The Laughing Audience from Hogarth

Mrs. Partington’s Private Theatricals

Lovers’ Vows playbill

The cast of A Dangerous Intimacy

Performance of A Dangerous Intimacy

Winter 2014

Behind the Scenes at Mansfield Park

December 6, 2014

University of Southern California, Town & Gown


Nancy Gallagher — Introduction to Jane Austen and the Theatre
Susan Allen Ford: It Is About Lovers’ Vows: Kotzebue, Inchbald and the Players of Mansfield Park
Jennifer Howard — “…easy manners, excellent spirits, a large acquaintance and a great deal to say”: Eloquence, Artfulness and Players in Mansfield Park
Diana Birchall and Syrie James — A Dangerous Intimacy: Behind the Scenes at Mansfield Park


We know, without a doubt, that Jane Austen loved the theatre. She attended professional performances in London and Bath, critiqued noted actors and actresses of the day, acted in family theatricals at Steventon, and even transformed her favorite novel, Richardson’s ponderous Sir Charles Grandison, into a five-act comedy. What’s more, Austen used the rage for private theatricals among genteel British society to drive the action of Mansfield Park.

Susan Allen Ford considered to what degree Austen intended us to subscribe to Fanny and Edmund’s condemnation of the mounting of Kotzebue’s Lovers’ Vows. Jennifer Howard explored eloquence, artfulness and actors in Mansfield Park in her award-winning essay. Diana Birchall, Syrie James and a large cast of merry players, amused and delighted us with their wickedly witty look at the back stage antics at Mansfield Park.

The meeting opened with Nancy Gallagher’s Introduction to Jane Austen and the Theatre. She gave us a window into Jane Austen’s love of the theatre and the impact it had on her life and writings.

To what degree did Jane Austen intend for the readers of Mansfield Park to join Fanny and Edmond in their disapproval of the reproduction of Lovers’ Vows? Susan Allen Ford answered this question and more, as she encouraged us to be more attentive as readers to the complex and contending voices and texts from which Austen constructs her fictional world.

Jennifer Howard examined Austen’s use of language to portray eloquence and the deeper personality traits of her characters. Mansfield Park is a shining example of how eloquent speak or a lack there of illustrates cleverness, innocence or wickedness.

What really happened during those risky rehearsals of Lovers’ Vows? Diana Birchall, Syrie James and their large cast of players gave us a backstage look to close the day. The setting: Mansfield Park on a warm October evening in 1814. This newly commissioned play reading had recently made its debut at the Montreal AGM to great enthusiasm.


Susan Allen Ford, PhD, is professor of English and Writing Center coordinator at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. Her interests include Jane Austen and her contemporaries, detective fiction and the Gothic. She is editor of Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal & Persuasions On-Line. She is known for her fondness for Fordyce’s sermons, Lovers’ Vows, and Mr. Collins!

Jennifer Howard studied playwriting, screenwriting and music at the University of Southern California. She has written many speculative novels, screenplays, television scripts and stage plays including Sparrows and Violetta Dying. She is a winner of the Graduate Division JASNA essay contest and is a creative writing fellow at Chapman University.

Diana Birchall, then a story analyst who read novels for Warner Bros., is the author of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, Mrs. Elton in America and a scholarly biography of her novelist grandmother.

Syrie James is the bestselling author of nine novels, including The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen and Jane Austen’s First Love.