The last days of Jane Austen…

Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth reading

Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth reading

… at the Morgan Library. Though the end of Jane’s earthly life is evoked in this beautiful exhibition, of course. The account of her last moments, when the only yearning left was for death, the terse expression of Cassandra’s sorrow, brought tears to my eyes.

I have been very remiss in not posting earlier about this, but I can’t let this exhibition go without mentioning it. For it will be closing on Sunday. It does an excellent job of bringing Jane back to us, though letters and everyday mementos of her life.

One can admire Cassandra’s handiwork with the scissors, deftly snipping here and there an offensive word or two, or sometimes boldly amputating an entire corner of a letter. So few letters, so few manuscripts are left… but they are there, all the more precious.

Gillray’s crude, unforgiving caricatures of Regency life immerse us in a bawdy world, decades before Victorian mores took over England. And Jane Austen’s influence and literary legacy are also reviewed, from the timid succès d’estime she enjoyed during her lifetime to her current immense fame. And yes, the inescapable Colin Firth is there to remind us of the more or less questionable film adaptations of her works.

I have two major regrets regarding this exhibition. The first is that visitors are not allowed to enjoy it in peace, but are force-fed the ever repeating sound track of the Divine Jane film, crafted for the occasion. I soon became absorbed enough by the artifacts on display to be able to shut out those preposterous, pontificating, droning voices (just imagine what Jane herself would have thought of that!) but I would have preferred to do without them altogether. I recommend you take ear plugs with you.

The second, more important peeve is that the Morgan did not find it necessary to print a catalog of the exhibition. It certainly deserved it, and I would have loved to bring back copies for my mother and son, both Janeites (am I fortunate!)

So if you live in or travel to New York, hurry…

Until March 14, 2010, at the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

For detailed posts on the exhibition, see Vic at Jane Austen’s World and Diana Birchall.

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