Review: Readings from Jane Austen’s works

Jane Austen

Jane Austen - Credit: Archant

Jane Austen at Home

Emerald O'Hanrahan

Holt Festival

On the simplest of sets, wearing the simplest of gowns, actress Emerald O'Hanrahan spent 45 minutes delivering some of the wittiest, most incisive and elegant prose in the English language.

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Ms O'Harahan, dressed in a white gown and mob cap, either stood holding a novel, or sat writing at Jane Austen's modest work table as she recited dramatised passages from most of Austen's novels.

There were also readings from Austen letters and several humorous snippets from her juvenilia, including her History of England, written by, in 16-year-old Austen's words: 'A partial, prejudiced and ignorant historian.'

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And prejudiced she was, denouncing Queen Elizabeth I as 'that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society,' 'murderess' of Austen's royal favourite, Mary Queen of Scots.

O'Hanrahan, known to millions as the voice of Emma Grundy on BBC Radio 4's The Archers, showed great versatility in jumping between Austen's many voices.

She swaggered as the crass Robert Ferrars, from Sense and Sensibility, talking vaingloriously to Elinor Dashwood about cottages, concluding in Austen's own voice of quiet intelligence and wicked humour: 'Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.'

She fussed as well-meaning, garrulous Miss Bates, from Emma, and was nicely vulgar in the voice of Mrs Elton, also from Emma, trying to impress with constant references to the size of her brother-in-law's 'barouche landau' – the 19th-century equivalent of continually letting slip that your relatives drive a Porsche.

Extracts from Austen's letters revealed her unsentimental appraisal of those in her circle whose personalities and position in the social hierarchy were reflected in some of her characters.

It was a well-chosen romp through the great Jane's works and, thankfully, managed to be so without any mention of that annoyingly-clichéd first line from Pride and Prejudice.

For it is a truth, universally acknowledged, that 99.9pc of anything to do with Austen will include that extract. Thank you deviser Stephen Siddall for sparing us.

Alex Hurrell.

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