Original façade of the Savoy Theatre c.1881

The original façade of the Savoy Theatre c.1881. The theatre opened on the 10th of October that year, on the site of the old Savoy Palace. It was the first public building in the entire world to be lit entirely by electricity.

The theatre essentially became the home of Gilbert and Sullivan productions; both men took curtain calls on that first night.

Original façade of the Savoy Theatre c.1881

Lost in Austen – Episode One

Lost in Austen

Even though I’ve known about this miniseries for ages, I haven’t watched it until now. The tipping point was when I saw some stills and the actors cast to play Darcy and Bingley just looked so… right for their roles that I thought maybe it wasn’t going to be as silly as I thought.

On the negative side, and one of the main reasons I put it off for so long was (don’t laugh) the main character’s hair! I know the point of Amanda’s look is that she doesn’t quite fit in in the early 1800s, but there’s no way she could have waltzed around looking like that in the Regency era and not raised any suspicion. Just no way.

Anyway, I got brave and put my fear of a hairstyle aside and watched.

And I enjoyed it a million times more than I thought I would.

Lost in Austen requires you to put any sort of believability aside and go along for the ride. Pride and Prejudice obsessed modern woman Amanda Price finds Elizabeth Bennet in her bathroom one night; there’s a portal connecting her reality with Jane Austen’s world.

Elizabeth Bennet arrives in the present Lost in Austen episode one Sonya Heaney

Amanda finds herself stepping over the bathtub and into the top floor of the Bennet house. Then the door closes, with her on the Bennet side and Lizzie in 2008, and there they stay.

This is the most enchanting part of the entire production.

Amanda Price steps into Pride and Prejudice Lost in Austen episode one Sonya Heaney

Amanda Price steps into Pride and Prejudice Lost in Austen episode one 2 Sonya Heaney

Never has there been a moment for Jane Austen fans like this one: it looks like a fairy tale, but if you were given the chance, would you really want to live in it?

Lost In Austen Lost In Austen

The casting is spectacularly good, as far as I’m concerned. The Bennet girls seem more like the ages they’re supposed to be than in any other adaptation (expect maybe the 2005 movie version). The father (who Downton Abbey fans will recognise – but I still know him as the guy who conducted the wedding for the Vicar of Dibley!) makes a great Mr Bennet, and Alex Kingston might be the best thing in the whole production as Mrs Bennet. She gave that woman some depth! Elizabeth has one of the smallest roles in the show, which I’m surprised to be disappointed about. I haven’t liked Gemma Arterton in other things, but she was so good as Lizzie I didn’t even recognise her.

This first instalment takes us up to the Meryton Assembly Hall, where Amanda manages to make a mess of the story Austen wrote, attracting Bingley instead of Jane doing the honours.

In all, this is excellent fun. I don’t find it at all disrespectful to Austen’s work. Sure, there are some glaring anachronisms, but it wasn’t too bad yet (I might have a couple of grumbles later on)!

On this day: On this day: the First Fleet arrives in Australia in 1788

The 26th of January is now celebrated as Australia Day (or sometimes scorned as Invasion Day by Aborigines). It is the date the First Fleet of settlers arrived in Sydney Cove, beginning the establishment of today’s Australia as part of the British Empire.

Many of the people aboard this fleet were convicts, and most were transported for crimes that would be considered ridiculous now.

 The_First_Fleet_entering_Port_Jackson,_January_26,_1788,_drawn_1888_A9333001h

The First Fleet entering Port Jackson on January 26, 1788 by E. Le Bihan

Amongst the people aboard were:

Elizabeth Thackery

Said to be the first white woman to set foot on Australia. She was sentenced to seven years transportation for the theft of two black silk handkerchiefs and three white handkerchiefs to a total value of one shilling.

John Baughan

Convicted of stealing five blankets, he was to be transported for seven years. Though he left behind a wife and three daughters, he remarried in New South Wales, having three more children (though one died in infancy), and choosing to stay on in Sydney. He died only nine years after arriving in the Southern Hemisphere.

Margaret Dawson

Considered one of the founding ‘mothers’ of Australia (many Australians can now claim Dawson ancestry). Convicted of “feloniously stealing” goods to the value of £12 4s 1d, she was sentenced to the mandatory sentence of death. However, being only fifteen at the time, her sentence was changed to transportation for seven years.

Nathaniel Lucas

Convicted for feloniously stealing clothing with a value of 40 shillings and sentenced to seven years transportation. He stayed on in New South Wales until his death in 1818.

 Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788, a 1937 oil sketch by Algernon Talmage.

Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788, a 1937 oil sketch by Algernon Talmage.

I read a guidebook to Australia (written by an Englishman, so I think he had an ulterior motive!) that claimed almost all convicts were murderers and rapists. This is simply not true (and may I also point out that as the convicts were British, it wasn’t really painting England in a good light!).

What the author of the book didn’t seem to understand was that Australia isn’t trying to cover anything up. Australians with convict ancestry are proud of it. I don’t have any – my first family members to move here arrived long after they stopped transporting convicts – but I know some who do, and they brag about it the same way Americans with Mayflower ancestry do.

Perhaps there wouldn’t have been an overcrowding problem in British prisons if the court system had been a little more humane…

On this day: Al Capone dies

400px-Al_Capone-around_1935

Capone circa 1935

On the 25th of January 1947 infamous American gangster Al Capone died of cardiac arrest following a stroke.

717px-Death_certificate_of_Al_Capone1947

Capone’s death certificate

I’ve always known about this, as this is the day my father was born, and when he was younger he thought it was very cool it happened on the same day (like a typical little boy who liked playing cops and robbers!).

Though he was known for his crimes, to some he was viewed as a modern-day Robin Hood who helped the poor. However, he did spend time in Alcatraz, the notorious US prison.

On this day: the University of Calcutta is established

The University of Calcutta was established on the 24th of January, 1857. The proposal for a university in India was first tendered by a British man named Dr Fredrick John. The first proposal failed, but a second was accepted in 1854.

Calcutta University, photographed in 1870.

Calcutta_university_1870

The first Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University were Governor General Lord Canning and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Sir James William Colvile, respectively.

Charles Canning, 1st Earl Canning, photographed in the 1840s.

Charles_John_Canning_by_Richard_Beard,_1840s

A Victorian Prince

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (8th January 1864 – 14th January 1892). The eldest son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and Queen Victoria’s grandson. Second in line to the throne during his life, he died of pneumonia nine years before Victoria’s death and eighteen years before the death of his father.

425px-Prince_Albert_Victor,_Duke_of_Clarence_(1864-1892)_by_William_(1829-18_)_and_Daniel_Downey_(18_-1881