JANE AUSTEN FESTIVAL AND THE SARAH SIDDONS FAN CLUB
One of my favourite authors is going to have a Festival in Southampton in 2017 thanks to the Sarah Siddons Fan Club winning a Heritage Lottery Grant to co-ordinate such an event.
This year sees the 200th anniversary of Jane’s tragically early death (on 18th July) and there will be a number of events to tie in with this (including exhibitions and talks, see the link to the Jane Austen 200 page), but the Sarah Siddons’ Fan Club tribute to Jane is particularly nice since Miss Austen was a big fan of Mrs Siddons.
It had been a convention for centuries that no woman was to appear on the stage and Sarah Siddons was one of the early female acting pioneers. Sarah was one of the first women to not only act but to achieve fame for it.
Sarah (1755 – 1831) was born to a theatrical family (the Kembles) and first appeared as Ariel in The Tempest with her father, Roger Kemble’s company in Coventry in 1766. A year later, William Siddons joined the company. Sarah married him in 1773, returning to the stage under her married name.
After giving birth to two children, one while on stage (!), she debuted at Drury Lane in 1775. This was a flop so she retreated to the provinces becoming a hit at the Theatre Royal in Bath instead. She returned to London in 1782 where her career took off so much that the word ‘Siddonimania’ was used to describe how her audiences reacted to her performances.
Sarah retired in 1812 although she continued to give benefit performances and readings for years. Five thousand people attended her funeral in Paddington. She was painted by all the most famous artists of her day and commemorated by a statue in Westminster Abbey.
The Sarah Siddons Fan Club are a street theatre group whose main productions are based on history and people, especially around the Southampton area. The idea of their Festival celebrating Jane is to look at what inspired Miss Austen to write her books.
The festival is due to begin with the Sarah Siddons’ Fan Club’s own tribute to Jane, whose works have not been out of print since her death and continue to sell very well. Pride and Prejudice remains her best known work (and the BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy went down extremely well and I’m sure would have helped book sales further!). (It is perhaps ironic that Jane did not make much money from her writing in her lifetime and yet now her books sell so well worldwide. Is it an irony Jane would have appreciated I wonder? Would it have led to another novel on the trappings of fame perhaps?)
The Sarah Siddons Fan Club tribute will be called “Taking the Flounce” and will be a walk around old Southampton Spa, though they refer to it as a “theatrical perambulation” (not the easiest of things to say!). This runs for a week starting from 25th June. I just love the idea of “flouncing”. It’s a beautiful sounding word, not one usually used in everyday conversation and writing and it will be interesting to find out how many do take up the invitation to take said flounce!
There will also be guided walks around Southampton and Netley. The idea of these is to show what town life was like in the 18th century including those parts Jane Austen decided NOT to write about. Although she only wrote the 6 novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Emma and Lady Susan, the latter was never finished, the other outlet for Jane’s writing were her letters to her family, which give both a personal and social history).
Letter writing throughout history has been a great source of information by shedding light on local, national and personal histories. It has often shared insights into everyday life the historians of the relevant period didn’t think important enough to cover. The Paxton letters are perhaps the classic example of this and shed a great deal of light on the War of the Roses. Jane’s letters shed light on her own character. It is interesting she doesn’t mention the Napleonic wars in her novels (bar a passing reference to Wickham’s regiment in Pride and Prejudice. I assume she was assuming all would know why the regiments were stationed where they were and had no need to explain more).
Jane’s letters shed light on her own character. It is interesting she doesn’t mention the Napleonic wars in her novels (bar a passing reference to Wickham’s regiment in Pride and Prejudice. I assume she was assuming all would know why the regiments were stationed where they were and had no need to explain more).
There are also plans to recreate Jane’s four miles stroll to Peartree. Given the outfits worn by women at the time, I really can’t see this as having been a very fast walk! I wonder if anyone will dress up in period costume for this as that really would recreate Jane’s walk the way she walked it!
Later in the year, over the weekend of 30th September and 1st October, there will be embroidery workshops, tea and scandal (involving whom I’m afraid I don’t know!), concerts with the Madding Crowd, dancing workshops with the Duke of Wellington Dancers, walks, talks and a Ball.
Jane was known to admire Mrs Siddons as the author liked “real acting” and so it is appropriate for the Sarah Siddons Fan Club to commemorate one of their heroine’s greatest fans. Hopefully the events will shed more light on the talents of both women. It is a tribute to both that they are still very fondly remembered.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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