Those with a passing interest in the works of Jane Austen may remember Brighton cropping up in Pride and Prejudice. Lydia Bennet pounces on the city to fawn over the regimented officers, and then elopes from there with Wickham. However, Jane Austen had more of a connection with Brighton than using it for salacious plot development. It was more than “that gay bathing-place covered with officers”.
The Prince Regent, George IV, called it his home. George was a bit of an Austen fanboy and encouraged her to dedicate her next novel to him. However, the admiration was not reciprocated. George’s mistreatment of his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, in his carryings-on with his mistress Maria Fitzherbert, his general reputation and flamboyance (just LOOK at the Pavilion) appalled her. But to turn down the offer of a dedication was unthinkable; therefore one was grudgingly written in Emma. The Prince’s personal copy will be on display as part of part of the Royal Pavilion & Museums’ 2017 Regency Season.
The exhibition, which happens to fall on the bicentenary of Austen’s death, also looks at popular fashion of the time and doesn’t forget the music of the Georgian Age, with the writer’s own music books on display. Austen herself played piano and sang, all part and parcel of the ‘jack of all trades’ character Regency women were expected to cultivate, and as depicted in many of Austen’s imagined characters, with important scenes often underscored by music to heighten dramatic tension.
University of Sussex tutor and Royal Pavilion curator Dr Alexandra Loske said, “We are also including several caricatures of the time showing balls at assembly rooms, couples dancing, poking fun at the fashions of the time as well as depicting the dubious joys of making music at home, with a nod to the famous line from Pride and Prejudice, ‘That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit’.”
Austen’s unfinished Sanditon mocked the fashion of Dr Richard Russell’s seawater cure which brought so many hopeful tourists to seaside towns like Brighton, yet she admitted herself that “the sea-air always does good”. Fashionable, music-loving readers pumped up for Brighton Festival and Fringe and The Great Escape will be already aware of this. Take a leisurely turn about the exhibition rooms after the exhilaration of Brighton’s busiest month, and perhaps consider how you and the artists you’ve seen may be remembered in literature one day.
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, From Saturday 17th June 2017
Words by Karen McDermott
Photo by James Pike