Workshop, 4th February 2020

The Archives are always busy, and no amount of Winter nor lurgy nor Brexit will stop our onward march to more busyness.  There is always something to be done, from indexing the combined indices to cataloguing the Oxford commas – we have no time to stop and stare, we sons of Martha, we riders from Ghent to Aix, when there are sonnets to be sorted and Limericks to censor, when inspiration can strike at any time and fire off yet another slim volume for us to notify, classify, and occasionally even read.

So it was a rare treat to take a night off recently and pop our heads above ground and attend an evening’s recreation at the Questors Theatre and their production of that bonnets and brooding classic, Pride & Prejudice.  Here was a tale as far removed from our own hectic lives as were the lives of the Bennets were from the Retreat from Moscow happening at the same time – a gentleman whose only occupation is stewarding his estate and his daughters, but who must give up the latter to keep the former.  Theirs is a world of balls and social sensibility, of nuance and matchmaking, whereas ours is of whitewashing the washrooms and dusting the dust-jackets – and yet we are brought together by a love of literature.  And I think Lizzy Bennet would recognise much in the rumours and manoeuvrings of the Grapevine bar.

But away from such Regency bubbles at this week’s Workshop, we had a dose of hard work and the honour therein by Owen Gallagher, and a kitten finding itself caught up in the work of others by Daphne Gloag, followed by Doig Simmonds instilled in us the importance of writing things down, and John Hurley told the tale of an old sailor having to chose between his work and his drinking.  Pat Francis then catalogued the life of a man who’s work was his collecting, and Peter Francis remembered the men whose work was revolution, and Roger Beckett read back his shorthand on the secretary who took dictation from her spouse.  For Michael Harris, interpreting his own dreams is becoming a full time occupation, and Caroline Am Bergris has been plying her trade by mixing up her cremations with her barbeques and made a meal of it.  Alan Chambers meanwhile has been watching the trees before reminding himself to get back to work, and Martin Choules has done quite the job on a medical condition for the sake of a quick rhyme.

Notoriously reticent to leave the confined of her immediate family, it was something of a surprise to discover that Jane Austen had made a few trips to the Pitshanger Poets while visiting friends in London.  Perhaps her encounters with young, intense Mary Wollstonecraft planted the seeds for Miss Bennet, and brooding Georgie Byron had ‘Darcy’ written all over him.  Sir John was always keen to encourage not only poets, and invited Jane to read passages from her manuscript, but the Archive notes that the comments she received were not always positive.  ‘Where is Napoleon in all this ?’ came up alot, as did ‘where are the servants ?’

But it seems the last straw was the week when Percy Shelley laid into her for ignoring the rising tensions in the countryside – “Done out of work by spinning Jennies, herded into dark satanic mills, and yet to the Bennets they would be a swarming, mindless mass of humanity, stumbling towards them with arms outstretching and lowly mumbling.  If I may say so, Miss Austen, your proposed title is too short – Pride and Prejudice and…some bizarre undying horde or other.  Well, just a thought.  Oh dear, it looks like Byron has been frolicking in Sir John’s ornamental fountain again…”

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