Month: December 2017

From the desk of Mrs. Bennet

Greetings from the Bennet family! We have had quite the eventful year. As the year draws to a close, I wanted to share with you some of the many blessings bestowed upon the Bennet bunch over these last twelve months. (Avert your gaze now if you have lapsed in following our family affairs—spoilers ahead!)

Bennet family newsletter

Spend your holidays with the Bennets this year! The Primary Stages production of Pride and Prejudice runs through January 6, 2018. Visit our website for tickets and more info.

A Day for Jane: experience New York City in true Austen fashion

Jane Austen is one of the preeminent writers of the Regency Era. While Britain was in the throes of its distinctive phases in architecture, literature, and fashion, New York City in the 1800s was undergoing its own boom as an economic and cultural center. The soot and gambling dens are best left to history, but in a city as storied as ours, you don’t have to look very far to experience the more rosy aspects of Austen’s day.

Bosie Tea Parlor

Photo by Giles Ashford

“But indeed I would rather have nothing but tea.” – Mansfield Park

What better way to start your day than with a finely-brewed cuppa and a selection of delicate pastries and savory delights? Let the bustle of the city pass you by as you imagine yourself in an English country sitting room (or entertaining the advances of a potential suitor).  

  • Bosie Tea Parlor: A stone’s throw away from the Cherry Lane Theatre on Morton Street is Bosie Tea Parlor. With over 100 curated loose leaf teas by tea master Kiley Holliday (who also holds the distinction for being the youngest tea sommelier in the U.S.) and pastries from third generation French pâtissier Damien Herrgott, Bosie’s quiet elegance is ideal for all your tea service needs. (An even lovelier touch? The check is given to you tucked into a classic novel).
  • Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon: Where else can you sup on petits fours while lounging on brocade couches? Seating at this Victorian parlor tucked in Gramercy Park is limited, so be sure to make a reservation if you’re interested in their luxurious pre-fixe afternoon tea.
  • Tea & Sympathy: Bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and sticky toffee pudding? Check. At the West Village’s Tea & Sympathy, you can have your traditional, hearty British fare alongside tiered trays of Victoria sponge cake and scones with clotted cream, all washed down with a pot of Earl Grey (and dozens of other choices).
The Morgan Library

The Morgan Library & Museum

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” – Northanger Abbey

In Pride and Prejudice, Miss Bingley quips that Elizabeth Bennet “is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.” She meant it as a slight, but what better way to honor Austen’s long list of learned women than by immersing yourself in one of the greatest pleasures in the world?  

  • The Morgan Library & Museum: In 2009, the Morgan Library & Museum honored the life and legacy of Jane Austen with an expansive exhibition of over 100 of her works, from manuscripts to personal letters. Selections from the exhibition can still be viewed online, but if you’re ever near Grand Central or Penn Station, you’ll be hard put to find a more awe-inspiring space for literature and art lovers.  
Frelinghuysen Arboretum

Frelinghuysen Arboretum

“To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.” – Mansfield Park

Tea and literature is all well and good, but one of the greatest luxuries we have in our oversaturated lives today is time to do absolutely nothing. Leave your screens behind for a few hours and relish in a quiet walk to air out your thoughts.

  • Conservatory Garden: In the northeast corner of Central Park is this six acre formal garden, which is divided into smaller Italian, French, and English gardens (where Kate Hamill’s photos—see above—for our production of Pride and Prejudice were taken). A designated Quiet Zone, let the hubbub of the city melt away as you while away an afternoon surrounded by woodland plants, seasonal blooms, and decorative fountains.
  • Frelinghuysen Arboretum: If you’re itching to take a day trip, the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, NJ is a serene (and free!) escape from the city. Meander through the immaculate English-style grounds of the 127 acre arboretum and don’t forget to take a breather by the main house and its sloping Great Lawn, which wouldn’t be out of place in a sumptuous period film.
Thomas Wilson (1816)

Illustration by Thomas Wilson, from his how-to-waltz book (London, 1816)

“To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.” – Pride and Prejudice

The ballroom wasn’t exactly the site of good first impressions for Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, but that doesn’t have to be your case! Conclude your perfectly Austenian day by stepping and skipping your night away in the most elegant fashion.  

  • Country Dance New York: You can sip a cup of tea and imagine yourself in an Austen novel, or you can join Country Dance New York every Tuesday in the West Village for an evening of the kind of social dancing Jane Austen herself would have enjoyed. Lessons are provided, newcomers are welcome, and it’s tradition to switch partners for each dance, so there’s no pressure to find a companion to bring with you (but the more the merrier!).
The Cast of Primary Stages' 2017 Production of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

The 2017 production of Pride and Prejudice at Primary Stages. Photographed by James Leynse.

“One cannot have too large a party.” – Emma

Sated with scones and feeling fancy-free, what better way to wind down your evening than by celebrating Jane’s most beloved story with the quick-changing and sharp-tongued antics of our Bennets, de Bourghs, et al. in Kate Hamill’s playful new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Performances of the Primary Stages production of Pride and Prejudice run through January 6 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. For tickets and additional information, please visit our website.

A Regency Holiday

Our contemporary experience of the holiday season is now largely secular festive fervor (dinner parties, gift hunting, all of that tinsel and pine). Holiday practices in Jane Austen’s England were, however, predominantly Christian, and for our purposes, that is what we’ll be exploring.  

Important Dates

So much of our current holiday madness hinges on Christmas Day (December 25th) and while certain traditions have been carried down and adapted for contemporary ways of life through the years, the additional dates* that Austen and her countrymen would have observed in their time—some of which held even more importance than Christmas Day—have largely been left to history. The spirit of the season, though, remains:

“A casual search on the internet will tell you that Christmas during the Regency was not what it had once been or what it is today. To most minds the Christmas’s [sic] of the 18th century and early 19th century occupies a void, a dull patch, between the excesses of the middle ages and the reinvention of the Victorian period. Yet Christmas at the turn of the 19th century comprised an exciting mixture of old and new, of strange rural customs and brand new ‘traditions’.

Prior to [Oliver] Cromwell’s Protectorate, Christmas had been a highly boisterous affair, with much drinking and the celebration of raucous traditions, some of which had become linked to paganism in the mind of the church, whether this was true or not. Ollie being the grouchy old puritan he was, actually banned Christmas as a result, along with other frivolous pastimes like attending the theatre or playing football. As a result Christmas lost much of its debauchery and its central position in the ritual calendar until the Victorians took up its cause and created the celebratory behemoth we know today. That said, many of the old traditions survived and Christmas remained an important and magical time of year for most the people [sic]. It was a time of high celebration with visiting, gift and charity giving, balls, parties, masquerades, play acting, games and always lots of food.” (Hazzard)

* “Christmastide” refers to the season of celebrations observed by most Christian churches, which begins with Christmas Day and ends with Twelfth Night (the evening of January 5th) and Epiphany (January 6th). (For many Christian denominations, Christmas Eve is not a part of Christmastide, but of Advent, the preceding season on the liturgical calendar.)

Twelfth Night and Epiphany were greeted with even more gusto than Christmas Day. The former often celebrated the temporary suspension of social norms—popular games during the evening incorporated intrigue, theatricality, and social role reversal—and the latter was a feast and gift-giving day to mark the end of the Christmas season (decorations were also taken down then, lest you run the risk of facing bad luck for the remainder of the year!).


Queen Victoria & Family at Windsor Castle

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their family at Windsor Castle. From an engraving in the Illustrated London News (1848).

You’ll be hard put to walk around Manhattan at this time of year without running into a sidewalk Christmas tree stand perfuming a little stretch of street with the welcome scent of pine. While bringing in greenery to warm up the home likely predates any organized holiday traditions, the Christmas tree synonymous with the season wasn’t popularized in Britain until the later Victorian Era, when an engraving of Queen Victoria and her family around a tree was printed in an 1848 issue of the Illustrated London News.

Mistletoe balls were a common sighting on chandeliers, doorways, and hanging from ceilings—it was customary for a berry to be plucked each time a kiss was stolen and for the ball to be taken down once all the berries were gone.


Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night characters from The Illustrated London News (1842), illustrated by Alfred Crowquill.

There would be no Twelfth Night without the Twelfth Night cake. The rounds of charades and copious punch bowls were all well and good, but the expensive and elaborate cakes—decorated with sugar paste garlands and crowns—were indispensable players in the evening’s most important game. In one version of the proceedings, a dried bean and a dried pea were baked into the cake: slices of cake would be distributed to all the guests and the man who received the slice with the bean would be the “Bean King” for the night and his Queen would be the woman with the dried pea, allowing for a “topsy-turvy world where the ‘king’ and ‘queen’ could be the lowest members of the household, empowered to give out orders to their betters…” (Austen Only).

During Austen’s time, the choosing of Twelfth Night characters was done by drawing paper slips from a hat, not so much slices of cake, but the intricate confection maintained a prized position at the table.


Fire, it seems, was always a good idea in Jane Austen’s day. A brandy-soaked Christmas pudding not being enough, 16th to 19th century party guests arrived at snap-dragon. The parlour game was most popular during the winter, namely Christmas Eve: brandy was poured into a wide, shallow bowl and then heated, at which point raisins were put in and the whole thing set aflame. The point of the game was to pluck the raisins out of the flaming dish and eat them, at risk of being burnt (lights were usually extinguished or dimmed to heighten the drama of the moment and to emphasize the blue flames licking across the surface of the bowl).

Holiday Fare

“Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding!”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

plum pudding

Illustration by Edmund C. Brock (1905) from A Christmas Carol. Scanned by Phillip V. Allingham of Victorian Web.

“Stir-up Sunday” marked the unofficial start to the season, when all manner of desserts that needed aging time would have to be prepared in order to be ready by Christmas.

(“Stir-up” refers to the opening prayer given at church service that day—“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people…”—as well as to the culinary traditions. In some families each member took turns stirring the pudding with a special spoon, and other customs encouraged the stirrers to stir clockwise with their eyes shut, while making a wish.)

Christmas pudding

  • An assortment of Christmas pudding recipes, from Godey’s Lady’s Book (1870)
  • A modern publication, but a traditional recipe. (Be sure to go through the comments for tips and tricks from others who have succeeded with this ambitious and unusual dessert! For many people, it’s not a traditional Christmas pudding unless there’s suet involved.)

Holiday dinner spreads were as extravagant as families could afford and included:

  • Goose was traditional, but other meats included turkey, mutton, and most prized of all, venison
  • Potatoes, squash, carrots, and other hearty vegetables
  • Old-fashioned mincemeat pie / a fruitier modern version
  • Syllabubs and possets / a recipe from BBC Good Food
  • Gingerbread, butter shortbread, sugar plums, and ginger nuts


Derived from the Old English word was hál, meaning “be healthy” or “be well”, wassailing referred to both door-to-door caroling and the pre-Christian practice of wassailing apple trees in cider-producing areas to ward off evil spirits and bless the coming year’s harvest. Apple wassailing usually took place on Old Twelfth Night (January 17th) when farmers would splash the largest tree in their orchards with cider while circling it and singing “The Wassail Song”:

“Health to thee, good apple-tree,
Well to bear, pocket-fulls, hat-fulls,
Peck-fulls, bushel-bag-fulls.”

– “Wassailing”

The “wassail bowl” was the mulled cider integral to door-to-door wassailing (and generally drunk within the home during Christmastide to toast the health of friends), when a drink of the hot beverage was offered in exchange for gifts.

New Years

The “first-foot” in Scottish and Northern English folklore was the first person to cross the threshold of the house, and he or she determined the family fortune in the coming year. An adult male with dark hair was the most desirable [Helloooooo, Mr. Darcy!] and women were generally unlucky if they were the first-foot (though in some regions, barefooted girls took precedent). Whoever the lucky individual was came with plenty of ceremony and often had gifts and/or drink in hand to welcome the New Year.

Add a little Regency flair to your holiday this year. The Primary Stages production of Pride and Prejudice runs through January 6, 2018. Visit our website for tickets and more info.

Happy 242nd birthday, Jane!

Happy birthday Jane!

On December 16, 1775, Jane Austen was born in the rural village of Steventon, England. Not many concrete details are known about birthday traditions in Austen’s time, but it seems that, unless you were royalty (see: national holiday), celebrations were modest affairs—some well wishes shared between family, perhaps the exchange of flowers and/or a gift.

We’ll be feting Jane’s illustrious legacy with a special birthday performance! Even if you can’t join us, we encourage you to raise a little toast to one of the most influential voices in English literature, whose wit and astute assessment of society resonates to this day.

Performances of the Primary Stages production of Pride and Prejudice run through January 6 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. For tickets and additional information, please visit our website.

Jane Austen: What’s Streaming

In an earlier post, we introduced several film and television adaptations of Jane Austen’s beloved texts. With the holiday season looming, what better way to fill your travel days and evenings at home than with any one of these universally appealing stories. While it’s far from an exhaustive list of the myriad adaptations (and inspirations) that have been made from Austen’s singular voice, you’ll have many enrapturing hours to look forward to.

Mansfield Park (1999)

Mansfield Park (1999)

Emma (1996) — Gwyneth Paltrow stars as the charming and eponymous protagonist who spurns love and marriage for herself, but delights in interfering in the romantic lives of others. Her machinations begin to unravel when she attempts to play matchmaker for a protegee, Harriet Smith.

Stream on: Amazon / Google Play / iTunes / Netflix

Emma (1996) — Adapted by Andrew Davies (of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice fame) for British television network ITV in the same year as Gwyneth Paltrow’s film adaptation, Kate Beckinsale is, in one critic’s words, “the best [Emma] of all.”

Stream on: Amazon / iTunes

Mansfield Park (1999) — The film departs from the original novel in a number of ways and also incorporates aspects of Jane Austen’s life; the result is, in Roger Ebert’s words, “… an uncommonly intelligent film, smart and amusing too, and anyone who thinks it is not faithful to Austen doesn’t know the author but only her plots.”

Stream on: Amazon / Google Play / iTunes

Felicity Jones in Northanger Abbey

Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey (2007)

Northanger Abbey (2007) — Felicity Jones and JJ Feild are a captivating Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney in Austen’s satire of the Gothic genre. The coming-of-age story has the teenaged Catherine confusing her real life romantic entanglements with those in her favorite novels.

Stream on: Amazon / iTunes

Persuasion (1995) — Director Roger Michell wanted to be as faithful as possible to his source material, which extended to the production’s approach to makeup and costumes: the actors wore little to no makeup and clothing was made to appear lived-in, all which contributed to a sense of realism that many period dramas lacked.

Stream on: Amazon / Google Play / iTunes

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Pride and Prejudice (1995) — The most successful and lauded adaptation to date, the 1995 BBC miniseries—directed by Andrew Davies—elevated Colin Firth (Mr. Darcy) to stardom and began a wave of “Austen-mania.” (Jennifer Ehle went on to join the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as to win Tonys for her work on Broadway.)

Stream on: Amazon / Google Play / Hulu / iTunes

Pride and Prejudice (2005) — In order to escape from under the shadow of the 1995 series, the creative team behind the film made an effort to distinguish their interpretation of Austen: the time period was changed from 1813 to the late 18th century (which, in turn, influenced the costuming—hardly an empire waist to be seen!), dialogue was altered to feel more natural and idiomatic, and there was a heightened romanticism to the entire project.

Stream on: Amazon / Google Play / iTunes

Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson as the Dashwood sisters in Sense and Sensibility

Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson as the Dashwood sisters in Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Sense and Sensibility (1995) — With three awards and 11 nominations at the 1995 BAFTAs and seven Academy Award nominations, Sense and Sensibility not only revitalized Austen’s works in popular culture, but is also recognized as one of the best Austen adaptations of all time. Ang Lee directed and Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay—and stars—in this story of the Dashwood Sisters and their journey through love and loss.

Stream on: Amazon / Google Play / Hulu / iTunes

Becoming Jane (2007) — A biographical drama that portrays a younger Austen (Anne Hathaway) and her fictionalized romance with Thomas Langlois Lefroy (James McAvoy), whose presence in her life some say inspired the dynamics in Pride and Prejudice.

Stream on: Amazon / Google Play / iTunes

Aishwarya Rai in Bride and Prejudice

Aishwarya Rai (second from left) as Lalita Bakshi in Bride and Prejudice (2005)

Bride and Prejudice (2005) — Many of the themes Austen writes about—marriage, dowries, the family as a social unit—are relevant issues in India and Pakistan (both countries have large Jane Austen societies), making Bollywood adaptations incredibly popular. Filmed primarily in English and featuring dialogue in Hindi and Punjabi, this Bollywood-style adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is set in modern India and features Aishwarya Rai as Lalita Bakshi.

Stream on: Amazon / Google Play / iTunes

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) — Director Ang Lee has referred to his sweeping wuxia (a genre of Chinese art concerning the adventures of martial artists) film on various occasions as ‘Sense and Sensibility with martial arts’ and ‘Bruce Lee meets Jane Austen.’ One of the most successful and influential foreign language films in the United States to this day, there isn’t anything explicitly Austenian about it, but it makes a compelling case for a film where “Jane Austen [as a code word is] a wonderful way of living one’s life at its most rhythmically amiable.”

Stream on: Amazon / Google Play / iTunes

The Primary Stages production of Pride and Prejudice is currently playing through January 6, 2018 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. For tickets and additional information, please visit our website.