Sept. 03--Regency Ball
A Regency dance workshop will be Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Museum of the Cape Fear, 801 Arsenal Ave. The Regency Assembly of North Carolina will teach dances from the Regency time period. At 6 p.m., a Regency Ball will be held in the social hall of St. Michael the Archangel Maronite Catholic Church, across the street from the museum. Both events are free. For information, go to http://bit.ly/Regency-Ball or call 486-1330.
if you're dismayed by the coarseness of today's world, maybe you'll be heartened by the continuing popularity of a woman from yesterday's.
Two words: Jane Austen.
"There's an enduring quality to Jane Austen," said Tom Quaintance, artistic director of Cape Fear Regional Theatre and an unabashed fan of the author's works. "She's going to be around forever."
One hundred ninety-six years after her death, Austen is more popular than ever. The film "Austenland," starring Keri Russell, which opens at the Cameo Art House Theatre this weekend, is about a woman seeking her own Mr. Darcy. The BBC has planned a sequel to its popular "Pride and Prejudice" miniseries with PD James' novel "Death Comes to Pemberley."
Austen fans can get another taste of her world Saturday when the Museum of the Cape Fear holds a Regency Ball.
Sadly, Mr. Bingley won't be hosting. But trained dancers in period dress will be there to teach anyone who's interested and to demonstrate for everyone else. There will be a dance workshop at 3 p.m. while the ball is 6 to 8 p.m. Everything's free, and fancy dress isn't required.
There will be renditions of 19th-century English country dances with equally odd names but sedate moves. They include the Physical Snob (yes, the Physical Snob), the Dressed Ship (yes, the Dressed Ship), Mr. Beveridge's Maggot (yes, yes, yes, maggot), and the Duke of Kent's waltz (whew!). Note: In this context, "maggot" meant a country dance, said Leisa Greathouse, the museum's curator of education.
While the festival and its many offerings will focus on American history from the Revolution through the War of 1812, Austen is the obvious reference point for the ball because of the well-known scenes from "Pride and Prejudice," which so many have read and seen in adaptations on the stage, TV and movies.
Greathouse hopes many people turn out. If they do, perhaps there will be another ball.
She said it's all in the name of bringing history to life in people's hearts and minds.
"I'm a big Jane Austen fan," she said. "I love people's stories."
Austen completed just six major novels during her lifetime. Two were published only after her death -- "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion." All were romantic fiction set in Regency-era England.
But the stories still appeal and the humor and observations about human nature still resonate. And while singer Miley Cyrus may temporarily dominate conversation with her eye-popping dance at the recent MTV Video Music Awards, Austen and her much more buttoned up (and covered up) world hold a powerful appeal.
Last spring, the Cape Fear Regional Theatre put on a production of Austen's most popular novel, "Pride and Prejudice," about life, love, manners and morals in early 19th-century England.
Quaintance said attendance over the play's three-week run exceeded expectations and helped propel the theater to a 40percent increase in ticket sales for the whole season.
He also was gratified by the number of people -- mostly men -- who sent him notes saying, essentially, they'd been dragged to the show but had ended up loving it. He said he received more of those notes for "Pride and Prejudice" than for any other show last year.
"I think there's something about Jane Austen's storytelling," he said. "It's the combination of accessible human characters, humor and real heart. It's something that people are starved for today."
Austen's popularity is demonstrated at the Cumberland County Public Library where a search of her name in the online catalog turns up 317 items, including her audio, print and filmed productions of her novels as well as books about her, her characters and people who love her.
The library's collection is a mere fraction of what's been and still is written, recorded and filmed about Austen and her books. In 2011 alone, 25 different editions of Austen's novels were published. And there were dozens of books, articles and theses about her.
This June, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted a four-day program about the author that was informally dubbed "Jane Austen summer camp." The program was described as the "first annual" such program, with the expectation there will be another next year.
In recent years, more than one local high school valedictorian has listed an Austen novel as her favorite book.
Lisa Dean, who works in information services at the Bordeaux branch of the Cumberland County Public Library, is right there with them.
"I've read every one of her major novels probably seven or eight times," Dean said. "I find her very relatable. I know it was set in a different time but every time I read a book, I feel like I know people who behave like her characters. I can really relate to them."
Dean said Austen's books provide transport into a different world that's nice to visit. But she wouldn't want to stay.
"I'm not so sure I would have enjoyed living back then," she said. "Sometimes I think I would, but if I think about some of the things that were really going on, I think maybe not."
Staff writer Catherine Pritchard can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3517.
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