It is a truth universally acknowledged that if there is a Jane Austen exhibition on, I am going to visit it. On the 21st of April, along with my grandmother and my sister Sarah, we made our way down to the Ballarat library to see the ‘Be Persuaded’ exhibition, which was showcasing regency fashions from Jane Austen’s time. I love events like this. I really enjoy seeing events that get more people into public libraries, which at their very core are organisations about bringing communities together and sharing ideas.
Each piece of fashion was accompanied by a card, explaining who might have worn that piece and when it would have been worn. One of the highlights of this visit for me was reading about Cassandra Austen, Jane’s only sister and a creative in her own right. Like Jane, Cassandra never married, after the man she was destined to marry died of yellow fever while journeying to the Caribbean to work as a chaplain. Due to his death, Cassandra was afforded some financial independence, as her fiancée left £1000 to her name. The exhibition didn’t elaborate any further on what became of her life. I can’t help but wonder whether she continued with her watercolour painting, or if she dedicated her life to another purpose after the death of both her fiancée and sister.
Some of the pieces on display in this exhibition were stunning. I’m a sucker for anything with pagoda sleeves, so the dress that the exhibition had designated to Cassandra was definitely my favourite of all the pieces on display. Some of the pieces I wasn’t as fond of. I was disappointed to see that they’d dressed Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice in a mustard yellow gown, that she would have worn while taking a turn around the Pemberley estate after she’d become Mrs Darcy. Yikes.
It was so interesting to see how everyone interacted with the exhibition differently, and I’m pretty sure the comments that we heard from time to time could have made an interesting exhibition in themselves (‘how on earth did they get their hands into a glove that size? They’re tiny!’). Perhaps the next exhibition the Ballarat library features can be about modern day reactions to regency fashion, titled ‘There Is No Way I’m Squashing My Body Into That Corset, Thank You Very Much.’