All posts by Brett Harris

About Brett Harris

Brett Harris is an undergraduate student majoring in European Studies and Comparative Literature at UNC Chapel Hill. In between classes, jobs, and excessive amounts of baking, Brett enjoys rereading his dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice.

The soundtrack of Jane Austen’s daydreams?


Like those of her characters, Austen’s life was far from quiet.

Though the 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” might not be particularly memorable for its historical accuracy or costuming, Dario Marianelli and Jean Yves-Thibaudet’s tracks added nuance and layered emotion, and provided a spectacular sonic backdrop to Lizzie’s narrative. 

Video: Click here to listen to “The Secret Life of Daydreams” composed by Dario Marianelli & performed by Jean Yves-Thibaudet

That film and other adaptations also lead us to wonder: What songs comprised the soundtrack of Austen’s life? Did she spend her days plucking out the strains of somber hymnals, or did she have a rebellious phase of rock and reels?

From her letters, we can suss out that she enjoyed listening to the harp (from a letter to Cassandra, April 18, 1811) and that her soundscape was populated by szuch marvelous tracks as “Poike de Parp pirs praise pof Prapela,” “In peace love tunes,” “Rosabelle,” “The Red Cross Knight” and “Poor Insect” (in a letter to Cassandra, April 25, 1811). Likewise, a brief review of Marian Kimber’s article, “Jane Austen’s Playlist,” reveals that Austen was familiar with such composers as Beethoven and Haydn, and a great admirer of Ignaz Pleyel’s works, but such a search feels rather dissatisfying on the whole.

However, for those looking for a more substantive set of evidence, a trove of time-worn folios, with curling, marbled covers and faded ink might be just the thing. A tour guided by Professor Jeanice Brooks of the University of Southampton explores the music books of the Austen family, while placing them within the geopolitical context of the Regency Era.

Video: Click here to see “Songs of Home: Jane Austen’s sheet music collection” produced by Sydney Living Museums

And for anyone who is still curious— the rabbit-hole doesn’t stop here. Digitized by the University of Southampton, a collection of the Austen family’s music books and sheets — 21 works in total, and approximately 600 songs — brings Austen’s playlist to life. With the turn of each virtual page, musings on the margins, handwritten titles, and carefully drawn notes (some written by Austen herself!) are sure to excite and enchant.

New decade, new Emma

The novel’s newest adaptation demands our attention

Autumn de Wilde’s reimagining of Jane Austen’s “Emma” dresses the tale in riotous colors, fast-paced witticisms and endearing characters.

Unfurling among the crowded plantings of a hothouse, the opening scene of Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma” offers us an inauspicious first glance at the title character (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Selecting flowers for snipping, she snipes at the maid, “Not that one! The next”— an irrational imperative that all but assures the audience that they are dealing with a capricious and cold-hearted character. However, while such an assumption is certainly supported by various elements of the film, de Wilde’s reimagining pushes back against the unlikable Emma in subtle (and stunning) ways.

    Getting it out of the way early, the set and costuming are out of this world. Vibrant colors stream along the screen in an endless parade of pastels. Taylor-Joy is certainly dressed to impress, though the glimpses we receive of her surroundings — manicured mansions and regal landscapes — nearly rival her own magnetism. Likewise, Mr. Knightley’s (Johnny Flynn) own opening scene is a display of luxury reminiscent of John Malkovich’s “Dangerous Liaisons.”

    As if having captured the audience’s attention with aesthetics weren’t enough, de Wilde’s camera is practically glued to Taylor-Joy, and with good reason. Slipping and swirling along the currents of Emma’s gravity, the shifting camera angles and the sudden cuts make it seem as though the space Emma inhabits comes into existence only as she moves and creates it. However, the camera is not so shortsighted (and nor should the audience be) in its adoration of the main character: Filtering through the unfocused background (a limbo for a good number of supporting characters), the audience catches aborted gestures, emotive facial expressions and snippets of dialogue that all belie the controlled surface Taylor-Joy presents. Indeed, each scene is a marvel on first glance, and a mystery on the second — a change that demands a careful examination.

Mr. Woodhouse’s line retains its relevance in de Wilde’s adaptation.

    Likewise, the actors deliver delightfully nuanced performances — Bill Nighy is quite believable as a paranoid and caring Mr. Woodhouse, but his apparent control over his (and possibly our) own surroundings raise questions over his projected helplessness. Similarly, Taylor-Joy’s performance, along with those of Mia Goth (as Harriet Smith) and Flynn, prompt frequent re-evaluation of the title character’s motivations. Tear-stained cheeks in an early scene suggest a woefully lonely young woman, and an impassioned rebuttal to Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor) rebels against a simple interpretation, suggesting pride on one side, and a fierce hatred for women’s dependency on the class -status of their suitors on the other.

    Furthermore, de Wilde’s adaptation of the Box Hill scene lends a hand to those of us who hope for a relatable Emma. The framing of Miss Bates’s (Miranda Hart) embarrassment and Emma’s importunate bodily response to Mr. Knightley’s inquiry confound attempts to view Emma as a stone-cold villain, but rather indicate the struggles of a young woman learning to balance quantity of companionship with quality. Certainly, this “Emma” is a visual treat. Yet, at the risk of sounding cliche, this incarnation invites us to look beyond the cover of the book, and to get to know the thoughtful, flawed and enthralling person behind the persona.

Do you have strong feelings about “Emma”? The North Carolina chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America is hosting a video discussion of Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation of “Emma” on March 22 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time, led by JASP co-director Dr. Inger Brodey.


Last call for teacher scholarship applications!

As a recognition of the phenomenal work our educators do in keeping Jane Asuten’s works alive in our schools, JASP offers scholarships to North Carolina middle- and high school teachers.

Application Closes March 15

As rewarding as reading and teaching Jane Austen’s works can be, the actual process of doing so requires a lot of time, effort, and energy on the part of educators. In recognition of the outstanding work that North Carolina’s middle- and high school teachers do in bringing Jane Austen to life in the context of their classrooms and communities, the Jane Austen Summer Program offers scholarships to teachers who show their passion for bringing Jane Austen’s world a step closer to our own. And time is running out if you want to apply for a scholarship: The deadline is March 15, so apply now!

JASP offers 30 contact hours for 3 CEU credits. Tuition for teachers is $350, which covers all seminars, panels, lectures, and small group discussions, a tote bag, dance lessons, a rare book tour at UNC’s Wilson Library, one ticket to the Regency theatricals, and one ticket to the Regency Ball, as well as a daily warm buffet breakfast, elevenses, a welcome banquet, and light refreshments at the Ball.

Kathryn Edelstein, a high school teacher from Chapel Hill, is chair of our scholarship committee and leads pedagogy workshops during JASP. We asked her for her perspective on the program:

As an educator, what about JASP is personally exciting to you?

JASP is the most interactive and inspiring professional development I can imagine participating in. In putting together our teacher program, we have worked to provide meaningful and immediately engaging classroom materials as well as allowing teachers the chance to just immerse themselves in all things Austen.

In what ways is JASP different from other conferences you’ve attended?

We participate in hands-on activities, small-group discussions, and lectures just for fun — something we so rarely get to do. 

Could you tell us a little more about this year’s program, “Jane Austen’s World”?

For “Jane Austen’s World,” teachers will participate in all of the scheduled JASP programs (context corners, dance lessons, lectures, banquet, ball, etc.) but will also have sessions all their own which focus on Austen’s role in the classroom. We have a teacher-focused lecture early in the program and a hands-on teacher workshop at the end, where we practice applying all that we have learned over JASP to our practice as educators.

What is your favorite aspect of JASP?

For me, one of the most valuable parts of JASP has been the casual conversations with like-minded educators and Austenites over tea and biscuits. There is an energy about JASP which cannot be matched!

Combining a passion for engaging students with a love for Austen’s work, our educators are integral to the process of making Austen’s world tangible for future generations. And at JASP, we want to recognize that.

So what are you waiting for? The deadline to apply is March 15! Apply today via this form.