Inside the Authors' Studio
Craigville 2004

James Lipton: Our guest tonight is one who is well-known to you all. She is an authoress - AN AUTHORESS! - whose books have sold billions of copies and been translated into thousands of languages. She wrote only six novels, but those six novels have garnered her a coveted place in the very tippy-top of the pantheon of literary royalty. Her novels have received the highest accolades from every corner of the known world and spawned countless imitators and her importance continues to increase even in our digital age. [JL waggles Jane Austen finger puppets] It is my great pleasure to present to you tonight: A Lady.

Jane Austen enters and sits, takes a sip of water: Have you any tea?

[JL offers a Lipton tea bag.]

JA: Ah, no thank you.

JL: You are known as the author-ESS of six, simply scrumptious novels, but until now, your true identity has been a well-guarded secret. Tonight I can reveal to our students that your name has been winkled out. My research has shown that you are: Miss Jane Austen.

[oohs from the audience]

JA: Henry told you, did he not?

JL: I'm sorry, I cannot reveal my sources. Let us begin at the beginning. You were born in …

JA: Steventon, Hampshire.

JL: And your father was …

JA: Rector of St Nicholas church in Steventon. Has Henry not told you all this?

JL: You began writing at an early age.

JA: Oh, yes. Henry will tell you that I wrote mainly for my own amusement and that of my family, but really I write only for fame, and without any view to pecuniary emolument. This, considering the pittance authors are paid is a good thing!

JL: Fame you have amply achieved and I am not the only one to think so! When Sir Walter Scott sat in that chair, he said of your writing: "That young lady has a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with."

JA: How very kind of him.

JL: Let us very briefly examine each of your astonishing novels. You burst upon the literary scene like a comet with your first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. Can you tell our students and settle it once and for all: Is it Sense OR Sensibility?

JA: My dear sir, the correct conjunction is: AND. Sense AND Sensibility. I do not understand why students will continually argue that in papers. I provide the answer to the question in the title!

JL: Next came Pride and Prejudice, easily the most popular of your novels, and deservedly so, for its brilliance illuminates the firmament. Tell us truthfully: Is Darcy the perfect hero?

JA: While I am quite fond of Mr. Darcy - QUITE fond - he is by no means perfect, and those who claim that he is, do not know what they are about. Again, look to the title - and the phrase "a man without fault" is meant to be ironic, people!

JL: Ah! Ironic. You took one of the many unexpected turns in your career with Mansfield Park, a novel about ordination. What do you think are the most important things our students should garner from this highly provocative work?

JA: Two things: I do love my dear Fanny Price, who is NOT at all insipid! And secondly, Henry Crawford is a pig.

JL: Now we come to what many people believe to be your best novel: the stupendous, surprising, delightful and controversial Emma. When I was at Carlton House visiting His Majesty, the Prince of Wales, he told me that you had dedicated your novel Emma to him. How did that come about?

JA: I am, of course, a loyal English subject and did as I was asked, but then that cheeky librarian had the nerve to presume to tell me what I should write about and to whom to dedicate my future books! It is not to be borne!

JL: Persuasion. Your final novel. An autumnal novel. A novel which solidified for all time your unquestioning grasp of the human condition in all its frailties and glory. I have heard that you rewrote the ending? Why did you do so?

JA: I thought it rather tame and flat, and so changed it to include The Letter.

[ooohs from audience]

JA: Yes, The Letter. (sigh) That Captain Wentworth has a way with words, does he not?

JL: It is quite an inspiring letter. It is quite important to me personally, for I lifted portions of it to woo my wife, Kedakai. [JL acknowledges Kedakai, sitting in the audience.] I have discovered that it was your brother Henry who came up with the title?

JA: Yes, he did, and a much better title than the one I had, which was "The Elliots."

JL: He also named Northanger Abbey, which is the focus of our time here tonight.

JA: Yes, he did. Though I do not like that one so well. You will hear tell that I had planned to call it "Susan", as that was my heroine's name before I changed it. But that is not true. My working title was actually "Henry Tilney: Hubba, Hubba."

JL: So you are quite fond of Henry Tilney?

JA: Oh my, yes. He is a clergyman, he is funny, he is charming, he dances, he enjoys novel reading and he knows muslins. What is there not to like?

JL: When Anne Radcliffe sat in that chair, she had some quite harsh words for you and what she saw as your disparagement of her "Mysteries of Udolpho." How would you answer Mrs. Radcliffe?

JA: Now that I do not understand. Nobody would even remember "Mysteries of Udolpho" nowadays if I had not poked fun at it. I will just add this: Henry Tilney liked Udolpho. He said: "The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days - my hair standing on end the whole time." There is no greater recommendation to my mind, so Anne Radcliffe can just bite me.

JL: Ahem… Yes. Let us now watch the only Northanger Abbey adaptation we have, shall we? Here is your water pistol.

JA: Thank you. I have not seen it. I hope it is not horrid.


JA: Well. That was … interesting.

JL: Would you care to make any comments about it?

JA: One hardly knows where to begin! In fact, I think the less said about it, the better. But this MUST be said: I disavow any knowledge of that cartwheeling young man. Whatever was that all about?

JL: Some people have posited that it is a reflection of the topsy-turvy world in which Catherine finds herself, a physical manifestation of the dichotomy between the real and the perceived in Catherine's imagination.

JA: Stuff and nonsense!

JL: Ahem… Moving on. I would like to end this evening in the same manner we always do, with the questionnaire devised by Bernard Pivot. Miss Austen, What is your favorite word?

JA: Annuity.

JL: What is your least favorite word?

JA: Entail.

JL: What turns you on?

JA: A well constructed sentence and Colin Firth.

JL: What turns you off?

JA: Patricia Rozema.

JL: What sound do you love?

JA: A pianoforte.

JL: What sound do you hate?

JA: The squeaky door.

JL: What is your favorite curse word?

JA: I don't know. Cassandra cut it out of my letters.

JL: What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

JA: Dance mistress

JL: What profession would you not like to participate in?

JA: Mrs. Bigg-Wither.

JL: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

JA: Come in, my dear, we have just invented the internet!

- Republic of Pemberley -

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