Pride and Prejudice Conference and Regency Ball

by Joy Haughton on 5 July 2013


2013 marks 200 years since the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. As a leading Austen scholar Professor Janet Todd, our President, was the perfect host for an international gathering of academics and devoted ‘Janeites’: our Lucy Cavendish Pride and Prejudice Festival.

The Festival was heralded by a screening of the 1940 film adaptation of the novel at the Cambridge Picturehouse Cinema. For many in the audience it was a rare chance to see Lawrence Olivier and Greta Garbo on the big screen.

The following day 90 people arrived at Lucy Cavendish from as far away as Australia, the USA and Japan. After being welcomed with a concert, ‘The Music of Jane Austen’ (led by our Research Fellow Dr Helen Roche), Festival-goers were treated to a busy programme of events (in fact, one of the few complaints the Festival attracted was ‘it’s just too hard to choose between all these wonderful possibilities!’). Alongside a series of longer lectures was a rich set of short papers, including several impressive contributions from international graduate students. The longer lectures were inspired by a recently published book, edited by Professor Todd and published by Cambridge University Press, The Cambridge Companion to Pride and Prejudice.

From such a programme, it is hard to choose highlights. However, it is safe to say that it was impossible to find a spare seat during the session given by Lucy Cavendish Honorary Fellow P. D. James on Jane Austen as novelist and on her own recent Death Comes to Pemberley. Another popular speaker was the actress, Miriam Margolyes, who kept the audience spellbound with a series of lively readings. A pre-dinner panel from local writers Sophie Hannah, Rowan Pelling and Allison Pearson completed the Festival’s first day.

Most appropriately, the Lucy Cavendish Library also played an important role in the Festival by hosting an exhibition of historical editions of Pride and Prejudice . The exhibition was curated by Teaching Fellow Dr Chloe Preedy and the material kindly lent by the Cambridge University Library and our own Library. The focus was the many illustrations that have been inspired by Austen’s novel over the past 200 years. Attendees also had the opportunity to follow Prof Derek Hughes over to the King’s College Library to view the manuscript of ‘Sanditon’, Jane Austen’s final and unfinished work.

Towards the end of the second day, when it seemed impossible that we could immerse ourselves any further in Austen’s world, Stuart Marsden (fresh from the BBC’s recent recreation of the Netherfield Ball) and the Boldwood music group arrived to turn us all into Regency dancers. Many of those who know Lucy Cavendish’s Warburton Hall may find it hard to credit that the photographs accompanying this article were indeed taken in that space. Our modern dining hall was transformed (thanks to kind sponsorship by Barclays) into a sparkling, columned Regency ballroom. 150 Ball goers attended in an array of wonderful period costumes, while the Lucy Cavendish kitchens provided a buffet feast, including a much-photographed display of Regency-style desserts—and cupcakes. Many guests barely left the dance floor all night; after it, the common refrain seemed to be ‘when can we come again?’

Early next day a coach load of (rather tired but still enthusiastic) people went with Jan to Jane Austen’s home village of Chawton in Hampshire. The group visited Chawton House Library, where they heard a talk by an Austen scholar Gillian Dow, and the Jane Austen House Museum, where Austen was living when she published Pride and Prejudice.

We are fortunate to have received a huge amount of positive feedback about the Festival--which has introduced the name ‘Lucy Cavendish College’ to Austen enthusiasts all over the world. However, one thank you note that particularly charmed us simply said ‘being part of this was like a dream come true’.

To browse more photographs from the ball please visit our Facebook albums at: www.facebook.com/lucycavcollege

Joy Haughton

Executive Assistant