What happens when five authors who love Jane Austen get together in the same city? They have afternoon tea, of course! That’s exactly what happened this past Friday when (pictured left to right) Shannon Winslow (The Darcys of Pemberley), Laurel Ann Nattress (Jane Austen Made Me Do It), Syrie James (Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen), Diana Birchall (Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma), and me got together in Seattle for a visit. After toasting Jane Austen, who at least indirectly brought us all together, we settled in for a good long visit. The waitress at Queen Mary’s Tearoom (see below) was kind enough to let us stay for over two hours! Afternoon tea was delicious and so was the conversation.
Shannon, Laurel and I all live in the Seattle area while Diana and Syrie were in town from Los Angeles for the premiere reading of the playlet “You Are Passionate, Jane” imagined and written by Diana. What might it be like to listen in on a conversation in Heaven between Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte? Here’s Diana’s description (quoted on Austenprose.com) of her creation:
“‘Jane went to Paradise: that was only fair,’ wrote Rudyard Kipling, and generations of readers have agreed with him. Now, in “You are Passionate, Jane,” we follow Jane Austen right past the Pearly Gates. She has been given the important job of Gatekeeper in Heaven, deciding which other literary figures will be allowed to ascend. A position that has been held by dead white male authors for eons, but at last, the most deserving woman novelist gets her turn. So, when she is not writing one of her heavenly new novels, Jane passes Judgment, and in the fullness of time, the newly deceased Charlotte Bronte is brought before her. The two women are temperamental opposites and don’t appreciate each other’s viewpoint in the least. As Charlotte’s passionate life and works come under scrutiny (the title refers to Jane Eyre), the literary sparks fly – upward.”
They were amazing authors, both daughters of ministers, but very different women and writers. Charlotte Bronte was much more serious, but still wrote a love story that sizzles with passion and fire. Jane Austen looked at the world with a keen eye and a sense of amusement. There’s passion in her stories, but it’s more of a subtext. We know Charlotte didn’t think much of Jane so the question is: Will these two amazing authors find they have something in common after all? Can each appreciate the other’s contributions to the literary world? Are you both passionate, Jane and Charlotte?
Diana cast herself as Charlotte Bronte while Syrie James read the role of Jane Austen (with appropriate snarkiness in places). Both brought so much life to the characters that it was easy to feel as if we were eavesdropping on a real conversation between these two literary geniuses. The crowd at the Puget Sound JASNA meeting certainly approved enthusiastically! All-in-all it was a thoroughly diverting entertainment. I only wish more people could have been there for the reading. (I understand that Diana and Syrie are doing this reading for some other audiences around the country.)
Diana and Syrie have also co-written a play called The Austen Assizes specifically for this year’s AGM in New York. Several Austen characters will be put on trial for their offenses against Sex, Money, and Power (the theme of this year’s AGM). Willoughby is tried for crimes related to sex, Lady Catherine for crimes related to power and Lucy Steele for her crimes related to money. Many other Austen characters will also make appearances. It’s described as “…a parody of English justice, a panoply of Jane Austen’s most colorful characters, and a delectably defensive verbal free-for-all.”
All photos were taken by me except the one of Syrie and Diana above on the right. This photo is courtesy of Sallie Tierney, who also attended the reading. (Thanks for sharing, Sallie!)