The 200th birthday of Pride and Prejudice sort of crept up on me. I should have been prepared, but instead it arrived with a thump, bearing celebratory goodness, such as this Regency ball that the BBC are recreating in honour of Elizabeth and Darcy, and the Slate slideshow of the “best” P&P covers over the last 200 years.
Because yes, I should have seen this coming. In my other life, not the author one or the pop culture blogger one or the Mum one (though of course, all of these at once) I manage a small business called The Deepings Dolls. These hand-turned, hand-painted historical figurines are a tradition of long-standing in Tasmania, and have been in my life since I was eight or so and my mother the art student drove me up the Huon so she could investigate the possibility of a part-time job. Twenty five years later, she’s still painting them.
And look, we have a brand new website, all shiny!
The original woodturner and designer of the Deepings Dolls, Adrian Hunt, retired some years ago, and my mother Jilli and I took over the business (under the name Pendlerook Designs) when I had a new baby (just the one!) on my hip, a PhD thesis that had tried to smother me in my sleep, and a reasonably dire need for paid work I could do from home.
So this is what I do when I’m not writing, mothering or blogging (or to be strictly accurate, this is what I am NOT doing when I do all those things): I take online orders, post dolls out to galleries or individual customers, and try to keep all the people with near-impossible requests away from my mother, because SHE WILL ALWAYS SAY SURE, I CAN DO THAT.
The dolls are made from Tasmanian white sassafras and are shaped and painted into a variety of different nostalgia or history themed designs – from lawyers and ballerinas to nativity sets, with a particular focus on Victoriana and Australian colonial history.
One of the first designs I pushed for us to add to the (crazy big) catalogue was Jane Austen. Cough, well to be honest I had been pushing for this since somewhere round about the mid 90’s because “Austen is so hot right now.” I wasn’t wrong, was I? As Austen grew in stature, it became more and more obvious that we needed to add her to the range – we had a Dickens, after all, and a Shakespeare, and all three Bronte sisters. But the Bronte sisters had the convenient good taste to wear the Victorian crinoline, a shape we had in abundance, and the Regency gown was a lot trickier to get right.
Finally we had her! Not only a Jane, of course, but the Regency gown also gave us license to produce an Elizabeth Bennet, and it was quite easy from that point to give her a matching Darcy. Mum was a bit hesitant at my insisting that Lizzy always have mud on her hem, but when we gave the option, no one EVER ordered the version without mud, so I was proved quite right.
But then Mum came up with the best thing of all – an alternative version of Mr Darcy, inspired by THAT Colin Firth wet shirt scene (which in turn was reflected by a different wet shirt in a more recent P&P movie). Sure, that scene isn’t quite in the book, but that’s not important, right?
Then, quite unexpectedly last month, we were solicited by Australian Homespun Magazine for our dolls to feature in their shopping section – themed to tie in with the 200th birthday of one of my favourite books of all time. The spread they did was fantastic, showing Lizzy and her TWO Darcys (take that, Bridget Jones) off to great effect among other Austen arts and crafts. And since then…
Well, we’re normally busy over the summer as the cruise ships come into Hobart and many tourists discover the displays of Deepings Dolls we have strategically placed in Salamanca, Richmond and Port Arthur, but this has been a crazy cruise ship summer with dolls practically flying off my mother’s work desk, and to top it all off, so very many internet orders for the Austen Three. Who knew, magazines still sell a lot of product! That explains a lot about how newsagencies are still a thing, really…
So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Pride and Prejudice! I am still terribly fond of you, even after all these years. I even like you in plays where the adapter has skipped several sisters. I like you in musical versions, Bollywood, crazy old black and white with Greer Garson in Scarlett O’Hara’s wardrobe… YOU NEVER FAIL ME. Most recently, I have been loving (along with half the internet) the cleverly modernised Lizzie Bennet Diaries – check out this interview with romance writer Kate Noble about writing episodes for the show, with some insight into how it is made.
Pride and Prejudice rocks! And if anyone ever invents a time machine, they should totally go back in time and tell Miss Austen all about the wet shirt thing. I hope she’d get a kick out of it.