Jane Austen: Behind Closed Doors

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any article or film about Jane Austen must start with a variation on this quote.

All credit to Lucy Worsley, then, for largely avoiding such cliches in favour of a fresh approach to her subject: namely, poking about in the homes where Austen lived in a bid to discover what they could tell us about her life and work.

Like Austen’s novels, this was a story of ‘money, marriage and inheritance’, detailing how the author, being a woman of few means, spent her life moving from house to house – from humble rectories and workers’ cottages to grand country estates – like a Georgian version of Airbnb.

Along the way, we learned some fascinating details, like the fact Austen complained in her letters and diaries of being hung over (she really was the original Bridget Jones), or that she was once so bored in Bath she was reduced to reading a pamphlet about smallpox. She also wrote of one suitor, Thomas Lefroy: ‘He has but one fault – his morning coat is a great deal too light.’ (In the end, Lefroy’s parents insisted he marry someone with more money – sounds like me might have had a lucky escape to me.) Her verdict on a Lyme Regis guest house, meanwhile, (‘the inconvenience is exceeded only by the dirtiness’), read like a 250-year-old TripAdvisor review.

Cosplay fan Worsley was unusually restrained when it came to the dressing-up box (though she did corral a noted professor of literature into trying on some silly hats, then sat on her lap). But her infectious, head girl enthusiasm was otherwise undimmed – she used the word ‘ginormous’ twice, and was unable to say the name Harris Bigg-Wither (another of Austen’s suitors) without giggling. Proper historian she may be, but Worsley’s programmes never feel like boring lectures.

As for Austen, her final days were spent in modest lodgings in Winchester. From there, aged 41, she was taken for burial in the nave of the city’s magnificent cathedral – finding in death the fine and permanent home that had sadly eluded her in life.

TV extra:


The Joy of Techs

The premise for this new comedy show – Scrabble-playing Luddite Marcus Brigstocke and gadget-mad Alexis Conran compete in a series of daft challenges to see whether hi or low-tech wins the day – is really just a thin cover for half-an-hour of two blokes mucking about with snow bikes, jetpacks etc, while making childish jokes. So a bit like Top Gear, basically, except Brigstocke and Conran’s childish jokes are much funnier, and there are fewer dull bits about cars.


Twin Peaks

How much do I love Twin Peaks? So much that I went there once (or Snoqualmie, WA, where it’s filmed, anyway) and ate cherry pie in the Double R diner. So it’s with a heavy heart I report that, having waited 26 years, the third series of David Lynch’s surreal murder mystery is proving a very trying watch indeed. Seemingly designed purely to provoke and frustrate, Lynch has delivered a full-on psychotropic nightmare fatally lacking the original’s offbeat humour and charm. A damn fine shame.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 1, 2017

(c) Waitrose Weekend