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Review: Julie Ann Cooper's Pride and Prejudice

10 February 13 words: Sue Barsby
The 200th anniversary of Austen's classic kicks off the Festival of Words


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Julie Ann Cooper. Photograph Sue Barsby 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any review of Pride and Prejudice must begin with a reference to the opening line of Jane Austen’s most famous novel. Pride and Prejudice is 200 years old this year and to celebrate this, as well as Light Night, Nottingham’s Festival of Words and National Libraries Day, the Central Library held a one-woman performance by Julie Ann Cooper. Despite budget cuts, the library is hosting a number of events for the NottWords festival, albeit with the help of volunteers, and it’s great to see them continue to play a fundamental part in Nottingham’s cultural life. The show took place in the window of the ground floor so that we were all, audience and performer alike, on display for passers-by. 

I was nervous in case a one-woman performance meant that there would be a parade of interchangeable bonnets but luckily Julie Ann Cooper is an established storyteller and actress and instead employed a number of techniques that Jane Austen herself may have used when giving readings. 
It was always going to be tough to get a good sense of the book boiled down to a performance of less than two hours and Cooper opted instead to focus on her favourite parts and finished her reading halfway through the story. What a cliffhanger to end on! Elizabeth had just turned down Mr Darcy’s proposal when she shut her folder and announced: “If you want to know what happens next, go and read the book.” As it happens, I’m fairly certain there wasn’t a soul in the library who didn’t know the tale pretty well already but you could see that a few were disappointed that we didn’t get the happy ending before heading off into the cold. 
If you asked ten Austen fans to read an edited version of Pride and Prejudice which included their favourite scenes and characters, you’d get ten different adaptations, such is the breadth of Austen’s appeal. Cooper is clearly a fan of Mrs Bennett. She was acted out with great spirit and at length but this did mean that we missed out on some of the sparkling flirtatious dialogue between Elizabeth and Darcy as well as the cringeworthy pomposity of Mr Collins.
The performance made me want to rush home and reread the book immediately and as one of the principal aims of the festival is to encourage a love of words and literature, then this event can be viewed as a success indeed. It was also a reminder of the importance of libraries in promoting literature. If they close down it would no doubt reinforce Austen's view that  "the more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied with it; and everyday confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense." 
Check out other literature events at the Festival of Words (9-24 Feb) The library will be hosting two more festival events: Be With You Shortly - a discussion of the Irish Short Story with Deirdre O'Byrne and Cook & Book: The Revolutionary Menu and The Aphrodisiac Menu! 
Jane Austen’s Tales – Pride and Prejudice, Nottingham Central Library, 8 February 2013