Miles Kington: Subterranean 'Pride and Prejudice' Blues

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The Independent Online

I did not see it coming. I was as surprised as anyone when Pride and Prejudice weekend broke out, when we suddenly had served up to us endless comparisons of all the versions of Pride and Prejudice, interviews with people who had written lives of St Jane, and group discussions with people who had adapted Pride and Prejudice.

I hear even that a room at the Groucho Club was renamed the Weldon/Davies/Moggach Suite where all those people who had adapted Jane Austen could hold court and talk to those few of us who hadn't. The streets of London were taken over by the army of Jane Austen, waving their flags, holding their banners and shouting their slogans ("Deliciously funny social comment for ever!" "Down with broad farcical brush-strokes!").

Then suddenly it was all over. The banners were left strewn in the street, and Fay Weldon and Claire Tomalin went quietly home to their jobs and families. There was a lull for a few hours, after which the Radio Times appeared with Bob Dylan's face staring out of it, and suddenly I was switching on the radio and finding discussions of Bob Dylan everywhere, and previews of Martin Scorsese's homage to St Bob, and Bob's army appeared in the streets, singing his songs out of tune in his honour, and the Weldon/Davies/Moggach Suite at the Groucho Club was renamed the Bob Dylan Lounge, and ...

These things don't happen by accident, of course. It is all planned. Somewhere (perhaps in the Groucho Club) there is a committee sitting night and day, studying anniversaries and centenaries, and popularity surges, and astrological charts, and when they are convinced that the time is ripe for a Mozart boom, or the signs auspicious for a John Lennon revival, they make a few discreet phone calls and it all happens ...

It all has to be done well in advance, of course. So we now dissolve into a session held in 2004, a full year ago, of the Anniversary Planning Authority, a little-known but vitally important quango.

Chairman: ... But enough of Nelson and Trafalgar. What else is up for 1805? Yes, Sir John?

Sir John: Austerlitz.

Chairman: If it wasn't such an old joke, I'd say "Bless you". Austerlitz?

Sir John: Napoleon's great victory. I believe the French are going to make a big thing of it.

Chairman: Let them. After all, they're doing sod all for Trafalgar. Anyone else? Dorothy?

Dorothy: 1805 was the birth of Mary Seacole.

Chairman: Seacole ...?

Dorothy: Jamaican-born nurse who went to the Crimea and who was every bit as good and brave as Florence Nightingale, but who, because she was black, never got the credit she really ...

Chairman: Oh dear, oh dear. Rather worthy, I am afraid. However lovely she was in her own right, she's going to be seen as another African-American heroine, isn't she? Well, I'll see if we can get a couple of lives and a BBC drama going, but I am not hopeful.

Dorothy: The Potemkin mutiny in 1905...

Chairman: Let the Russians handle it.

Sir John: Birth of Constant Lambert in 1905 ...

Chairman: Couple of concerts on Radio 3 should be enough.

Voice: Samuel Palmer, the painter, born 1805.

Chairman: Mmmm . .

Voice: Jean-Paul Sartre, born 1905 ...

Chairman: God help us. Isn't there anything a bit more cheerful than this? Nothing on the Jane Austen front? They always love that.

Dorothy: Well, for what it's worth, she published her first novel, Pride and Prejudice, in 1805 ...

Chairman: Well, for heaven's sake, woman, why didn't you say so before? That's brilliant !

To celebrate the first publication of this article, we might have more of it tomorrow.