean’s performance as Shylock that night.
This same case also includes small souvenir objects that reinforce the emerging culture of celebrity in which Austen was both a material witness and participant: Kean’s handsome face on a souvenir dish (figure 9) as well as an engraving of him in that night’s haunting role, a pinup print of actress Mrs. Crawford, and a jewelry pin of actress Mrs. Yates. Nearby, a delightfully messy manuscript of a dramatization of Sir Charles Grandison written in Jane Austen’s own hand hints at her beginnings as a participant in and writer of family theatricals. (Barchas & Straub, 2016)
We finally came upon the infamous white shirt from the 1995 adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice.” But where, oh where, was Colin Firth?
It was displayed with a video of the beloved scene where Darcy and Elizabeth reconnect at Pemberly, as well as some other movies that have poked a bit of fun at the wet Firth scene. Le sigh!
Canny collectors such as the Folgers were well aware of the evocative and affective power of celebrity association. Copies of Shakespeare and Austen owned by prominent figures in art and history reflect and refract yet more facets of celebrity’s dazzle. The Folgers avidly collected Shakespeare texts previously owned by the famous, including John Dryden, Sir Walter Scott, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Abraham Lincoln, George IV, Walt Whitman, and many more notables.40 Association copies allow us to imagine celebrity encountering celebrity: what occurred in Walt Whitman’s mind as he read that tiny copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets that he allegedly always carried in his pocket? Do the coffee stains on James Joyce’s cheap Tauchnitz paperback of As You Like It betray a hubristic nonchalance toward the Bard or a connection so intimate as to permeate Joyce’s daily routines (figure 17)? Does Evelyn Waugh’s ownership of a gilded Peacock edition of Pride and Prejudice bespeak his assessment of his fellow novelist (figure 18)?
When actress Emma Thompson generously pledged to loan her copy of Emma to the exhibition, we wondered what it might reveal about the owner’s relationship to the novelist. The visitor to the Folger becomes a third party to an intimate encounter between celebrity and celebrity, as imagined through the reading and handling of a specific copy of a book. The longing to “be with” Will or Jane can be played out vicariously through illusory scenarios of celebrity contact. (Barchas & Straub, 2016)
Shown above, was another one of my collections; the fanfiction books! Cheers to one of my beloved reads, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the exhibit! Still have questions that you want to ask the curators of “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity?” Tune in tomorrow at 12:30 pm to a live visit to the Will & Jane exhibit, where they will broadcast a Facebook Live tour of the exhibition with curators Janine Barchas and Kristina Straub. #WillandJane
You can also enjoy this wonderful interview with co-curator, Janine Barchas, at Jane Austen in Vermont, where she describes the process of bringing this exhibit to life.
I’d like to treat one lucky Just Jane 1813 reader to a really fun giveaway, which includes a Will & Jane exhibit program, a Jane Austen action figure and Will & Jane Quotable Notables.