By Patrick Piggott
196 pages, 12 B/W plates
In the time of Jane Austen music was an essential part of a young lady’s education, and an important weapon in her sexual armoury. Jane Austen herself was not an outstanding performer, but she kept a handwritten music book, and the fact that she did play contributed something to her greatness as a novelist. Most of her female characters played or sang too, and Patrick Piggott shows us just how much the well-loved stories and scenes owe to music. In Emma an important part of the story hinges on the mischievous rumours and embarrassment that follow the anonymous gift of an expensive pianoforte. Evenings of musical entertainment, especially in the home, are used to draw characters and design encounters: in Pride and Prejudice Darcy and Elizabeth begin to understand and admit their mutual attraction while she takes her turn at the piano, and in Mansfield Park Mary Crawford uses her harp as a lure to fascinate Edward Bertram. Patrick Piggott begins with chapters on music in Jane Austen’s own life – what she played, what she listened to, what she liked, and on public music making in Regency England, especially in Bath. The author then turns to the novels, plunging himself completely into each musical scenario in a way that will delight Janeites of every stripe. The book finishes with chapters on the collections of Jane Austen’s music books.