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A Love Of All Things Austen

The romance, the assembly balls, the matchmaking mothers – Jane Austen encapsulated them all. Her books devoured during my awkward teens, and sometimes still in my burdensome adulthood, have always carried me away into a world of Regency delight. Reread, recaptured, revered – I can’t get enough, nor of any TV adaptation and event encouraging the donning of a pretty muslin dress and a bit of lace.

I wouldn’t call myself a re-enactment junkie, rather, just someone who but once a year is lucky enough to escape into Romantic regalia. In a dress and pelisse, and clutching a parasol and a half-finished tapestry, I fling modern day entrapments aside and in a dreamlike state, waltz, in costume, into an afternoon nestled amongst the prettyish little wilderness surrounding Caboolture’s Abbey Museum. A well-known corner for a lesser-known occasion, A Picnic at Pemberley is the one event inked on my dance card every year without fail – sunshine or rain, with or without friends – my eternal partner, nostalgia.

A Picnic at Pemberley has become my pilgrimage, a bridge crossed over into a world of magic where I meet like-minded people who mingle and immerse in all things Austen. Dancing, croquet, archery – activities to set the eyes aflutter; militia displays, historical presentations, fashion parades – sensory delights to satisfy any wannabe time traveller. Anyone privileged enough to visit this intimate corner of Caboolture, casting an eye over the sea of costumed attendees, could not help but feel as if they were participants in a BBC dramatisation. Bonnets bob, coat-tails flicker, and classical music floats upon the air as a symphony of souls gather to pay homage to a bygone era.

The Big Afternoon Tea, served with sweet Regency delicacies, allows for beautiful, peaceful moments to recline on the lawn, cup of tea in hand, to do what has become sadly lost in today’s society… talk. Converse, chat, titter – face-to-face, eye to eye – not with half interested nods whilst scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. Austen, feminist writer and clever satirist, would be aghast if such impoliteness occurred I’m sure, so I relish the rarest of opportunities where I can be part of a forum, act on a stage, and practise the art of olde English etiquette.

Austen - intelligent woman, witty author, painter of people – artfully composed characters and plots that touch us deeply still. Be they affairs of the heart, stately affairs or a fair few critiques about 18th Century customs, Austen became the queen of sentimentality. I remember my first reading of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as a latecomer to the club, poignantly closing its covers and appreciating the duplexity of a novel that was both a manual for love and almanac for marriage. Was Austen then, as an astute observer and gifted writer, merely the product of the Romantic era, or actually one of its finest producers?

Byron, Shelley, Keats… they all had an influence, but none more so than Austen. Marriage, she advocated, should be for love rather than necessity. As though peering through the looking glass of time, Austen created a template for our romantic ideals and genteel fantasies today. And who could dare contend with the search for the fulfilment of life if there were no hope of true love, authentic honesty, and accomplished virtuosity? Hollywood, I’m sure, would be truly lost.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Austen’s untimely death, and her legacy lives on, whispering through time as though extending a hand to those of us who dare dream. I grasp it and hold it, willing to be drawn into that domain of which my imagination soars. Mr Darcy is there – handsome and gentleman-like, as too the Bennet sisters, Emma, Ann, Captain Wentworth, Marianne and Elinor - all of us sharing a page in a book so crafted with fancy and history.

A Picnic at Pemberley on September 2 will be my go-to place when spring has sprung and jubilation fills the air. A picnic hamper I’ll take, and once again I’ll revel in the characterisations of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth welcoming us Janeites to the biggest garden party this side of Brisbane. Again they’ll mosey around, encouraging high talk and manners, proudly reciting vintaged words of Austen lore; pride in their stature, prejudiced only to those who do not believe.

I’ll also enjoy what’s new on offer this year – as a truth universally acknowledged - that variety is the spice of life. Additional Georgian pastimes such as craft activities, embroidery, painting, talks in the uses of herbs, and a showing of the Museum’s artwork, will only add to the buffet of delectable dishes already on offer at this not-to-be-missed event.

So I say to you, Austen fans alike, grab your gloves, alight your carriages, and come with me to A Picnic at Pemberley, and allow your appetite for all things frivolous and Regency to be spectacularly satiated.

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