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.
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.
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.