Jane Austen loved the theatre!
She was about seven years old when family theatricals first began at Steventon Rectory, circa December 1782. Dr Thomas Francklin’s Matilda was seemingly the first play performed, probably in the dining-room. Jane’s big brother James penned some additional verses to accompany the performance.
George Austen taught fee-paying scholars at home, so the plays only took place during the summer and Christmas holidays, when his pupils were away. At some point some stage scenery was painted to accompany the Austens’ theatricals, which must have added to the fun.
Eliza wrote to Phila to ‘assure you we shall have a most brilliant party and a great deal of amusement, the house full of company, frequent balls. You cannot possibly resist so many temptations, especially when I tell you your old friend James is returned from France and is to be of the acting party’.
But Phila was not keen, so Eliza wrote to her again, begging her to come for a fortnight to Steventon, provided she could bring herself to act, 'for my Aunt Austen declares "she has not room for any idle young people'.
Jane’s recollections of these family theatricals clearly influenced the Bertrams’ performances in Mansfield Park – but surely none of the Austen brothers acted like that ‘ranting young man’ Yates, who was ‘almost hallooing’ as he rehearsed his part?
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all Janeites everywhere!
‘ Hints to managers, actors and authors / G.M. Woodward, del.1790, courtesy Library of Congress.
Hugh Thomson illustrations for Mansfield Park.