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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Regency reality

For some Janeites, fandom entails an intense engagement with the material details of Austen’s world. These Janeites are the people who dress up in Regency clothes, serve dinners based on recipes from Martha Lloyd’s household book, and visit the places where Austen lived.

The 2020 special edition of Pride and Prejudice, curated by Barbara Heller, was made for such people. Heller, who has spent much of her career finding props and locations for filmmakers, painstakingly created physical versions of the novel’s many letters, each of which is enclosed in a glassine envelope interpolated in the text at the appropriate moment. Heller researched the handwriting, paper, and postal customs of Austen’s time and hired calligraphers to embody the novel’s many letter-writing characters, from the dignified Mr. Darcy to the impulsive Lydia Bennet.

Now Heller has given Persuasion the same treatment, augmenting the novel’s few (but oh-so-important) letters with such items as the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple’s calling card, the program for the concert at which Anne Elliot translates Italian song lyrics, and the pages of the Baronetage to which Sir Walter Elliot turns so frequently. Just as with Heller’s earlier edition, the artifacts are chockful of delightful details: Letters bear the imprint of sealing wax, and the Elliot section of the Baronetage is sandwiched between real-life entries.

Heller will be discussing the project tomorrow, during an in-person session at the New York Public Library from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. I’ll be joining her to talk about the joys of Persuasion, an inexhaustible subject if there ever was one. The event is free, but advance registration is required here.

As an extra draw for those of you with a hankering for Regency reality, during the event the library plans to display some of the historical sources Heller used in her research, including an 1808 Debrett's Baronetage and an 1813 Navy List.

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