Deborah Yaffe

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Jane Austen Purim

By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 21 2019 01:00PM

Today is Purim, the Jewish version of Mardi Gras, on which we eat a big meal, dress in silly costumes, read the Biblical book of Esther, bake triangular cookies, drink too much, and distribute charity to the poor – not necessarily in that order.


Living as she did in a far from multicultural corner of Christian England, Jane Austen never mentions Purim. Probably she’d never even heard of it. But the time is ripe for an Austenian Purim spiel, the comic speech or playlet that forms the centerpiece of many Purim celebrations.


A wealthy landowner with a taste for excessive drinking – a Mr. Grant type, clearly -- is married to either a sulky bitch (Julia Bertram) or a feminist truth-teller (Mary Crawford? Maria Rushworth?), depending upon your interpretation of the original. When she elopes with her dancing-master, he divorces her by act of Parliament and throws a lavish ball to pick a successor. Sweet, pliant Fanny Price piques his fancy, and they marry. When her well-intentioned but overbearing uncle (Sir Thomas) warns her that the village supply of cream cheese is on the point of exhaustion because of the depredations of a ravening villain (Mrs. Norris, natch), Fanny discovers her backbone. She persuades her husband to banish the villain to a distant house with no guest bedroom, and everyone lives happily ever after.


Perfect! Help yourself to an apricot Hamentashen. It's a Moor Park.


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