|A Harp and a Window|
Event: JASNA CWNY Jane Austen Birthday Luncheon
Speaker: Jennifer Staples on “The History of the Harp"
When: Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 10:30 am
Where: Monroe’s Restaurant, 3001 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618
Our speaker and musician for the Birthday Luncheon is Jennifer Staples from Syracuse, NY. Many of you know Jennifer as an expert seamstress and producer of some of the very fine Regency period attire seen at our annual Jane Austen Ball. What may be less familiar to you is that she is also an expert on the harp.
The harp appears in most of Jane Austen’s novels. We are probably most familiar with Mary Crawford’s use of the harp to entangle Edmund Bertram.
“Miss Crawford's attractions did not lessen. The harp arrived, and rather added to her beauty, wit, and good-humour; for she played with the greatest obligingness, with an expression and taste which were peculiarly becoming, and there was something clever to be said at the close of every air….
A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man's heart. The season, the scene, the air, were all favourable to tenderness and sentiment.” Mansfield Park chapter 7.
Edmund’s a goner thanks to the harp and possibly the window.
However, Jane Austen used the harp not only as an instrument of seduction, but also as an instrument of consolation. In Persuasion, when Mrs. Musgrove learns that Captain Wentworth is to visit, she recalls that her unfortunate son Richard served with Captain Wentworth, and she is saddened by the remembrance of her lost son.
“That she was coming to apologize, and that they should have to spend the evening by themselves, was the first black idea; and Mary was quite ready to be affronted, when Louisa made all right by saying, that she only came on foot, to leave more room for the harp, which was bringing in the carriage.
"And I will tell you our reason," she added, "and all about it. I am come on to give you notice, that papa and mamma are out of spirits this evening, especially mamma; she is thinking so much of poor Richard! And we agreed it would be best to have the harp, for it seems to amuse her more than the piano-forte." Persuasion chapter 6
He may have “been nothing better than a thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove”, but his loss is now painful, and the harp is there to soothe.
Jane Austen herself enjoyed a good harp concert. Writing to Cassandra from Sloane Street in 1811 she said:
“…the day of the party is settled – above 80 people are invited for next Tuesday evening and there is to be some very good music, 5 professionals…One of the Hirelings, is a Capital on the Harp, from which I expect great pleasure…”
Jane Austen’s Letters, Deirdre Le Faye, (ed.), 4th ed. p. 188
So our talk at the luncheon is about the harp. Mary Crawford was able to enlist Henry’s barouche to transport her harp from Northampton. Jennifer will be bringing three harps from Syracuse to help explain the history of this instrument which Jane Austen used both to soothe and to seduce.