By Raymond M. Lane
Special to The Washington Post
'We're expecting a mob," said Tara Olivero, curator of special collections and archives at Baltimore's Goucher College. "Something for everyone who loves Jane Austen, we hope."
Jan. 28 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen's masterpiece "Pride and Prejudice," the romantic novel spun around the love-angst of privileged country gentry in Regency era of England. While universities worldwide are gearing up to remember the novel's anniversary, Goucher is planning "Pride and Prejudice: A 200-Year Affair," a lighthearted celebration of the book and author that will probably appeal to ordinary readers as well as hard-core "Janeites" — the sometimes-dismissive term used to describe Austen fans.
"We feel kind of special about Austen," said Olivero, who oversees the only comprehensive Austen archive in America. Over a lifetime of collecting, wealthy Baltimore couple Henry and Alberta Hirschheimer Burke amassed first editions, letters, documents, pictures and drawings, and more from Austen's era — even a lock of her hair ("mousey blond," the librarians say). The Burkes' endowment supports the "Pride and Prejudice" celebration, Olivero said.
From Jan. 28 to July 31, Goucher will welcome visitors to its Athenaeum, a large multipurpose complex on the densely wooded campus at the northern tip of the city. Festivities include "Pride and Prejudice" movies, a tea, a champagne reception and a talk with Austen scholar and college professor Juliette Wells about her new book, "Everybody's Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination."
A Regency dance by the college's Choreographie Antique historic dance ensemble will showcase the dances Austen loved, which appear throughout her novels. Would-be Elizabeth Bennetts and Mr. Darcys who show up are invited to take a spin on the dance floor with free lessons, Olivero said. After that, visitors may sample a collection of replica gloves, scarves and parasols, and are invited for hands-on tutorials on how ladies would use them to signal their intentions at parties and dances in Austen novels.
"There's a language," said ensemble director Chrystelle Bond, explaining that visitors will be encouraged to try on and use the replicas, "so you'll get a sense of the material world of Austen."
Bond said Austen wrote key moments around movement in "Pride and Prejudice," as well as elsewhere in her six novels. The Goucher demonstration, she said, will explore Austen's notion that a "woman drawing her handkerchief across her lips invites a man standing across the room to speak. Fanning very slowly, and placing the fan over her left ear signals 'I wish to get rid of you.' "
Upstairs behind glass cases in front of the special collections area, wall-size blowups of pictures and designs from the books will be displayed. Also on exhibit will be three rare first editions of the novel worth $75,000 each, plus artwork, translations in dozens of languages, children's books, cut-out dolls, DVDs from around the world, 10 Austen scrapbooks collected by Alberta Burke, fabrics from the era and even a CBS radio script from a 1940s adaptation of the novel.
Olivero added that there is a romantic side to the Goucher collection, telling the story of two husbands who phoned ahead separately to arrange a tour for their wedding anniversaries. "Just the two of them quietly looking over our Austen stuff," she said. "You got to give the guy his propers for that one — that has to be a great marriage — and it just shows you how powerful Austen's attraction is today."
Ordinary readers may also want to visit the Free Library of Philadelphia, which will hold a one-day festival Jan. 28.
"Every woman's face lights up whenever I mention 'Pride and Prejudice,' " said Kay Wisnieski, literature librarian and chief organizer of the celebration. "We're hoping men and women will come to our celebration."
The library's Web portals show digital exhibits of all the Austen material in its collection, along with a Twitter feed of a Mr. Darcy making his way to Philadelphia and being snooty along the way, she said.
The 2005 film adaptation that stars Keira Knightleywill play continuously in the lobby, with film critics separately parsing three great actresses playing Elizabeth Bennett — Knightley, Greer Garson and Jennifer Ehle. And visitors should bring a copy of the book for a literary salon.
A showing of the film in a quiet room includes tea and biscuits, and everyone should be prepared for "pop-up" performances throughout the day by 12 actors from the Old Academy Players, the amateur troop where Grace Kelly got her theatrical start.
Be ready when actress Julia Wise, in period dress, flays Mr. Darcy, declares that he would be "the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry." Isaiah Price, also in period dress, responds with the Regency male put-down, "You have said quite enough, madam."
"My own darling child" is how Austen described the first printing of the novel. The never-married author, an unknown country vicar's daughter, plunked down 18 shillings for her first edition of the book, which she wrote anonymously as "a lady."