The luminous Greer Garson and sexy, arrogant Laurence Olivier portrayed Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in the 1940 version of the movie, Pride and Prejudice, based on Jane Austen’s novel that she wrote in the early 1800s.
In 1995, the BBC’s 6-part TV series of the story starred Jennifer Ehle and the breathtakingly handsome and haughty Colin Firth (after the filming, the two continued their real-life romance for a year or so). Also in that year, Emma Thompson won an Academy Award in Ang Lee’s film of Austen’s novel, Sense and Sensibility.
Nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, Kiera Knightley co-starred with Matthew Macfadyen.
As popular as ever, the book came in second in the BBC’s 2003 survey of Nation’s Best-loved Novels, and this year, Austen fans are flocking to the village where she lived and wrote when Pride and Prejudice was published, 200 years ago. A wide variety of celebrations, dances, workshops and other events are being held to commemorate the anniversary.
Exploring Jane Austen’s Hampshire
Jane Austen lived in the village of Chawton from 1809 until just before her death in 1817. While there, she wrote and revised a number of books including Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, which she had written some years earlier; she then wrote Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion.
Austen fans are lining up this year for "Jane Austen: The Dancing Years Tour" led by Phil Howe, the lively and charming proprietor of Hidden Britain Tours. For the day-long tour, guests take the train from London Waterloo to Basingstoke where "Hampshire Ambassador" Phil Howe meets them at the railway station at around 10 a.m.
The small group leisurely explores the villages where Austen trod, her birthplace and her father's church at Steventon. Howe leads his guests on the easy walk past country houses wherein Austen danced and fell in and out of love. An expert on the social and cultural life of the time, he spins gossipy tales that Austen told, in Pride and Prejudice, of her real-life neighbors. Elizabeth’s father, Mr. Bennet, says, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”After lunch in a two-century-old inn, the group tours Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton. In the unadorned, two-story brick edifice, they wander the rooms where she spent her last years revising and writing the novels; also here are the graves of her sister and mother.
From a fan: "(Howe’s) . . knowledge of the sites and his explanations of the role they played in Jane Austen's life made her come alive for me in a new and exciting way. It really does take your breath away when you realize you are standing where she once stood. Phil drew information found in Jane Austen's letters and the biographies written about her to enlighten as well as entertain us."
Austen on Your Own
You can also visit the museum and the separate Chawton House Library on your own. In an imposing Elizabethan manor house, the library was owned by the Knight family for more than 400 years, and once belonged to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight (who was adopted by the Knight family). The building houses more than 9,000+ titles focused on women’s writing from 1600 to 1830, portraits of women writers, and some of Austen’s favorite books.
In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley says: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
Visitors wander the 18th century parkland estate that surrounds the library, watching the shire horses at work and peeking into an organic, walled kitchen garden designed by Edward.
Avid Austen fans also make a point to stop in at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, which schedules readings, writers’ workshops and other events throughout the year. In elaborate period costumes, Austenophiles will be dancing at the Netherfield Ball, just one of the merriments planned for the annual Jane Austen Festival (this year September 13-21).
And now, to whet your appetite for your Jane Austen: The Dancing Years Tour, a short clip of Colin Firth in the lake scene from the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice (The arts correspondent for The Guardian called it “ . . . one of the most unforgettable moments in British TV history: Mr. Darcy emerging dripping from the lake . . . his wet shirt clinging to his manly chest. . . . Had the screenwriter had his way, Colin Firth, who played the hunk in Jane Austen's classic, would have been wearing neither shirt nor breeches. Firth vetoed the idea, preferring to keep his shirt and trousers on.”
As the author William Deresiewicz writes in his article for The New Yorker, “Two hundred years—the bicentennial. Send in the tall ships. Set off the fireworks. Darcy and Elizabeth forever.”
Karen Misuraca is the author of several guidebooks, including Backroads of the California Wine Country; Backroads of the California Coast, and Fun with the Family Northern California. Check out Karen's new iPhone app, California Coast North.