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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Welcome, Janeites!

Apparently, not everyone in the UK opposes turning their little corner of Britain into Janeite Disneyland.


Earlier this month, as Hampshire residents debated the merits of placing a statue of Jane Austen in the Inner Close of Winchester Cathedral—one opponent memorably claimed that the plan risks creating a “Disneyland-on-Itchen” overrun by selfie-snapping tourists—a Yorkshire museum announced the acquisition of an even bigger tourist draw: Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt.


The most famous costume from the most famous scene in the most famous adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was sold at a charity auction two weeks ago, along with dozens of other period costumes from movies and TV shows. Initially, no one knew the identity of the buyer who forked over £25,000 for the linen shirt that clung so memorably to Colin Firth’s manly chest in the Pemberley episode of the show.


But a few days after the auction, the publicly funded Bankfield Museum in the northern English town of Halifax announced that it was the lucky purchaser. “We know the scene wasn’t in the book”—props to them for admitting as much!—"but this is a piece of costume history,” the local Calderdale Council’s museum manager says in a press release.


The museum also bought six other items from the same auction: two costumes from the Oscar-winning 2010 movie The King’s Speech, two from the beloved 2010-15 TV series Downton Abbey, one from the 2020 movie adaptation of Emma, and one from the 2019-22 TV series Gentleman Jack.


A couple of these acquisitions seem like good fits with the museum’s local-history mission: Downton Abbey is set in Yorkshire, although the stately home where it was shot is farther south; and Gentleman Jack tells the story of Anne Lister, the Georgian-era landowner, diarist, and lesbian icon, who spent much of her life in Halifax.


Darcy’s wet shirt—“now thankfully dry,” to quote another Calderdale Council official—has no such local connection. But the museum has a costumes and textiles collection, which includes other items from Gentleman Jack, donated by the show’s production company. And hey—the shirt is indubitably historic!


Bankfield Museum doesn’t charge for admission, so its wet-shirt purchase can’t be considered purely mercenary. Still, it’s clear that officials hope the shirt will be a significant draw. “Plans are underway to ensure that the pieces can be on display in an exhibition as soon as possible,” the council’s press release explains. “These items will bring a real boost to Calderdale collections and attract visitors from far and wide.”


Just call it “Disneyland-on-Calder.”


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