Austen Fans Act Out

Lovers’ Vows, a 1798 play written by Elizabeth Inchbald, follows the tale of a an illegitimate child as he meets his father and follows his sister while she decides whom to marry; the play, however, has become most famous for its appearance in Jane Austen’s 1814 novel Mansfield Park. Because of its role in this book, the Jane Austen Book Club, in a joint effort with the Colgate Bookstore, hosted the performance of Lovers’ Vows on Saturday, February 13 in the Class of 2003 Events Room on the third floor of the bookstore.

Inchbald’s work, translated from August von Kotzebue’s Das Kind der Liebe or “Child of Love,” centers on protagonist Frederick, who discovers that he was born illegitimately. He then encounters his father, Baron Wildenhaim, who is arranging a marriage for his daughter Amelia to Count Cassel. Meanwhile, Frederick’s mother has become desperately poor and Amelia loves her tutor, Anhalt, rather than her suitor. These conflicts play out in five acts amidst much confusion, as well as comic relief provided by the butler, Verdun, who demands to relate all his news in rhyming poetry.

Coordinated by Heather Elia, the Colgate Bookstore’s Marketing Coordinator, the event not only celebrated the literature of Inchbald, but also proceeded to analyze its importance in Mansfield Park. The main characters of this Austen novel – Fanny Price, Edmund Bertram, Mary Crawford, Henry Crawford, and Maria Bertram – decide to act out Inchbald’s production. Eventually, though, the adults do not permit them to perform it, viewing it as too scandalous. The controversy about the play expressed by the elders in this fiction is most likely because of the protagonist’s being an illegitimate child and the bold discussions of love by Anhalt and Amelia.

The actors at the bookstore included members of the Jane Austen Book Club, which meets monthly, members of the Syracuse Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America and other local volunteer participants. Afterwards, they questioned the reasons that the work would not be considered permissible and focused on which Austen characters corresponded to which Lovers’ Vows characters. This conversation about the meaning of the characters’ roles and Austen’s motives in adding this into her novel concluded the event.

The production was open to everyone and there were local people from Hamilton, the Colgate staff and students who came to see it. First-year Gabby Addamo said that the experience was educational and she learned “that plays from the past could be comical.” This illustrates too that there are numerous events occurring around town for students to see and explore.

This staged reading of Lovers’ Vows provided those in attendance a deeper glance into the fictitious world of Jane Austen’s books while allowing them to enjoy Inchbald’s work that mixed the elements of tragedy, comedy, and love stories. The bookstore and the Jane Austen Book Club, by hosting this event, created an opportunity for students and townspeople to both be educated and be engaged in a play simultaneously. In the end, the audience walked away having heard a great eighteenth century play and having gained a new insight into the mind of Jane Austen herself.