Guest post: Louise West from Jane Austen’s House Museum on the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice – and a Museums at Night readathon!

Our latest guest post is by Louise West from Jane Austen’s House Museum, and is specially timed to coincide with Pride and Prejudice being published 200 years ago today! Louise explains how plans for her venue’s Museums at Night readathon event developed …

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The 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice today – and a whole year of celebrations throughout 2013 – gives us the opportunity to alert the world to the importance of Jane Austen’s House Museum as the home of Jane Austen’s writing. As one of the most popular books ever written, and one which has been translated into numerous languages, Pride and Prejudice has instant impact and appeal.

We always aim to attract as wide an audience as possible, and our exhibition and events programme will help to extend that reach. We have a travelling exhibition celebrating the novel and its appeal: this will travel to libraries in central London, discovery centres in Hampshire and locations used for the various adaptations.

The novel really comes to life when read out loud, partly because Jane Austen excelled at writing dialogue.

A reading of the entire novel in one day will naturally take us into the evening – and this is how we will celebrate Museums at Night.

A woman sitting in front of a bookshelf holding a red hardback book

Louise West reading a copy of Pride and Prejudice (c) Isabel Snowden

Reading and listening to Jane Austen’s words in the fading light of her village home will evoke her spirit most powerfully. Each chapter will be read by someone different, and as there are over 60 chapters, this means that at least that number of people will be able to participate in this event.

In 2011, to mark the bicentenary of Sense and Sensibility, we introduced readings in the Museum for the first time. Our patron, actor Elizabeth Garvie who played Elizabeth Bennet in the 1980 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, gave a number of volunteers a ‘masterclass’ in reading.

Some of our volunteers had been hiding their light under a bushel and read beautifully. This was a skill which we hadn’t previously realised we could use in the Museum!

A large red brick seventeenth century house

Jane Austen’s House Museum. Image shared under a Creative Commons licence by Flickr user iknow-uk

At the time we had staff reading in the house at several points during the day. This had some appeal, but sometimes visitors didn’t quite know how to respond, and felt a bit uncomfortable: should they stand and listen, or should they continue their journey around the Museum?

We feel that by holding an actual readathon for Museums at Night 2013 we will create more interest, and also that the audience will understand how to react.

When Jane Austen first received her copy of Pride and Prejudice, that very night she sat down and read aloud with her mother to an unsuspecting neighbour:

‘On the very day of the Books coming, & in the eveng. we set fairly at it & read half the 1st vol. to her.’

We will not be recreating this original reading, but rather involving as many people as possible in the experience of hearing Jane’s words read aloud in the house where she wrote them.

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A woman by a hedge smilingLouise West has been Curator of Jane Austen’s House Museum in September 2010 having previously fulfilled the role of Education and Collections Manager at the Museum.

“It was really Jane Austen that bought me to Hampshire 30 years ago. My grandparents lived in the county but I lived in Manchester and then London. I wanted to work with Hampshire’s museums and secretly hoped I’d get a job at Jane Austen’s House one day.”

After a career break to raise her four children, Louise took an MA in Museum and Gallery Education at the Institute of Education, London University and worked with many organisations, including the Mary Rose Museum, Southampton City Museums, Winchester Cathedral and the V&A.

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Thanks, Louise!

If you’re reading this and you have an interesting story to tell or case study to share about planning or marketing after-hours events, I’d love to publish your guest posts as well. Please get in touch at rosie@culture24.org.uk.

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