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Jane Austen’s Dramaturgy

Since at least the middle of the nineteenth century, Jane Austen has enjoyed a well-earned reputation for being dramatic, that is, for her superlative ability to craft scenes of dialogue that could with very little editing be transformed from prose to script and transferred from page to stage.1  Important as this reputation is to acknowledge, however, it seems to me that Austen also challenges any easy equation of drama with even the best-written dialogue.  After all, in Mansfield Park it is the presence or absence of theater’s non-verbal elements, not the relative quality of the writing, that makes praiseworthy Henry Crawford’s performance of speeches from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII yet makes blameworthy his (and the other young people’s) rehearsal of Inchbald’s Lovers’ Vows in the erstwhile billiards-room—a rehearsal that ends unforgettably with Henry “pressing” Maria’s “hand to his heart” (205).  Fanny wants to consider Henry Crawford’s reading “truly dramatic” (390), and no doubt it succeeds as a lively and effective communication of plot and character.  But she is only able to enjoy his performance because she does not, this time, have to “suffer . . . seeing him on the stage with Miss Bertram” (390).

True drama typically involves the business of transforming a physical and social space into a stage that then stands in for other physical and social spaces, and it involves the business of moving bodies through that theatrical space in particular ways.  It is a risky business that can certainly give “pleasure,” even to Fanny (390), but it can also be costly and divisive, can sometimes bring men’s and women’s bodies into compromising conjunctions and illicit intimacies.  For this reason, Lady Bertram’s assessment that Henry’s performance “‘was really like being at a play,’” is—like so much of what Lady Bertram says—somewhat wide of the mark (391).  Although Henry’s expressive reading features the easy intimacy between performer and audience that is indeed characteristic of Jane Austen’s preferred type of theater, in other important respects it is really nothing like. 

Austen’s knowledge of the theater has been well documented.  Penny Gay has added significantly to our appreciation of Austen’s “lively interest as a novelist in theatrical modes of behaviour” (ix), by which Gay means the “obviously coded . . . behaviours, in dress, deportment, and etiquette” that characterize the “social world” Austen depicts (23).  Paula Byrne, for her part, has added considerably to our appreciation of the influence of private and public theatricals on what she terms “Austen’s systematic incorporation of quasi-theatrical techniques into her mature novels” (71).  Jane Stabler has identified “Austen’s choreography throughout the Sotherton visit” as “a brilliant piece of prose stagecraft” (xv), while Inger S. B. Brody has analyzed the relationship between these “hot rambles, seductions, blocked passages and desperate pursuits” at Sotherton Park and the “complex choreography” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (180).  My focus in this paper, however, is not on “prose stagecraft” but on theatrical stagecraft, not on Austen’s ability to compose dramatic dialogue but on her knowledge of dramatic composition, including treatment of sources, stage and set design, scene changes, stage directions, and casting—whether encoded in a script’s dialogue or specified in its paratexts.  Accordingly, I focus here primarily on Austen’s four extant dramatic texts:  The Mystery (1787), The Visit (1788–1789), “The First Act of a Comedy” (1793?), and Sir Charles Grandison (1792–1800).2  This last, based on Samuel Richardson’s seven-volume novel The History of Sir Charles Grandison, is of particular interest, notwithstanding the ongoing debate about its authorship:  though short, it is significantly longer than any of the other three; its last four acts constitute the only dramatic text that Austen can have written as an adult; and it is the only adaptation.  For all of these reasons, Sir Charles Grandison (Grandison) has much to tell us about Jane Austen, dramaturge. 

Moreover, an examination of Grandison’s stagecraft can illuminate the attribution debate, which rests largely on questions of chronology and quality.  Until Brian Southam examined the manuscript in 1977, no one questioned the Austen family’s understanding that Grandison was composed by Anna Lefroy, with her aunt serving as amanuensis (Southam 4–5).  The handwriting of the act 1 manuscript, however, challenges this history, in that it is “much less formed, less mature” than that of the later sections.  Accordingly, Southam places the composition of act 1 in the early 1790s, probably “before Anna was born” (9), which was on 17 April 1793.  He dates the composition of acts 2 through 5 to 1800, when Anna was only seven, and suggests therefore that her aunt “encouraged the little girl to imagine” that she was contributing more to the play’s composition than was really the case (11).  Most scholars accept Southam’s identification of the handwriting as Jane Austen’s;3 more object to the quality of the writing.  Margaret Anne Doody says “it drifts and jerks” (220).  Marilyn Butler calls act 1 “lamentable”; Janet Todd and Linda Bree assert that “the few decent lines are in the original or based closely on it” (Later Manuscripts cxvii). 

I wish neither to entirely dismiss these objections nor to entirely resolve them.  Instead, I posit that we cannot properly assess the quality of the writing in Grandison if we only read it for its dialogue and neglect to consider it as drama to be staged.  We may never know the extent to which Anna Lefroy or others of Jane Austen’s nieces and nephews contributed lines or moments from Richardson’s History of Sir Charles Grandison to acts 2 through 5; we can, however, learn a good deal about the dramaturgical knowledge behind the hand that arranged any such contributions.

We already know that Jane Austen was writing about Shakespeare in the early 1790s.  The work of adapting a sprawling prose narrative to the stage requires strategies for which Shakespeare is the obvious model, so it is with Shakespeare’s influence on Austen’s dramaturgy that I begin, in the first and second parts of this essay.  In the third and fourth parts, I read Austen’s own plays in the context of eighteenth-century plays that she read, performed in, and saw performed, in order to further illuminate her appreciation and understanding of what may be gained and what lost when theaters press curtains, proscenium arches, and painted backdrops into use and when small, intimate theaters give way to large ones in which spectacle rules.  In all four of her dramatic texts—including Sir Charles Grandison—we find evidence of a playwright who has seen enough popular drama on the professional stage to understand how eighteenth-century drama was changing and to decide which aspects of contemporary stagecraft she valued—and which she did not. 

It must be invention”: Sir Charles Grandison as history play 

In The History of England (completed 1791), Austen-the-narrator flaunts a patently absurd faith in the veracity of plays by William Shakespeare, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and other dramatists, thus bringing into question historians’ reliance on such sources; in Northanger Abbey (1788–1799), Catherine Morland openly complains that “‘a great deal’” of history “‘must be invention’” (110).  What Antoinette Burton says of The History of England applies equally well to Northanger Abbey:  both texts expose “historians’ failure to countenance fully the contingencies of the truths they purport to tell” (36).  Yet this exposure also draws attention to the art of invention.  Catherine Morland, as part of her complaint, notes that she does not trust “‘speeches’” to accurately convey historical figures’ “‘thoughts and designs,’” but Eleanor Tilney offers a different perspective: “‘If a speech be well drawn up, I read it with pleasure, by whomsoever it may be made’” (110).  This judgment, as Annette Upfal notes, may well “represent Austen’s own position on this issue” (xvii).  Even Catherine’s complaint is an acknowledgement of sorts, for it indicates that at least some speeches she has read have stuck in her mind. 

In The History of England, Austen similarly acknowledges the sticking power of invented speeches when she recounts how, Henry IV “falling ill, his son the Prince of Wales came and took away the crown; whereupon the King made a long speech, for which I must refer the Reader to Shakespear’s Plays, and the Prince made a still longer” (Juvenilia 177).  Here Austen cites as historical fact two soliloquies, and lengthy ones at that:  each is a set piece that vividly communicates one man’s “thoughts and designs” while simultaneously announcing itself as a product of the playwright’s imagination.  The satire depends in part on Austen’s readers recognizing that, unlike dramatizations of public actions like battles or weddings, soliloquies by definition enact private moments with no witnesses; they cannot possibly be part of any reliable historical record.  Yet in highlighting these speeches, Austen also reveals her appreciation of the soliloquy as a particularly inventive dramatic genre.  She acknowledges its appeal to the imagination, its effectiveness at constructing character and engaging the audience, and its power to linger in memory.  In other words, she sees what historians like Goldsmith are up to, but she sees what dramaturges like Shakespeare are up to as well, in his dramatic adaptations of Holinshed’s and Hall’s histories.  And she respects it. 

If Southam is correct that act 1 of Grandison (along with one cancelled page of act 2) was written in “the early 1790s,” while acts 2 through 5 were written in 1800 (9, 15),4 then the play’s composition almost brackets that of The History of England (1791) and Northanger Abbey (1798–1799).  If Austen is the author of all three, it should be unsurprising to find these three texts engaged in exploring similar questions.  In both prose works, Austen satirizes historians who misrepresent invention as fact.  In all three works she acknowledges and even celebrates the inevitable role of invention in any history.  In both The History of England and Sir Charles Grandison, moreover, she foregrounds the historian’s invention by exercising her own inventive powers as an adapter of other people’s histories. 

Invention is something Sir Charles Grandison is seldom credited with.  Southam calls the play “an ‘abridgement’ joke” and compares it to “abridgements of English history, . . . designed for children, suitably potted and bowdlerized” (21–22).  Gay terms it a “reduction” (3), and Byrne likewise stresses its “brevity” (89).  Disregarding the fact that neither scene in act 1 may be found in Richardson’s novel, Butler claims that Austen’s play is no more than “a very literal transposition of the more memorable scenes from the novel’s main plot,” a claim that supports her conclusion that the dramatization is “inept.”  Todd and Bree similarly assert that “Nothing in the play signals the kind of creative engagement with Richardson that might have increased the comedy, satire or drama of the original” (LM cxvii).  Southam is surely right that “the essence of the joke . . . is the reduction of a mammoth novel to a miniature play” (21).  Size does matter. 

But such descriptions as these obscure the fact that in Sir Charles Grandison Austen takes on a challenge akin to the one Shakespeare undertook with his history plays:  to make “literally dozens of changes, both large and small” to his “source materials to give dramatic shape to their sprawling succession of battles, deaths, and diplomatic stratagems” (Howard, “1 Henry VI” 468).  The nature of Austen’s originality—of her creative and practical engagement with Richardson—can only be assessed if we accord Sir Charles Grandison the distinction of being Jane Austen’s first (and only) history play.  (After all, Richardson’s title advertises his seven-volume narrative as a “History.”)  As such, it is not merely an abridgement; it is a unique example of Austen’s art of dramatic adaptation. 

Such radical abridgement as we find in Austen’s Grandison does not allow for such soliloquies as she zeroes in on in The History of England, but those long speeches are not the only aspects of Shakespeare’s inventive dramaturgy that Austen paid attention to.  When we compare Austen’s adaptation to Shakespeare’s, we find that, like him, she invents events and characters not found in her source text; like him, she alters and conflates characters; and, like him, she alters and compresses chronology.  The result is a creative, coherent, and stage-worthy drama that both makes and unmakes “history.” 

Both authors mix invented scenes with events found in the historical record.  From the lively tavern scenes in 1 Henry IV we learn that Harry will soon embark with Falstaff, Poins, and three other companions on the risky business of robbing travellers of their “fat purses” (1.2.113–14); from Austen we learn in act 1, scene 1 that Harriet will soon embark with Mrs. Reeves on the risky business of attending a masquerade.5  The tense scene in the Temple garden in I Henry VI, where Plantagenet and Somerset challenge their companions to “pluck a white rose” or a red from a nearby brier (2.4.30), offers a vivid, ominous glimpse of the conflict into which Henry VI’s weak rule has plunged his nation; the second scene in Grandison, in which Mr. Reeves sends three servants running in different directions on urgent, frantic business, offers a vivid, ominous glimpse of the “great agitation” into which Harriet’s disappearance has plunged her uncle’s household (40; 1.2).  None of these scenes pledges fidelity to the source text; instead, they create mood, convey themes, and dramatize the protagonist’s character and objectives.  Such aims, as Austen understands, are the dramaturge’s justification for blending fiction with fact. 

Austen may also have learned from Shakespeare that she need not be bound to the historical record when it comes to her dramatis personae, though a wise playwright sticks to the working and servant classes when inventing characters.  Familiar examples in Shakespeare include those we meet alongside Prince Harry at the tavern in Eastcheap, such as Mistress Quickly (a.k.a. Hostess), Pistol, and the fiery-faced Bardolph.  Two of these have namesakes in Austen’s “The First Act of a Comedy”:  Pistoletta and Hostess (Juvenilia 218).  It should be no surprise, then, that in Grandison Austen populates the two invented scenes that make up her first act with characters of low rank who are not in Richardson’s History of Sir Charles Grandison:  the Milliner (1.1) and the five servants Sally, John, William, Bridget, and Thomas (1.1–2). 

Moreover, when it comes to major figures already named in the historical record, Austen again follows Shakespeare’s example in freely altering and conflating them.  In 1 Henry VI, for instance, Shakespeare conflates Edmund Mortimer with his cousin John Mortimer (Howard, “1 Henry VI” 468).  In 3 Henry VI, for the Battle of Wakefield he changes Richard Plantagenet (later Richard III) from a seven-year-old boy to an adult (Howard, “Richard” 318); and in 1 Henry IV he makes Hotspur and Harry the same age, though “the historical Hotspur was actually much older” (Howard, “1 Henry IV” 1177).  Austen likewise streamlines her play by transferring Mr. Selby’s habit of “raillery” (Richardson 4: let. 24) to Mr. Reeves (Grandison 39; 1.1) and by transferring the right of consent to Harriet’s marriage from Mr. Deane (Richardson 6: let. 13) to Mr. Selby (Grandison 54; 5.1).  She also assigns Charlotte’s baby—her so-called “marmouset” (Richardson 7: let. 47)—to Mrs. Reeves (Grandison 49; 5.2).6 

This last adaptation is a creative solution to the problem caused by Austen’s decision to compress and alter chronology so that Charlotte’s and Harriet’s weddings both occur on the same day.  In Richardson’s History, the weddings are separated by seven months and two volumes:  Charlotte marries on April 11, while Harriet marries on November 16 (4: let. 16; 6: let. 52).  Charlotte’s baby girl is born the following year on March 29 (7: let. 39).  If some character in Austen’s play had not had a baby, so that she or some others could make reference to it as a “marmouset,” the adaptation would have deprived cast and audience of a favorite joke.  Austen ensures that the joke need not be sacrificed to plot.7  The double wedding plot itself recalls Shakespeare’s frequent compressions of chronology, as in 1 Henry VI, where Shakespeare interrupts the funeral of Henry V with “news that many of the French territories captured by Henry have already been lost.  In actuality, these French towns did not fall until years after Henry’s death” (Howard, “1 Henry VI” 486).  An even more relevant comparison may be found in Henry V, which bridges the half-decade between the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Valois in 1420 with a single Chorus (5.0), often omitted in performance. 

Golden grasshoppers in his hair”: Double-casting and crossdressing 

Shakespeare may also have had an influence on the size of Austen’s dramatis personae, although most if not all of the significant differences between act 1 and the last four acts of Grandison in this regard can be attributed to the different limits and challenges set by such practicalities as the number of actors available, their individual interests, and their individual abilities.  As Southam points out, the “cast-list she wrote down” on her title page “includes the names of characters who make no appearance in the play; while characters who do appear are missing from it” (14).  It may well be the case that, when Austen began to write Grandison, she “had little idea how the joke was going to be developed” (Southam 14).  Her plans could hardly help changing somewhat between 1792 and 1800, and it is quite possible that the two parts of the play were written for different performance spaces, a point to which I return below.  At least some of the changes would have had more to do with circumstances beyond Jane Austen’s control than with her own intentions.  My own years of experience with amateur theatricals have taught me to expect such last-minute changes to a cast over the course of a rehearsal—actors can drop out or join at the last minute, and actors (like Mr. Rushworth) can prove themselves to be either more or less capable than expected.  In a show that depends on double-casting—as this one in its first performance8 almost certainly did—any such change can require complex revisions to the performance script.  Fortunately, the cast of Grandison had the playwright herself on call. 

Act 1 is written so that it may be performed with no more than five actors:  act 1, scene 1 has four female characters and one male; act 1, scene 2 has four male characters and one female, for a total of nine different characters in all.  (Mr. Reeves appears in both scenes.)  Using the same cast for both scenes would therefore require crossdressing as well as double-casting, but this is easily done.  All an actor would have to do would be to swap an apron for a cap or a jacket in between scenes.9  The costumes need not be elaborate, in part because Austen’s stage directions help to convey status:  when Mrs. Reeves and the Milliner enter “at different doors” to start off the play, experienced theater-goers will infer that they come from different places—whether socially, geographically, or both—before a single word is spoken. 

Crossdressing in the eighteenth century could be considered indelicate, even scandalous, but it was not unknown on the professional stage.  Moreover, it was common in amateur theatricals generally, standard practice in boys’ schools, and practiced in the Godmersham schoolroom by the governess of Jane Austen’s nephews and nieces.  There is a long tradition behind Claire Tomalin’s intriguing suggestion that eleven-year-old Henry Austen may have “put on one of his mother’s gowns for the occasion” of the family’s 1782 performance of Matilda (31), and there is little reason to believe that Jane Austen would have been unwilling to consider crossdressing for her own plays. 

What professional actors do on stage is not necessarily a reliable guide for well-brought-up children, but it is still worth noting that Austen admired the comic actress Dora Jordan (Gay 10), who was well known for playing “the cross-dressed role of ‘Little Pickle’” in Bickerstaffe’s The Spoilt Child.  The great Sarah Siddons, of course, whom Austen also admired, played Hamlet many times.  The “amateur theatricals of the public schools, [not to mention the] military academies and spouting clubs,” regularly performed plays with women characters:  as Byrne observes, Townley’s High Life Below Stairs, which the Austen family chose for one of their own amateur theatricals and which contains four female speaking roles, was one of “the particular favourites” of these “exclusively male dilettante theatricals” (192). 

Crossdressing was also an accepted part of the educational culture at the Abbey School in Reading, which Jane and Cassandra Austen attended from the spring of 1785 to December 1786.  Mary Martha Sherwood (née Butt), who was born the same year as Jane Austen and attended the same school (though not at the same time),10 records how this girls’ school presented annual “public examination[s]” and also supported the year-end performances of a closely associated boys’ school, run by one Dr. Valpy (103).11  Sherwood vividly recalls the boys’ performance of December 1791: 

There were, as was the annual custom, speeches and play-acting at Dr. Valpy’s, which we all attended.  The play was the Aulularia of Plautus, for which my father wrote a prologue; the boys were the actors, and some of them were very fine ones.  My cousin Thomas Butt acted a young lady, and Madame St. Q**** dressed him in a classical fashion, under the direction of Dr. Valpy.  He had golden grasshoppers in his hair, and he looked uncommonly well.  (103)

I hear nothing but pride and approval in this recollection of the most pious and moralizing Mrs. Sherwood. 

Further evidence that crossdressing (or, to be more precise, cross-gendered casting) was part of the Abbey School culture is found in the choice of Arnaud Berquin’s L’Ami des enfans (1782–1783) as a source of one performance offered by the girls at the annual exhibition in December 1792.12  “The great dancing-room at the Abbey was fitted up as a regular theater, with foot-light and everything else complete,” for the pupils “to act a play and an entertainment,” both in French:  the play was “‘La Bonne Mère,’ of Madame Genlis,” which Mary Martha Butt herself had a role in, and the entertainment was “something in ‘L’Ami des Enfants [sic]’” (Sherwood 110, 109).  Sherwood misremembers the name of this work’s author, and she does not identify which of the plays in the twelve-volume L’Ami des enfans was performed that night; nor does she specify which students performed it, though she recalls the names of everyone who acted with her in “La Bonne Mère.”  L’Ami des enfans was written for children, not adolescents; this fact, coupled with the very vagueness of Sherwood’s memory, strongly suggest that the “entertainment” out of Berquin was performed by the younger pupils of the school.  This “set of little people and of inferior pupils” (in practice a separate school within the school) is the set to which Jane Austen would have belonged in her time there (101). 

We already know that Austen “owned a copy of L’Ami des enfants” (Byrne 17); Sherwood’s testimony raises the strong possibility that Jane and Cassandra Austen studied Berquin’s plays in school.  What is significant about this choice of author for a girls’ school is that Berquin was committed to writing scenes and plays that would bring girls and boys together; in consequence, an all-female dramatis personae in Berquin is quite rare.13  Nevertheless, as Byrne notes, “Berquin’s little stories, dialogues and dramas were much used in English schools for young ladies towards the end of the eighteenth century, being read in the original for the language or in translation for the moral” (17).  Granted, not all parents or educators considered it appropriate for girls to play boys’ roles.  In 1766 Hannah More first published her popular “pastoral drama” The Search after Happiness, with its all-female dramatis personae, which she wrote from “an earnest wish to furnish a substitute for the very improper custom of allowing plays, and those not always of the purest kind, to be acted by young Ladies in boarding schools” (7).  But the many “English schools for young ladies” that did find Berquin’s works appropriate can have made no objection to girls undertaking boys’ and men’s roles, certainly for dramatic readings in the classroom and possibly for public performance as well.  Given such a background, it is little wonder that Austen “formed a friendship with” Miss Sharp, the governess of her brother James’s children, who “played the male roles” in “the Godmersham private theatricals” of 1805 and was considered “a great success” (Byrne 25).  This may be the only documented instance of both crossdressing and double-casting on the Austen family stage, but it is not likely to have been the first. 

Richardson’s History of Sir Charles Grandison would be very difficult to dramatize with just five actors—a difficulty that easily explains why Austen would have stopped writing after act 1.  But a goodly number of nieces and nephews soon began to arrive, and when Austen did return to work on Grandison in 1780 she clearly had a larger cast to write for:  the final scene (5.2) calls for thirteen actors.  Act 2, which consists of a quite exciting dramatization of Sir Hargrave Pollexfen’s attempt to force Harriet to marry him, requires seven; the remaining scenes involve anywhere from two to seven actors each.  These are short on excitement and make modest demands on the actors, but, as Southam observes, they do allow “the youngsters a line or two or the chance to make a brief appearance on-stage to hand round the tea-cups!” (12).  That said, I cannot quite agree with Southam that these scenes “lead nowhere” (12).  Scene by scene, group by group, beginning with act 3, Austen introduces the various friends and relatives of Harriet and Sir Charles Grandison, thereby creating an instructive plot that leads methodically to the final scene, where all except the villains of act 2 gather for the double wedding.  Nor need anyone be left off-stage for this happy gathering if the villains are double-cast.  Did Austen plan to cast a particularly strong actor in the opposing roles of Sir Hargrave Pollexfen and Sir Charles Grandison?  Is that why the two do not reconcile in her version of the story, although they do in Richardson?  It is tempting to speculate.  But no speculation is required to observe that thirteen is exactly the number of actors Austen’s play requires, and it is exactly the number required to perform many—perhaps all—of the plays that Shakespeare wrote (Meagher 190–95).14 

The soliloquy always to the pit”: The stagecraft of intimacy 

Equally certain is that, whatever the size of the cast, at no point in Grandison’s act 1 is a curtain ever called for.  Nor would this act, as written, benefit from having a curtain.  Instead, even though doing so may not have been her first choice, Austen encodes in her script a Shakespearean production style that makes the most of a mainly bare yet intimate stage with nothing to slow down the actors or come between them and their audience.  As I discuss below, Austen likes a curtain, in its place—her earlier dramas call for one, and the acts she has yet to write for Grandison will do so again.  But act 1 demonstrates that she knows very well how to do without.  She adapts. 

Although they are set in different rooms in the same house, both scenes in act 1 can be staged with the same minimal set, perhaps a small table and a couple of chairs just for show,15 supplemented by a few small props (bandbox, work-bag, boots, writing-box).  The Austen family’s “set of theatrical scenes”16 may have been useful, but they were not necessary.  I quote act 1 in full here, so that readers may observe how frequently actors enter and exit the stage. 


Scene One 

The play begins in the drawing-room of Mr and Mrs Reeves’s house in Grosvenor Street, London.  It is an afternoon sometime in the early 1750s. 

Enter MRS REEVES and the MILLINER at different doors. 

MRS R. So, you have brought the dresses, have you? 

MILL. I have brought the young lady’s dress; and mistress says you may depend upon having yours this evening. 

MRS R. Well, tell her to be sure and bring it.  But let us see the dress that is come. 

She takes the bandbox out of the MILLINER’s hands. 

MILL. Have you any other commands, madam? 

MRS R. No, you may go.  Miss Byron and I will come tomorrow and pay you. 


Come, I will see if she has made it right.  Oh! but here is Miss Byron coming.  I think it is but fair to let her see it first. 

Enter MISS BYRON with a work-bag on her arm. 

MRS R. Here, my dear, is your dress come.  I hope it will fit, for if it does not, she will hardly have time to alter it. 

MISS B. We will take it upstairs, if you please, and look at it, for Mr Reeves is coming and we shall have some of his raillery. 

Exeunt, in a hurry.  Enter MR REEVES. 

MR R. So, for once in a way I have got the coast clear of dresses and bandboxes.  And I hope my wife and Miss Byron will continue to keep their millinery in their own rooms, or anywhere so as they are not in my way.  Why, if I had not had a little spirit the other day, I should have had them in my own study! 

Enter SALLY. 

SALLY. Do you know where Miss Byron is, sir? 

MR R. She is up in her own room, I believe. 

SALLY curtseys and goes off. 

MR R. Sally!  Sally! 

Re-enter SALLY.

 SALLY. Sir? 

MR R. Tell Thomas to bring out the bay horse. 

SALLY. Yes, sir. 

Exit SALLY. 

MR R. Well, I must go and get on my boots and by that time the horse will be out. 

Scene Two 

REEVES’s study early the next morning. 

MR REEVES, entering in a great hurry at one door, and running out at the other, then calls from behind the scenery. 

MR R. [off-stage] John, run all over London and see if you can find the chairmen or chair that took Miss Byron.  You know what number it was.  Thomas, run for Mr. Smith directly. 

He comes on-stage again, in great agitation. Enter BRIDGET. 

BRID. My mistress is rather better, sir, and begs you will send for Mr. Smith. 

MR R. I have, I have. 

Exit BRIDGET and MR REEVES at different doors.  MR REEVES calls from behind the scenery. 

MR R. [off-stage]. William, run to Mr. Greville’s lodgings and if he is at home—Stop, William!  Come in here! 

MR REEVES comes in again, with WILLIAM.  Takes out his writing-box and writes a note in great haste. 

MR R. Here, William, is a note.  Carry it to Mr. Greville’s. 


THOS. Mr Smith, sir. 

MR R. Shew him upstairs to your mistress. 

Exit THOMAS.  Enter JOHN. 

JOHN. I cannot find either the chair or the chairmen, sir.  And Wilson is not come within, sir. 

MR R. Well, she must be carried out into the country, I think.  You go to Paddington and tell Thomas to go to Hampstead, and see if you can find her, and I will go to Clapham. 


(39–41; act 1, sc.1–2) 

The size of the stage matters little, as long as the two doors are far enough apart from one another to allow “entering in a great hurry at one door, and running out at the other (40; 2.2).  Indeed, there is nearly as much movement as there is dialogue:  Sally enters and exits twice in the space of six lines, and Mr. Reeves enters and exits the stage a total of four times.  The final stage direction is missing from the end of scene 1, but Mr. Reeves’s exit is encoded in his last line of dialogue:  “Well, I must go and get on my boots and by that time the horse will be out” (emphasis added). 

For this act, a thrust stage like the one Shakespeare wrote for would be highly suitable.  A space just like the billiards-room at Mansfield Park, however, with its two “doors at the farther end, communicating with each other” (MP 147), would also fit the bill.  Moreover, this act of Grandison would have worked extremely well in any professional British theater that was operating in the early and mid-eighteenth century—the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, for instance, shown here in a 1778 engraving of the famous “screen scene” in Sheridan’s School for Scandal.17  Only one of the actors is behind the proscenium; she has been hiding behind the screen that has just fallen over and exposed her.  The action is all in front, on the forestage, flanked by the doors of entrance and the stage boxes. 

School for Scandal

Scene from School for Scandal being performed in Drury Lane Theatre, London (20 Oct. 1778). 
© Trustees of the British Museum

Although the characters are shown here frozen in surprise, the scene as a whole “is a fast-paced series of entrances and exits,” much like act 1 of Grandison (“Engraving”).  Just as the two doors of entrance enabled this kind of action, so did the deep forestage enable “a close, intimate relationship between actors and audience” (Cordner xlviii), and in early- to mid-eighteenth-century theater this intimacy was important for soliloquies, epilogues, and prologues.  Such speeches were typically delivered on the forestage, directly to the audience—a convention Sheridan satirizes in another one of his plays, The Critic, when the hack playwright Puff instructs one of the actors in his latest play, “Now, sir, your soliloquy.  But speak more to the pit if you please.  The soliloquy always to the pit; that’s a rule” (329; 3.1).  Jane Austen knew The Critic almost as well as she knew Richardson’s The History of Sir Charles Grandison; she surely appreciated Sheridan’s skewering of the rule-bound Puff.  She would also, however, have recognized the practice behind Puff’s “rule,” and would have appreciated that such rules do have their reasons. 

It is certainly true that, in the professional theaters of Austen’s day, audience members’ access to actors could sometimes be carried to excess, as shown here in the engraving of a 1763 riot at Covent Garden Theatre.  The statues that appear on first glance to be mid-stage are part of the proscenium; once again, all the actors are on the forestage in front of it, flanked by doors of entrance and boxes—and dangerously close to the pit! 

Riot scene

Riot at Covent Garden Theatre in 1763.  © Victoria and Albert Museum
(Click here to see a larger version.)

Home theatricals do not typically entail such dangers.  They may entail other kinds of dangerous intimacy, like the flirtation between Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram; nevertheless, Jane Austen makes actor-audience contact an essential element of Grandison.  Charlotte Grandison addresses the audience directly at the beginning of act 3, scene 2; Mr. Reeves also has a short soliloquy at the end of act 1, scene 1, probably delivering the opening words, “So, for once in a way I have got the coast clear of dresses and bandboxes,” with a conspiratorial wink.  He is not, technically, addressing the audience when in act 1, scene 2 he twice “calls from behind the scenery,” first for “John” and “Thomas,” then for “William.”  But these are moments designed to make audience members jump!  Austen may have learned to appreciate such moments from her brother James, who includes them in some of his prologues and epilogues:  the “Epilogue to the Tragedy of Matilda” (1782), for instance, opens with “Halloo! Good Gentlefolks! What none asleep!” (9, line 1), while James’s “Epilogue to the Rivals” (1784) incorporates such ejaculations as “odds Blunders & Balls!” (11, line 13).  As Allardyce Nicoll explains, an actor who delivered an eighteenth-century prologue or epilogue in effect played the “host of this family party . . . speaking directly to the guests” (99).  James Austen’s original prologues and epilogues demonstrate how highly he valued such direct contact. 

We may recall in this context that Jane Austen’s composition of Grandison could have bracketed the years during which she was perfecting her use—in prose—of free indirect discourse.  This is a device that resembles a soliloquy insofar as it “enables the reader to have the experience of listening to a character’s inner thoughts” (Hunt 169).  I also note Juliet McMaster’s important observation that in The History of England Austen is 

developing in exaggerated form the personal voice, arch and ironic, and the easy relation with her reader, that is so salient a feature of the finished novels.  We are on the way to such friendly intimacies as “my readers . . . will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.” (89) 

The concern with “friendly intimacies” that helped shape Austen’s emerging prose style seems also to have helped shape all five acts of Grandison

There is very little sense in a play without a curtain”: Jane Austen and spectacle 

Whether for artistic or practical reasons, Jane Austen abandoned Grandison after act 1; when she finally returned to it, she abandoned her experiment with writing for a curtainless stage.  The dramatic style of acts 2 through 5 suggests, however, that she remained committed to a relatively intimate theater and was not interested in writing the kind of drama that dominated the stage in the last decades of the eighteenth century and that theaters were being rebuilt to accommodate. 

A cast of five does not need as much space to perform in as a cast of thirteen, so it is possible that access to a larger stage was a factor in Austen’s decision to revisit the play when she did and to approach it as she did.18  Equally possible is that she wrote on both occasions for the same stage, just fitted up more elaborately for the later acts.  In this case the playing area would have gone through a similar transformation to that imposed on the billiards-room at Mansfield Park.  At first Tom pronounces it “‘the very room for a theatre, precisely the shape and length for it.”  Best of all, “‘the doors at the farther end, communicating with each other as they may be made to do in five minutes, by merely moving the book-case in my father’s room, is the very thing we could have desired’” (146–47).  But those advantages once secured, Tom soon needs more; accordingly, Mrs. Norris sets to work on a curtain; a carpenter comes to install “side-doors” (166), and a “scene painter” is hired “from town” (192).  It would appear that the perfect theater can, after all, be improved upon. 

According to Henry Crawford, who has never acted before and is wild to try, the performance space matters nothing:  “‘Any room in this house might suffice’” is his sanguine claim, at least at first (145).  Mrs. Norris (who is so often an expert on things she understands but poorly) is in Tom Bertram’s camp:  “‘There is very little sense in a play without a curtain,’” she proclaims (196).  But Austen’s own plays, the three original mini-dramas as well as Grandison, show her to take a more balanced view of the matter.  As we have seen, she knows how to make a play without a curtain make its own kind of sense.  She also knows what to do with painted flats and side-doors, yet none of her plays is so dependent on spectacle that they cannot be performed without curtains and carpentry.  This versatility makes the first act of Grandison compatible with the last four, because starting with act 2 Austen’s script consistently encodes a production that implies a proscenium and depends on a curtain for effects that were neither possible nor especially desirable on the stages Shakespeare wrote for. 

Act 2 of Grandison opens not with bodies in motion, but with bodies in place: 


Early the same morning in the home of MRS. AWBERRY at Paddington.  The curtain draws up and discovers MISS BYRON and MRS. AWBERRY.  SIR HARGRAVE POLLEXFEN is visible to the audience, but not to the ladies, at the side of the stage.  (41; act 2) 

Here the curtain rises on a tableau, that is, “discovers” a living picture composed of actors, unveiled at once and, ideally, framed by a proscenium.  From this point on nearly every scene in Grandison either explicitly calls for a curtain or implies a curtain by having the scene start with the actors already in place.19  The play also ends, not with Exeunt as act 1 does (41), but with all the actors on stage and all motion briefly paused while “The Curtain falls” (57; 5.2). 

When visual effect is the aim, such moments can get very expensive, very quickly, as the Bertrams discover in Mansfield Park.  Jane Austen would have remembered discussions (perhaps even arguments) about theater construction and budget from the family theatricals of her youth, but I believe she had other objections than cost to “the new spectacular drama of heightened passions and violent experiences” of the late eighteenth century (Gay 15).  These concerns can only have been heightened by her experience of attending a performance of George Colman the Younger’s Blue-Beard; or, Female Curiosity (1798), which she saw in 1799 while on a visit to Bath (Byrne 36).  Colman’s Gothic crowd-pleaser is crammed full of spectacle (whatever it may lack in literary merit):  at one point “a magnificent train” is to “appear at the top of the mountain” and “descend through a winding path” (12; 1.1); another scene calls for the curtain to “discover” a “fountain playing in the middle” of a “garden, brilliantly and fancifully illuminated” (26; 2.4).  Elsewhere, Colman inventively reveals his stunning new scene, not by having the curtain rise but by having part of the set drop: 

Shacabac puts the key into the lock; the door instantly sinks with a tremendous crash, and the Blue Chamber appears streaked with vivid streams of blood.  The Figures in the Picture, over the door, change their position, and Abomelique is represented in the action of beheading the Beauty he was, before, supplicating.  The Pictures, and Devices of Love, change to subjects of Horror and Death.  The interior apartment (which the sinking of the door discovers,) exhibits various Tombs, in a sepulchral building.  (21; 1.4) 

Such effects represented a new trend in large-scale, large-budget shows designed for the newer, larger, and technically more sophisticated theater with a deep but well-lit scenic stage behind the proscenium and but a shallow forestage in front.  In the 1804 version of the theater at Sadler’s Wells,20 the now much shortened forestage is well on its way to becoming the mere apron familiar to most theater-goers today, and the spectacle is all set behind the proscenium. 

Sadlers Wells

Sadler’s Wells Theatre from Microcosm of London (1808–1810).  British Library 

Austen’s act 2 script also encodes a frightening stage picture, designed to be suddenly revealed when the curtain rises, but its material requirements are, if elaborate compared to the previous act’s, nevertheless quite modest.  Mrs. Awberry’s house is hardly “sepulchral”:  a fire burns in the grate, which could convey cozy domesticity were the space not made frightening by Sir Hargrave’s infernal presence discovered “visible to the audience, but not to the ladies, at the side of the stage” (41; 2.1).  The scene is perhaps hellish enough for home theater, with the villain presiding over it unseen by his victim.  In order for Sir Hargrave to hide in plain sight, the stage probably now has “side-doors” like the ones Tom Bertram coveted, and for the 1800 performance there may even have been a painted backdrop.  Still, the action—Harriet’s resistance to the threat of a forced marriage—remains more important than the spectacle. 

I do not mean by this to suggest that spectacle was an invention of the late eighteenth-century theater.  Shakespeare also knew how to stage spectacle; he just did it without curtains, tableaux, or elaborate sets.  This stagecraft, too, Austen shows herself a student of—though not always, and not obviously.  Consider, for instance, the funeral, all pomp and circumstance, with which 1 Henry VI opens: 

Dead march.  Enter the funeral of King Henry the Fifth, attended on by the Duke of BEDFORD (Regent of France), the Duke of GLOUCESTER (Protector), the Duke of EXETER, [the Earl of] WARWICK, the Bishop of WINCHESTER, and the Duke of SOMERSET. 

BEDFORD.  Hung be the heavens with black!  Yield, day, to night!  (1.1.1)

Until Bedford starts to speak, what we have is a form of dumb show:  not the fixed picture of a tableau, but a moving picture.  Compare the way Austen chooses to open act 1, scene 2 of Grandison:  “Mr Reeves, entering in a great hurry at one door, and running out at the other, then calls from behind the scenery” (40; 2.2).  Shakespeare’s opening gains its power not from the sudden surprise of a curtain’s rising but from the measured emergence of the procession, heralded by the solemn beat of the “Dead march.”21  Austen’s gains its power from the tension and suspense (or humor, depending on how it is played) that Mr. Reeves’s wordless dash creates.  In both cases, movement is of the essence. 

Movement—without dialogue—is also the essence of a scene that appears in the Merchant-Ivory production Jane Austen in Manhattan (1980), a film about two rival theater companies in New York that are rehearsing productions of Jane Austen’s Sir Charles Grandison.  The first scene shows the script’s purchase at auction.  The second scene is a dumb show:  a wordless performance of Harriet’s abduction that consists of her being forced into a chair and carried off against her will.  This brief scene is not in Austen’s manuscript.  But there is room for it in act 1, and it is consistent with that act’s performance style.  As Southam notes, one of the “puzzles that arise” in the Sir Charles Grandison manuscript is the missing second scene:  the manuscript goes “straight from Scene One to Scene Three, when there are no pages missing” (1, 2).  (Southam simply renumbers the scenes for his edition, which I follow.)  If there was originally another scene performed in between the two that we now have, could screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have found it out?  Future directors may well wish to follow her lead in considering what sorts of moving pictures Austen’s Grandison calls for. 

Which is the play? Austen family theatricals and Jane Austen’s theatrical style 

To readers who find it difficult to recognize Jane Austen in the pages of Sir Charles Grandison, the biggest puzzle arising from this work remains its authorship.  I have sought to approach this difficulty by noting similarities between the stagecraft in Sir Charles Grandison and certain playwrights whose work Jane Austen was reading or viewing in the 1790s, starting with Shakespeare.  Also noteworthy are the similarities in the production styles between Sir Charles Grandison and the dramatic texts the Austen family considered for their home theatricals in the 1780s and early 1790s—among which I include the three juvenile dramas that Jane Austen recorded in her manuscript notebooks.  If we read the last four acts of Sir Charles Grandison in this context, we may recognize them as a return from the anomalous style of act 1 to a style that Austen had studied and practiced with her family years before, namely the drama of the early to mid-eighteenth century.

Austen’s respect for the curtained proscenium began well before she started writing Grandison The Visit (1789), for instance, calls for several scene changes featuring tableaux:  act 1, scene 2 opens with “Stanly and Miss Fitzgerald, discovered” (Juvenilia 64), and both scenes in act 2 are supposed to begin with some characters already seated on stage (64; 66).  Thus, like most of the plays the Austens chose to perform, The Visit can work as written only with a curtain—and given the number of set changes called for, shutters would be even better.  Nevertheless, neither curtain nor painted flat is by any means essential (as I have found when directing past productions).  Austen incorporates tableaux and scene changes in her script because the scripts she admires do so; as with her other juvenilia, Austen writes proleptically, as if she were already published or already had access to a professional theater.  But she also writes in a style that is happily adaptable. 

These qualities of The Visit reveal its stylistic affiliation with James Townley’s farce, High Life Below Stairs (1759), a popular if problematic two-act farce that the Austens performed in December 1788 and that Jane Austen may have intended The Visit to follow in performance “as a burlesque afterpiece” (Byrne 13–14).  What young Jane Austen may have thought of Townley’s treatment of class, gender, or race is a complex question that is beyond the scope of this essay,22 but it is quite clear that she paid attention to Townley’s dialogue and to his dramaturgy.  In High Life, one female servant encourages another to drink her employer’s liquor, saying, “Lady Charlotte, pray be free; the more free, the more welcome” (264; 2.1).  In The Visit, young Lord Fitzgerald apologizes for his poor hospitality to his friend Mr. Stanly, concluding with the words, “Remember, ‘The more free, the more Wellcome’” (J 63; 1.1).  The injunction to “Remember” makes this a metatheatrical moment in which one actor reminds another of a play that both of them know and perhaps have even acted in.  It advertises Austen’s debt to Townley’s dramaturgy. 

Townley’s scene changes are actually simpler than Austen’s; after the first two scenes, the rest of the play is set in “The Servants’ Hall.”  It is also noteworthy that Townley calls for a curtain (or the removal of painted flats) only once:  “The Servants’ Hall, with the supper and sideboard set out.  PHILIP, KITTY, and LOVEL discovered” (262; 2.1).  Austen may have had these stage directions in mind when she wrote her own dining room scene in The Visit:  “The Dining Parlour.  Miss Fitzgerald at top.  Lord Fitzgerald at bottom.  Company ranged on each side.  Servants waiting” (J 66; 2.2).  Both of these scenes begin mid-meal, so opening the scenes with the actors already on stage does make sense.  In such cases, however, the realism of catching the characters in medias res is the aim, not spectacle; a little realism is all we lose if the actors have to walk onto the stage instead of being “discovered.”  On the whole, Townley’s production style is far closer to Shakespeare’s than to Colman’s. 

The same may be said of Susanna Centlivre’s The Wonder! A Woman Keeps a Secret (1714), which the Austen family chose to perform in 1787 and for which they relocated their usual Christmas play from the dining parlor to the barn, possibly for the first time (Byrne 7).  The Wonder! has a strong element of farce, requiring a set with, at minimum, three doors and a window, all of which are used at various points to enter and exit the stage.  It is hard to imagine a dining parlor (or a billiards-room) meeting such requirements.  These features once provided, however, scene changes are simple and swift, tableaux rare and never essential.  In the case of the first scene change of act 3, a curtain would only slow things down: 

Act III. 

Enter Don Lopez. 

Lop. Was ever man thus plagu’d!  Odsheart, I cou’d swallow my Dagger for Madness. . . . by St. Anthony, I don’t know how I’ll use her.  [Exit 

The Scene changes to the Street. 

Enter Colonel with Isabella’s Letter in his Hand, and Gibby following

(26; act 3) 

The script does not specify any setting for Don Lopez’s soliloquy:  this speech is addressed to the audience and no doubt intended for the forestage.  Once Don Lopez exits, the actors playing the Colonel and Gibby can also use the forestage for their street scene:  no props or set pieces are required, so they may conjure a street simply by the way they walk onto the stage and by the way they converse once there.  Such an elegant and simple scene change may well remind us of the first act of Austen’s Grandison.  There, too, the transitions are accomplished not with scenery or machinery but with movement and language. 

Practical details of this kind are central to understanding why the Austen family never did stage a play by the popular contemporary playwright Hannah Cowley.  They came close.  In 1787, strongly encouraged by Eliza de Feuillide, they planned to stage Cowley’s Which Is the Man? (1782).  But they decided against it in the end.  The decision process must have made an impression on Austen, since in 1791—in The Three Sisters—she satirizes the Cowley plan as absurdly ambitious.  The list of demands that Mary Stanhope makes of her suitor, Mr. Watts, culminates in the following:  “‘You must build a room on purpose and a Theatre to act Plays in.  The first Play we have shall be Which is the Man and I will do Lady Bell Bloomer’” (J 83). 

The Austens may have abandoned the Cowley plan simply for lack of sufficient actors willing to play female roles:  Which Is the Man? calls for seven, while The Wonder! (its replacement) needs only four.  But if casting requirements were not a deal-breaker, the spectacle encoded in Cowley’s script would have to have been:  the dénouement calls for a large “elegant Apartment” filled with elegantly attired guests who play cards at multiple tables while servants circulate with refreshments (5.2).  In other words, Cowley’s script encodes a performance of wealth and social capital that requires numerous extras, all expensively attired, to fill an elaborate set on an expensively-lit scenic stage.  Cowley understands late-eighteenth-century taste.  Her most popular play, The Belle’s Stratagem (1780), features a party even more spectacular: a “Grand Masquerade,” “backed with [a] palace,” on a stage adorned with “Handsome palace arches” and hung with “chandeliers” (45; 2.5).  This party is also the site of a planned abduction, and as such it might have served some other aspiring playwright as a model for a stage adaptation of the fateful masquerade scene in Richardson’s History.  But Cowley’s style is just not Austen’s. 

There is no question that Austen knew and liked Cowley’s works; their influence on her mature work has been well documented.23  She also imitates Cowley in her juvenilia:  The Mystery, for instance, features a character named Sir Edward Spangle who is surely meant to recall Lord Sparkle, an important character in Which Is the Man?  In The Mystery, stage directions call for us to find “Sir Edward Spangle reclined in an elegant Attitude on a Sofa, fast asleep” (J 72).  Cowley’s play opens with Sparkle entering the stage “yawning,” followed by his announcement, “I have not been in bed since yesterday at one!—I am going home now to rest for an hour or two” (1; 1.1).  Still, I cannot entirely agree with Gay that Grandison is “written in the style of . . . Cowley” (3).  Gay is quite right to note the appeal of Cowley’s “strong emphasis on the lives of women and most scenes taking place in drawing-rooms” (3), but Cowley’s production style was a problem.  Even if her spectacles do not reach the heights of excess achieved by Colman’s Blue-Beard, it remains the case that her plays depend on elaborate party scenes that the Austens could not stage to their satisfaction, given their material resources, and that Jane Austen never chose to attempt in her own scripts—however aspirational. 

Break Graphic true to size

As Gay notes, “the experience of theatre-going in the smaller eighteenth-century theatres . . . had much in common with the dangerous domestic intimacy of home theatricals” (16).  Such an intimate experience is, to a significant extent, encoded in the dramas written for those smaller theaters by authors like Centlivre.  In later plays, like Colman’s and even Cowley’s, it is not.  If James Austen (with his penchang for prologues and epilogues) is representative, then this distinction mattered to other members of the Austen family as much as it came to matter to Jane Austen.  Did young Jane Austen get to listen to her older siblings discuss the pros and cons of the scripts they were considering for performance?  For that matter, could they keep her away?  Whatever the answers may be, it is clear that by the time Austen started to work on Grandison she had learned not to attempt to stage a masquerade. 

In the 1780s and 1790s, Jane Austen read numerous eighteenth-century plays, watched and participated in family theatricals, attended professional theatrical productions, and wrote three original dramas—all in the production style of early- to mid-eighteenth-century drama, with its curtain, painted flats, proscenium, and forestage, but without the glittering crowd scenes and spectacular scenic effects that were increasingly dominating the professional stage.  She also read Shakespeare, and Sir Charles Grandison suggests that she paid attention to much more in Shakespeare’s plays than such literary qualities as plot, character, or theme.  While she took note of the insight and power of Shakespeare’s speeches, she also took note of his strategies for adapting history to the stage, his strategies for moving actors’ bodies onto and around the stage, and the kind of stage these strategies imply and require.  In other words, she read him for his adaptations and his stagecraft. The result, I argue, is act 1 of Grandison. If we take it on its own terms, we may find that its stagecraft is in no way inferior to what follows. 

The differences between act 1 and the acts written later remind us of the practical necessities that playwrights must always consider, even as they invite us to consider what Austen learned about stagecraft from all the playwrights whose work she read, performed, or saw performed, from Shakespeare to Colman.  Clearly, Austen appreciates the usefulness of that relatively recent invention, the curtain; she also appreciates the ongoing value of that old device of bringing actors already in motion onto a stage in any scene where the actors’ motion can help to convey mood or character.  And she knows how to use them both.  But by the nineteenth century, professional playwrights could no longer write for audience intimacy; professional novelists could, and Jane Austen proceeded to do so, better than anyone.



1For a review of nineteenth-century commentary on this point see Cano and García-Periago (8–10) and Byrne (ix). 

2The MysteryThe Visit, and “The First Act of a Comedy” are collected with other juvenilia in the manuscript notebooks Volume the First and Volume the Second; they are therefore collected in the Cambridge edition of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia.  Grandison was virtually unknown to Austen scholars until its publication in 1980, edited by Southam. 

3Butler is the exception; acknowledging the striking difference between the handwriting in act 1 and the rest, she asks whether “it might not follow that they are also sufficiently different to have been written by someone other than Jane Austen?”  This, in part, allows her to posit that the entire play could have been written after 1800, perhaps when Anna Austen was closer to ten years old, an age where she was likely to want to be making plays and capable of doing so.  Todd and Bree incline towards Butler’s theory; they see “no necessity to assume a gap between the writing of Act 1 and the rest,” even though, having personally “examined the manuscript anew,” they conclude that “the handwriting appears indeed to be Jane Austen’s . . . throughout” (LM cxvi). 

4Southam notes that the shift from “extravagant burlesque and fantasy that we find in the early juvenilia . . . towards more realistic satire is marked in the ‘Collection of Letters,’ . . . which has been assigned to 1791–2,” and “on this comparative evidence” he gives “an approximate dating, in the same period,” for Grandison (Introduction 14–15).  The overlapping interests evident in Grandison and The History of England, which Austen completed in November 1791, in my view support Southam’s dating. 

5In the original manuscript, Mr. Reeves complains, “‘So, for once in a way I have got the coast clear of Masquerade Dresses,’” but Austen has crossed our “Masquerade Dresses” and replaced the noun phrase with “Dresses & Band boxes” (Transcription 65).  Her audience could be counted on to understand the significance of the Milliner’s arrival without her spelling it out, and “Dresses & Band boxes” better conveys Mr. Reeves’s impatience with proceedings. 

6Southam documents these changes in the notes to his edition of Grandison, and I gratefully acknowledge the debt that this paragraph owes to his cross-references. 

7It is the joke, not the baby itself, that mattered; Austen brings the word “marmouset” into her script, but no baby is brought onto the stage. 

8Not that we may be sure that act 1 was performed when first written.  As Butler points out, there were few young people available for playacting at Steventon in the early 1790s. 

9A cast larger than five would explain why Austen invents two young female servants instead of one (Sally in scene 1, Bridget in scene 2).  Other explanations, however, are equally likely:  if “Sally” were played by a boy who wanted to play John or William in the next scene, then the Milliner could be called upon to reappear as Bridget. 

10Mary Martha Butt was born May 6, 1775.  She attended the Abbey School for all of 1791 and most of 1792.  She speaks highly of the quality of instruction she received there, in the main, but as an older pupil she had completely different teachers from those of the younger pupils (Sherwood 93–95). 

11Mary Martha’s brother Marten Butt also attended Dr. Valpy’s school for a time (Sherwood 51).  Sherwood describes Dr. Valpy as Mr. St. Quentin’s patron and notes that the latter taught French at both schools (91).  Dr. Valpy’s daughter was a student at the Abbey School and shared a room with Mary Martha (93). 

12I find Sherwood’s descriptions of these year-end presentations to offer stronger evidence of the place of theatricality at the Abbey School than her more frequently quoted statement that Mrs. Latournelle, the co-proprietor in charge of the younger students, spoke incessantly of theater (see, for instance, Byrne 7; Tomalin 41).  In fact, Sherwood only describes her doing so when at dinner with other adults with whom she was trying to compete, witnessed only by a few older and privileged “parlour-boarders”:  “The supper was a jovial meal, and there was always some French gentleman or another present, and French only spoken.  Sometimes politics furnished a topic, sometimes literature, sometimes Parisian and London gossip. Mrs. Latournelle never could speak a word of French; but whenever she had an opportunity of holding forth, she spoke of plays, and play actors, and green-room anecdotes, and the private life of actors” (99).  As for Mrs. Latournelle’s persona when interacting with her young charges and the teachers who spent the day with them in the schoolroom, Sherwood stresses her obsession, not with theater or indeed with anything creative or intellectual, but with housekeeping:  “She was only fit for giving out clothes for the wash and mending them, making tea, ordering dinner, and in fact, doing the work of a housekeeper.  Hers was only an every-day, common mind, but a very useful one” (92).  On Sherwood’s report, Mrs. Latournelle could not even keep her mind on morning prayers if the “blanchiseuse” had arrived (91). 

13It was Berquin’s stated goal to “convient également aux Enfans des deux sexes” (be equally useful to children of both sexes) because his goal was “les réunir, le plus souvent qu’il a été possible, pour contribuer à faire nâitre cette union & cette intimité qu’on aime tant à voir régne entre des freres et des soeurs” (to bring them together, as often as was possible, to contribute to generating that union and intimacy that we so like to see governing [relationships] between brothers and sisters) (viii). 

14This number does not include people pressed into service as spear-carriers and the like (i.e., those with roles of fewer than twenty-five lines). 

15Mr. Reeves has occasion to sit down when he “writes a note in great haste” (42; 1.2), but the stage directions do not specify that he should sit, and it would be quite in keeping with his “agitation” to write the note while standing. 

16This “set of theatrical scenes” was advertised along with other “‘valuable Effects at Steventon Parsonage’ in the Reading Mercury and Oxford Gazette of 13 April 1801” (Vick 295).  The description could refer either to set pieces or to painted canvas backdrops. 

17Drury Lane was not only “the outstanding theatre in the metropolis” but also the model for “a number of provincial theatres” (Nicoll 36, 37). 

18Deirdre Le Faye suggests that Grandison may have been performed at Godmersham (150). See also Todd and Bree (cxiv).  

19In the professional theater of the eighteenth century, the curtain was not used between scenes or even between acts; most moments of discovery were achieved by moving a pair of shutters off stage to either side (guided by grooves in the stage floor), thus revealing another set of shutters behind them with the actors already in place for the new scene.  (See Nicoll 125).  Shutters would have been beyond the means of any but the most wealthy and determined amateur—someone, perhaps, like John Yates’s friend Lord Ravenshaw at Ecclesford (MP 142).  Austen never explicitly calls for shutters in any of her stage directions, though in some of her scenes shutters would be useful. 

20Bath’s theater was relatively small, with a capacity of “about 900–1000 people,” but in 1805 it was replaced with one twice its size (Gay 9).  Until then it was not well suited for plays like Blue-Beard but, as Gay explains, it made the necessary investment because of the play’s popularity:  “the records for the years 1799–1805 indicate that the majority of its offerings were the standard eighteenth-century comedies, tragedies, and farces.  The Castle Spectre and Blue Beard were its [only] two staple ‘Gothic’ pieces” (52). 

21Readers will be able to think of many other examples of such ceremonial processions in Shakespeare.  One is Cardinal Wolsey’s entrance into the throne room in act 2, scene 4 of All Is True [Henry VIII]. 

22See my essay, “Race and Redirection: Facing Up to Blackface” in Persuasions 43 (2021, forthcoming). 

23See, for instance, Gay’s comparison of Cowley’s Lady Bell Bloomer with Austen’s Mary Crawford (112).

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