Tag Archives: jane austen

Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain – British Library

The Georgians are everywhere; looking around London you notice their influence in architecture, parks and artistic spaces. This new exhibition at the British Library examines the country’s growing prosperity and cultural shift as new modes of manufacturing and expanded trade routes brought new influences to Britain. Fundamentally, it argues that the rein of the four Georges between 1714 and 1830 established a number of middle class tastes and values which are evident in the modern world.

The first section is on the home using architectural books, paintings and etchings from the Library’s collection including the famous crescent at Bath and Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, an incredible mix of Eastern and classical influences made possible by the burgeoning empire. The Georgian home also benefitted from a new approach to gardening where wildness was tamed into order and elegance, embellished with follies, lakes and grottos. Inside, new rules guided interactions whether through the ritual of tea or modes of politeness, with manuals for behaviour and accomplishment, and we get to see Jane Austen’s writing desk and glasses, Jeremy Bentham’s violin, and some beautifully illustrated books of exotic plant-life.

Section two looks at shopping, and it never occurred to me that all that beautiful furniture came from catalogues. There are also prints of customers in a furniture showroom – imagine an 18th Century Ikea where they can browse, customise and order for home delivery. There are also some lovely examples of the first fashion books for men and women, supported by store advertising and trade cards. This sense of being seen to be fashionable extends to the third section on sociability and forms of culture. Being at the theatres and public entertainments was vital; learning to dance from the variety of guides and tutorials meant showing off those skills at assembly rooms; and enjoyment of various kinds could be found at masquerades, sports, gambling houses and pleasure gardens. All of this is also nicely lampooned by contemporary satirists mocking the obsession with celebrities and trivial self-adornment… that sounds very familiar!

There are slight nods to other parts of society, particularly to slavery which underlay the production of luxury goods, as well as to charitable institutions such as the foundling hospital. But essentially this exhibition is a riot of privileges and consumerism that improved the social experience and position of the middle classes. You can argue that a number of these things pre-date the Georgians and you don’t get a huge sense of change within this 116 year period, particularly the political and economic effect of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, as well as the growing discontent and push for greater enfranchisement. Nonetheless this exhibition is nicely pitched, full of excellent information signs, and the British Library has gathered an impressive array of pieces; not just books and prints, but shop signs, shoes, games and much more. Not to mention each exhibition case is wallpapered with relevant engravings that are not only add a stylish touch but enhance what you’re seeing. There’s even a treat for Londoner’s at the end – the floor in the final room is a map of the city highlighting the effects of the period, seen in buildings, ports, factories, squares, churches, street names and green spaces. So, yes, the Georgians really are everywhere, just look around you.

Georgians Revealed runs at the British Library until 11th March and costs £9 at full price.

Pride & Prejudice – Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park

We’ve all seen it, although it’s almost 20 years old, the BBC Pride and Prejudice from 1995 has become the definitive interpretation. So, the new version at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre comes with a lot of preconceptions – the best way to deal with that baggage would be to try something fresh and exciting, going back to the original text and seeing how else it could be construed. Unfortunately this production is largely a live and amateur version of the TV show, to the point that Darcy and Bingley even sound like Colin Firth and Crispin Bonham Carter. Whilst the performances are very competent there was nothing particularly ground-breaking or insightful – I even found myself ticking mental plot boxes as we went along (Netherfield ball – tick; Rosing’s Park – tick; Pemberly – tick).Not all of this can be blamed on the sounds of Bon Jovi in Hyde Park continually yanking us back to the 21st Century.

There was not much engagement between the leads with many of the subtleties and comedy elements of the book lost. It’s not a short evening by any means (three hours with one interval) but it still felt rushed and incomplete. Perhaps that’s again the BBC version colouring my view, which at more than 2 hours longer had time to explore in detail.

It’s not all bad – Mr Collins, Mr Bennett, Mary and Lydia are all played differently and are pretty funny. The rotating set with iron work frame (used for doorways and portraits) was very cleverly incorporated, and it couldn’t have been a lovelier setting, but something is lacking here – it’s not a bad play or even badly performed, just unremarkable.

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