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Sunday, October 21

Jane Austen and Music

I watched Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility for the fifth time (on Comcast on Demand) and was once again struck by how music played a significant role in the film, from the scene in which Colonel Brandon falls for Marianne as she sings Weep No More Sad Fountains, to the theme music that echoes the emotions of the characters.

Music also played a primary role in Jane Austen's life. She meticulously hand copied popular songs of the era into manuscripts that have been preserved, and duly practiced on her piano forte every day. To her dismay, she had to sell her piano when the family moved to Bath, but must have been consoled when she was able to hire one at Southampton. At Chawton she could play piano once again, and her small square piano still sits there.

Jane's heroines, Emma and Marianne, could play very well indeed. And although Elizabeth described herself as a merely passable player, Mr. Darcy didn't seem to mind her lack of talent in that area, as he told his sister Georgiana that listening to Elizabeth play gave him much pleasure. This YouTube scene from Pride & Prejudice, in which Mr. Darcy introduces Elizabeth to his sister, is filled with talk of music.

The topic of music resulted in one of my favorite passages in Pride and Prejudice: Yes, you've guessed it, as it is set in Lady Catherine De Bourgh's drawing room.

``What is that you are saying, Fitzwilliam? What is it you are talking of? What are you telling Miss Bennet? Let me hear what it is.''

``We are speaking of music, Madam,'' said he, when no longer able to avoid a reply.

``Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation, if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully. How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?''

Mr. Darcy spoke with affectionate praise of his sister's proficiency.

``I am very glad to hear such a good account of her,'' said Lady Catherine; ``and pray tell her from me, that she cannot expect to excel, if she does not practise a great deal.''

``I assure you, Madam,'' he replied, ``that she does not need such advice. She practises very constantly.''

To this day music plays a significant role in writings and materials related to Jane Austen:

This week's free song choice from Josie Brown and Rita Abrams, the authors of Pride and Prejudice the Musical is A Pleasant Little Life, in which the inhabitants of Meryton sing about their quiet life in their pleasant town. Find my interview with Rita and Josie in this link.

This music time line describes the songs and music that were popular during the 19th Century: Music from 1800-1860

ABC Shop offers an Abridged Pride and Prejudice read by Helen Morse, and set to music.

Find a selection of songs on the Jane Austen Companion at Find more information about this topic in the following sites:


Amelia said...

What a delightful and informative article! I have always believed that the characters who are musically proficient in her novels are the ones that she feels represent a greater part of HERSELF. Her hint to the reader, if you will. Great Links.

Anonymous said...

The piano at Chawton did not belong
to Jane Austen: it was made after
she died, and is on loan. I have
bequeathed my square piano (made
by Broadwood in 1796) to Jane
Austen's House, which I hope will
remain there for posterity.