Chichester: exploring Jane Austen's relationship with her sister

Jane Austen’s important relationship with her sister Cassandra will be explored when Hampshire-based actress and speaker Rowan Suart brings Austen Sisters to the New Park Centre Studio (Jubilee Hall), Chichester on Sunday, July 18 at 2.30pm.

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 9:05 am
Austen Sisters
Austen Sisters

Rowan is promising a dramatic and diverting 50-minute solo recital of readings from Jane’s and Cassandra’s letters plus prose and poetry in a recital seen at festivals in Bath, Alton, Chawton, Winchester, Farnham, Haslemere and Arundel.

The recital also includes extracts from Jane’s juvenilia works and short stories, her novel Persuasion and Miss Austen poem, Cassandra’s letter to their niece following Jane’s death, and Rowan’s own epilogue as a personal homage to Jane. Tickets are £10 cash/cheque on the door, no concessions; guaranteed reservations can be made in advance via email to [email protected]

Rowan was looking forward to bringing the show to last year’s cancelled Festival of Chichester; she is delighted to be offering it now: “I am concentrating on the sister relationship which was very strong between Jane and her sister. Cassandra, her older sister, was a shadowy figure and in some ways she was the power behind the throne that enabled Jane to be successful. Cassandra was going to get married, but her fiancé died of yellow fever abroad, and after that she decided to stay single and concentrate on running the household so that Jane would have more time to write. A lot of Jane’s success was down to the self-sacrifice of her sister.”

Rowan concludes the performance with what she calls her own “fan letter” to Jane, telling her how much Rowan and so many other people applaud her and respect her for what she did: “She is more famous today than ever. I think a lot of that has to do with her books being made into films and for TV. It has brought them visually to life. She is a very fine writer. There is no doubt about that. But the films have brought her to more people’s attention. Personally I love her humour and her wit which can be quite caustic at times. That’s what I appreciate about her writing, but also the observation of human behaviour, particularly the psyche of women. I suppose I started reading Jane Austen at home during my school years. Pride and Prejudice was the first one I read and then much later, only about 20 or 30 years ago, I read Persuasion which is my definite favourite. It is just the perfect novel… perfection as far as I can see. And I read it having seen the wonderful film.”

Rowan points out that so many pairs of sisters feature in Jane Austen’s works, positive portrayals – a reflection of Jane’s own relationship with Cassandra.

“Cassandra outlived her sister by some years. We do have quite a lot of the correspondence between them. They would write to each other every day when they were not together. But sadly Cassandra did actually burn quite a lot of the letters. It is not known exactly why she did. It could be that there was a lot of personal stuff in them. Perhaps she wanted to preserve Jane’s literary reputation and destroyed them because of Jane’s caustic wit in them perhaps about family. Cassandra might have thought it would not be seemly that they were preserved. I am sure she did it for her own good reasons. She couldn’t know that in 2021 Jane Austen would be more popular than ever.”