Jane has very kindly asked me to prepare a guest blog post on the topic of the private theatricals in Mansfield Park, and to try and explain why Fanny’s censorious attitude towards them seems to have been in complete contradiction to that of her creator, Jane Austen.
It is true that Jane Austen loved the theatre. Every time she visited London and her brother Henry she seized every chance she could to see professional performances. She had her favourite actors and actresses and was a keen but cool critic of their performances. Eliza O Neil of Ireland was a favourite:
We were all at the Play last night, to see Miss o’Neal (sic) in” Isabella... She is an elegant creature however and hugs Mr Younge delightfully.
(See letter from Jane Austen to Anna Austen dated 29th November 1814)
As was Dorothea Jordan. She was most miffed to have missed the opportunity of seeing Mrs Siddons in 1811:
I have no chance of seeing Mrs Siddons. She did act on Monday but as Henry was told by the Boxkeeper that he did not think she would all the places and all the thought of it were given up. I should particularly have liked seeing her in Constance and could swear at her with little effort for disappointing me.
( letter to Cassandra Austen of the 25th April 1811)
Her early works have numerous theatrical and farcical elements, evidence of her wide reading of the 18th century theatrical cannon. For example, in Love and Freindship (sic) we find one of the most famous phrases in the Juvenilia:
"We fainted Alternatively on a Sofa”
Now read the rest of the post on austenonly.