Though I played a lot of tabletop role playing games in the 80s and 90s, I’ve never been much of a live action role-player (LARPer). Just seems to be way too much preparation for such short events. So the only real LARP I ever took part in was in May of 1992 (it was called Saturday Night Live, ha-ha-ha) – until this past Sunday, when I tried again. And it was fun!
Boardgaming buddies head-hunted me for this extremely well organised LARP because they had a male deficit. The event was titled Kärlek och fördel, “Love and Advantage”. The idea was basically to collect all the main characters from Jane Austen’s 1810s novels at the same ball, “a social mine field” as one participant described it. The venue was the picturesque 1750s country house of Skärholmen.
Preparations weren’t too heavy. Most importantly, I read and enjoyed Austen’s 1814 novel Persuasion. I also grew sideburns, brushed up on the almost entirely forgotten country dances I picked up at Tolkien Society banquets 20 years ago, learned to play whist, borrowed a Regency outfit from another participant, and selected some Wordsworth and Coleridge poetry to perform. The organisers gave me a few pages of background info including my main “intrigues”, tasks or quests, for the evening. Then I was set.
I played a pretty unsavoury character, Mr. William Elliot, who ignores the son-less uncle whose baronetcy he is scheduled to inherit, who marries a woman of humble family for her money, and who upon his wife’s death decides to curry favour with his uncle again just to make sure he gets the title in due course. The main point-of-view character in Persuasion describes the man as a bit of an opportunistic psychopath, but we don’t really learn much about him except that he stares fondly at women in the street.
My tasks for the ball revolved around three women.
- Cousin Anne. Try to charm her into marrying me.
- The widow Mrs. Clay. Keep her from marrying my uncle, because such a union might produce a son who would rob me of the baronetcy.
- The widow of a deceased friend of mine, Mrs. Smith. Keep her from telling cousin Anne how poorly I took care of her after my friend’s death, despite all he’d done for me.
About 85 participants spent the nine hours of the event talking (in character), dancing to live music, playing whist, performing & listening to music and poetry, and eating. Most people wore gorgeous outfits. Almost every unmarried character’s main motivation had to do with marriage. Time went fast.
As it turned out, I failed to win the heart of cousin Anne, much like in the novel. I almost managed to buy Mrs. Smith’s silence, but that player decided (quite correctly) that it would be more fun to cause a scandal, and so came into the parlour toward the end of the evening and threw a petticoat at me while yelling about my betrayal. Mrs. Clay did not charm her way into Uncle Walter’s breeches, but that was mainly because he decided to propose to the other widow, Mrs. Smith! As for my acting, such as it was, my William Elliot was of course very much more like Martin Rundkvist than the rather faceless man in the book.
Knowing that my chances with a cousin Anne who had read Persuasion were slim indeed, and having done all I could to warm her up, I reasoned as follows. Since William Elliot had loads of money, what he/I really wanted was just any young woman from the upper gentry. And one such presented herself with alacrity in the person of our host’s oldest daughter, whose biography copied that of
Charlotte Lucas from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This young lady had once eloped with a man who soon ditched her, and then returned home in shame. So her family saw her as “spent” and unmarriable. But she and I soon came to an understanding. I spoke to the parents, I complimented the mother outrageously, the girl and I went on a starlit walk in the park, arm in arm, with her mother and brother as chaperones, and finally I proposed and she accepted. A union across novels, and a happy ending!
I might do this again as long as I don’t have to sew my own outfit.
Photographs by My Durén and Susanne Baldefors.