Jane Austen LARP

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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 Lydia Bennett 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.

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Charlotte Lucas married the objectionable Mr Collins for lack of a better future prospect. I think you might mean Lydia Bennett, who ran off with Wickham? But she married him, too.

If that was me, I'd have gone as Mr Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, and sat promplty down with a newspaper by the fireside to watch other people's matchmaking, not to rise from my chair again until all the commotion was over ...


Thisbe, seems you're right about the elopement thing. An error in the background info I was handed. But the LARP took place before either of the two young ladies you mentioned got married.

Nick, someone would probably have thrown a petticoat at you.

"...describes the man as a bit of an opportunistic psychopath"
I know some people who do not need to act. Invite some cigarrette CEOs or US Republicans for the role next time!

BTW, what did the Victorians feel about beards? From ca 1900 it looks as if businessmen, clerks, officers, soldiers and many other categories of people mainly used moustaches while beards were discouraged (although elder patriarchs could still get away with it). The origins of the anti-beardist sentiments must have something to do with the Victorian control issues, and we are still stuck with it ("sauber sein ist dein pflicht").

-The opposite beardist faction dominate some religions: "Why Does God Love Beards?" http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2011/10/many_…

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 19 Oct 2011 #permalink

No no, the Victorians revelled in luxurious beardedness. Just look at Darwin. That period is bracketed by phases of anti-beard sentiment, though.

Though born in the Georgian era, her books appeared from 1811 to 1818, that is, during the Regency.

I imagine a Charlotte Lucas of any description would have been thrilled at her luck, proposed to by Mr William Elliot. Well played.

This would have been right about the time "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" was published. I see you have a role opening for me...
Jane Austen's sadly undervalued "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" (15 Sep 2009) might also be good for a LARP.

Or imagine the gang from Red Dwarf gate-crashing a 1818 social gathering, camoflaguing Kryten as a human servant. Once you introduce time machines, the possibilities are endless! http://www.irregularwebcomic.net/3118.html

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 20 Oct 2011 #permalink

Not to be picky, but Victoria wasn't born until 1819. You can't be Victorian before Victoria ;).

Do you have any role for a fat evil bastard* with a Swedish accent in some Jane Austen novel? Later Victorian novels are full of fat deans but I don't know the Georgian novels well.
If jumping the narrative universe from one novel to another is permitted, ask Jasper Fforde's heroine Thursday Next** for a map of the Bookworld. And maybe get to meet Pickwick (the cloned Dodo, not the character).

*Kingpin -while a good fit, physically- was not quite an Austen character.
**Thursday Next is a detective in the Literary Crimes police department, and an expert on Austen.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 20 Oct 2011 #permalink

Wickham had previously attempted an elopement with Mr. Darcy's sister Georgina, aged 15, but they were intercepted. The cad who "eloped and deserted" was Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility. He seduced Col. Brandon's young ward, then abandoned her when she got pregnant.

This looks like a fantastic & fun event!

Between Elliot and Willoughby, you add up to as much evil as the character in Umberto Eco's latest novel :-)

Many of the characters would have suffered from gout, a malady so easily treatable today that it is extinct. As for BO, without running water it would have been long between baths (unless you were upper-crust enough to have servants). Add the thick layers of clothes...

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 20 Oct 2011 #permalink

I almost forgot, to what extent did women of the era have a free choice in whom to marry? I thought it was all about connecting dynasties.
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Remember the Regency people were quite religious... here is the ubiquitous âJerusalemâ hymn (text slightly modified in honour of Thatcher and the Tories) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVwdKfLOa5o (the cow is an in-joke for denizens of Milton Keynes)

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 21 Oct 2011 #permalink

Theoretically, no CoE minister could marry a couple against either partner's wish. Anne Elliot in Persuasion dumps her fiancé after the alluded-to persuasion on the part of her father and her mother's best friend. They actually give her some pretty sound advice, viz that the 20-year-old she wants to marry has little to show yet and can't offer any security. (He comes back 7 or 8 years later with loads of money and marries her.)

In that book, by the way, Austen shows no interest whatsoever in religion. Church is only mentioned as a social arena.

Sounds like a lot of fun!

Further to what has already been suggested, I think it would be great to widen the literary boundary just slightly, i.e., not all the way to fantasy/SF but only to other British works. For example, throw in Oscar Wilde's character Earnest (from The Importance of Being Earnest) or Wodehouse's Jeeves or Wooster. It would be somewhat anachronistic but within a similar social/cultural structure.

You could also do a similar LARP but instead of Austen's body of work use that of Wilde, or why not Shakespeare...

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