Dr Lucy Worsley is a historian, author, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and a presenter for the BBC fronting many a history based programme and with her winningly intelligent, winsome and intimate style and has won the hearts and minds of many in the UK and abroad. One might even go as far as to say she is singularly the most popular history presenter on television and also through her popular books.
So it is no surprise to find that her talk about ‘Jane Austen at Home’ is a sell out at Derby Theatre this evening (18th March 2018). Every word and cheeky aside is lapped up by her devoted audience and, such is her deep insight into the Georgian world and Jane Austen’s short life of relative struggle and literacy success, one almost feels that Worsley was a contemporary or even best mate of Jane Austen and privy to her most private concerns.
Prior to the start there is a babble of excited expectation in the Derby Theatre foyer and auditorium. Upon entering the stage, Lucy Worsley is given a fond Derby welcome as she appears in her peacock green dress and offers us insights and witty discourse through a one hour Power -Point presentation. She describes the presentation about Jane Austen and her homes as ‘Georgian property porn’ and wittily relates Austen as being downwardly mobile. There is also an agreement amongst Worsley and her rapt audience about how freezing cold Derby Theatre is tonight and she means indoors!
Lucy Worsley’s biographical book ‘Jane Austen at Home’ covers the Austen family and their predecessors’ lives and how it was to strive for acceptance and efforts to have a gentrified existence on borderline financial funds. In her introduction Lucy Worsley expresses a great love of Jane Austen and that she is a ‘signed up Janeite’ – a devotee and worshipper and, on deep inspection, found her to be a clever, kind, funny person who was also angry at the restrictions of her life; someone who constantly sought out ways to be free and creative.
Many in this Derby Theatre audience would fervently nod in accordance at this revelation. When Jane Austen was feeling the urge to be a writer Worsley tells us that she wrote “I am really impatient to be writing – I really must begin.” Nobody knows what Jane Austen truly looked like and the famous portrait has an air of being brushed up. Her sister Cassandra is supposed to have drawn an image but it wasn’t very flattering. On a more positive note Worsley describes Jane Austen as a sharp and bracing Martini of a person whose wit and jokes came oozing out of her and that relationship-wise she grew up in a man drought. Austen’s political opinion of statuary and big architecturally grand houses is that she believed the money they cost would have been much better invested in the education of the people of her time.
Historically, the Austen’s Steventon rectory may not exist in reality any more and devotees may stand at the edge of its original rural boundaries and imagine how it might have been to explore the former property and its inhabitants. Lucy Worsley brings this all bursting to life in her talk and in her book. We also discover how boys were treated very differently to girls (quelle surprise) in the Georgian period and a woman’s survival would be reliant of the longevity and prosperity of the man. Even when Jane Austen became an author her financial reward in her actual short lived life was in the region of £600. Her rector father would hope to bring in around £500 a year through farming activities and would like to consider himself socially superior to the working classes.
So, in retrospect, the talk, this evening, shows Lucy Worsley continually passionate about making history engaging to the widest possible audience and tonight she certainly succeeds in engaging this keen as mustard Derby audience. In short, her book, ‘Jane Austen at Home’, takes a new look at Jane Austen’s life from the perspective of her bi-centenary. Worsley tells the story through the rooms, spaces, possessions and paces which one might consider, mattered to her. Lucy Worsley attempts to dispel the myth of the ‘cynical, lonely’ spinster and offers us, instead, a witty and passionate woman of her time, who, spoken of with an edge of whimsy – refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy. Jane Austen had at least five marriage proposals but, as Lucy Worsley conjectures, with an adorable twinkle in her eye – did Jane Austen ever have sex? Possibly not but as a contemporary writer of her time she may well have liked the image of Colin Firth in his wet shirt!
In their promotion of the event Derby Theatre say that ‘Dr Lucy Worsley has kindly chosen to host this evening at Derby Theatre in support of Derby Museum’s Endowment campaign where every pound donated from the event is doubled by the Heritage Lottery Fund. When this is announced by Worsley the audience are unanimous in their approval.
Looking fabulously chic in her red dress in the second half Lucy Worsley answers a myriad of questions relating to her work in the world of history and Tony Butler presides. Worsley joking says that the only question she won’t answer is ‘What is Dan Snow’s phone number?’
This is a beautiful evening in the erudite, witty and charming company of the wonderful gift to historical talks and life in general – Dr Lucy Worsley. After the event audience members eagerly queue to get their books signed by the author herself.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe