Pride & Prejudice and Fanny BurneyThursday, February 11, 2016
|Fanny Burney at age 32, painted by her cousin Edward Francesco Burney 1784-1785|
Sometime around 2001 while rummaging through my then Oakridge Safeway book bin I was intrigued by a large paperback. It was titled Evelina or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. The author was Fanny Burney. I knew about her father Charles Burney (1726-1824) who was a minor baroque composer and who wrote interesting accounts of the major composers of his era and as a music scholar wrote A General History of Music History. He was a proto music critic. His daughter Frances (Fanny Burney – 1752-1840) had written a sketch of Evelina when she was 14 and anonymously published it in 1778. When she was found out she became famous and led the way for the later novels of Jane Austen.
Evelina was a pleasant but startling revelation as it had many parallels to the novels of Austen who wrote Sense and Sensibility much later in 1811. Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress was Fanny Burney’s second novel and was first published on 12 June 1782, the day before her 30th birthday. Cecilia is a romance but also contains a strong moral message, not only that money does not bring happiness, but also that happiness bought at the price of duty fails to bring peace and joy. What is most interesting is that this novel was an influence on Jane Austen. Austen’s name is listed as a subscriber to Burney’s third novel, Camilla. And then there is the title of Austen’s most famous book. It derives from a passage in Cecilia:
“The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr Lyster, “has been the result of Pride and Prejudice.”
With that bit of Austen trivia out of the way I will jump to my impressions of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Janet Munsil’s theatrical interpretation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice directed by Sarah Rodgers. I could rant and rave about the delightful night my Rosemary and I had last Tuesday the 7th at the Stanley. I will rant and rave but first to the important stuff (in my book).
This is actress (I am old fashioned) Naomi Wright who plays Elizabeth Bennet. I am sure that some scholars suspect that Elizabeth Bennet, the principal protagonist of the novel and the play is a version of Jane Austen herself. To me that is so. Watching Wright I was struck by her resemblance as a younger version of my fave Jennifer Lines. From our seats in the upper balcony in my diminishing eyesight she seemed to be a dead-ringer. If you accept that Elizabeth Bennet is Jane Austen then you can make the jump as I did on all the stuff that Austen could have done with her life if she had lived longer than her 42 years. I can imagine that Austen and Elizabeth Bennet could have written as bravely as what Fanny Burney wrote in 1811 when she had a one breast mastectomy performed without anesthesia:
“Yet—when the dreadful steel was plunged into the breast—cutting through veins—arteries—flesh—nerves—I needed no injunctions not to restrain my cries. I began a scream that lasted unintermittingly during the whole time of the incision—and I almost marvel that it rings not in my Ears still! so excruciating was the agony. When the wound was made, and the instrument was withdrawn, the pain seemed undiminished, for the air that suddenly rushed into those delicate parts felt like a mass of minute but sharp and forked poniards, that were tearing the edges of the wound—but when again I felt the instrument—describing a curve—cutting against the grain, if I may so say, while the flesh resisted in a manner so forcible as to oppose and tire the hand of the operator, who was forced to change from the right to the left—then, indeed, I thought I must have expired.”
For me Naomi Wright’s performance was the anchor of the play. The other players were all very good. Two men stood out. I like the new and more recent David Marr (Mr. Bennet) who has a light touch for comedy and thankfully has risen over some of the plays where he is forced to play insufferable twits. And any play (even bad ones, can be saved by any performance by Scott Bellis) who plays the parson Mr. Colins and Mr. Darcy’s housekeeper. Shirley Broderick plays the scary and nasty Lady Catherine de Bourgh to almost perfection. Why not perfection? In the spirit of Bellis cross-dressed as a woman I would have liked Christopher Gaze as Lady Catherine.
Years ago Crystal Pite brought to Vancouver the idea of how important choreography (of every movement even those that are not dance) to the Electric Theatre Company’s Eadweard Muybridge – Studies in Motion. Director Sarah Rodgers, choreographer Julie Tomaino, ably assisted by Lighting Designer Marsha Sibthorpe and Set Designer Alison Greene created a set, a situation that was always in interesting flux. I thought of a friend, a lighting designer who is bored at having to constantly light theatrical living rooms. This Pride and Prejudice was far from that.
Now for a bit of a personal confession. As an only child I was always riveted to my mother’s account of the other child she had who would have been my sister but was born dead. She was a redhead. In my early 20s I was madly in love with my first cousin Elizabeth Blew who was a redhead. I was distracted from my preference for red haired women by the appearance of a min-skirted blonde with beautiful legs in 1968 who became my wife.
When not watching Naomi Wright’s Elizabeth Bennet I was all eyes for the sexy but nasty redheaded Amanda Lisman (Caroline Bingley) and Georgia Beaty ( a glorious redhead) who played Charlotte Lucas.
The musicians and actors Sarah Donald (Mrs. Gardiner) and Daniel Deorksen (Mr. Gardiner) added to the charming evening. And I can only point out that Director Sarah Rodgers is a redhead…and so it seems was Fanny Burney