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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Private Theatricals
By Jane Austen (1775–1817)
 
From ‘Mansfield Park’

FANNY looked on and listened, not unamused to observe the selfishness which, more or less disguised, seemed to govern them all, and wondering how it would end….  1
  Three of the characters were now cast, besides Mr. Rushworth, who was always answered for by Maria as willing to do anything; when Julia, meaning, like her sister, to be Agatha, began to be scrupulous on Miss Crawford’s account.  2
  “This is not behaving well by the absent,” said she. “Here are not women enough. Amelia and Agatha may do for Maria and me, but here is nothing for your sister, Mr. Crawford.”  3
  Mr. Crawford desired that might not be thought of; he was very sure his sister had no wish of acting but as she might be useful, and that she would not allow herself to be considered in the present case. But this was immediately opposed by Tom Bertram, who asserted the part of Amelia to be in every respect the property of Miss Crawford, if she would accept it. “It falls as naturally as necessarily to her,” said he, “as Agatha does to one or other of my sisters. It can be no sacrifice on their side, for it is highly comic.”  4
  A short silence followed. Each sister looked anxious; for each felt the best claim to Agatha, and was hoping to have it pressed on her by the rest. Henry Crawford, who meanwhile had taken up the play, and with seeming carelessness was turning over the first act, soon settled the business.  5
  “I must entreat Miss Julia Bertram,” said he, “not to engage in the part of Agatha, or it will be the ruin of all my solemnity. You must not, indeed you must not [turning to her]. I could not stand your countenance dressed up in woe and paleness. The many laughs we have had together would infallibly come across me, and Frederick and his knapsack would be obliged to run away.”  6
  Pleasantly, courteously, it was spoken; but the manner was lost in the matter to Julia’s feelings. She saw a glance at Maria, which confirmed the injury to herself: it was a scheme, a trick; she was slighted, Maria was preferred; the smile of triumph which Maria was trying to suppress showed how well it was understood: and before Julia could command herself enough to speak, her brother gave his weight against her too, by saying, “Oh yes! Maria must be Agatha. Maria will be the best Agatha. Though Julia fancies she prefers tragedy, I would not trust her in it. There is nothing of tragedy about her. She has not the look of it. Her features are not tragic features, and she walks too quick, and speaks too quick, and would not keep her countenance. She had better do the old countrywoman—the Cottager’s wife; you had, indeed, Julia. Cottager’s wife is a very pretty part, I assure you. The old lady relieves the high-flown benevolence of her husband with a good deal of spirit. You shall be the Cottager’s wife.”  7
  “Cottager’s wife!” cried Mr. Yates. “What are you talking of? The most trivial, paltry, insignificant part; the merest commonplace; not a tolerable speech in the whole. Your sister do that! It is an insult to propose it. At Ecclesford the governess was to have done it. We all agreed that it could not be offered to anybody else. A little more justice, Mr. Manager, if you please. You do not deserve the office if you cannot appreciate the talents of your company a little better.”  8
  “Why, as to that, my good friends, till I and my company have really acted, there must be some guesswork; but I mean no disparagement to Julia. We cannot have two Agathas, and we must have one Cottager’s wife; and I am sure I set her the example of moderation myself in being satisfied with the old Butler. If the part is trifling she will have more credit in making something of it: and if she is so desperately bent against everything humorous, let her take Cottager’s speeches instead of Cottager’s wife’s, and so change the parts all through; he is solemn and pathetic enough, I am sure. It could make no difference in the play; and as for Cottager himself, when he has got his wife’s speeches, I would undertake him with all my heart.”  9
  “With all your partiality for Cottager’s wife,” said Henry Crawford, “it will be impossible to make anything of it fit for your sister, and we must not suffer her good nature to be imposed on. We must not allow her to accept the part. She must not be left to her own complaisance. Her talents will be wanted in Amelia. Amelia is a character more difficult to be well represented than even Agatha. I consider Amelia as the most difficult character in the whole piece. It requires great powers, great nicety, to give her playfulness and simplicity without extravagance. I have seen good actresses fail in the part. Simplicity, indeed, is beyond the reach of almost every actress by profession. It requires a delicacy of feeling which they have not. It requires a gentlewoman—a Julia Bertram. You will undertake it, I hope?” turning to her with a look of anxious entreaty, which softened her a little; but while she hesitated what to say, her brother again interposed with Miss Crawford’s better claim.  10
  “No, no, Julia must not be Amelia. It is not at all the part for her. She would not like it. She would not do well. She is too tall and robust. Amelia should be a small, light, girlish, skipping figure. It is fit for Miss Crawford, and Miss Crawford only. She looks the part, and I am persuaded will do it admirably.”  11
  Without attending to this, Henry Crawford continued his supplication. “You must oblige us,” said he, “indeed you must. When you have studied the character I am sure you will feel it suits you. Tragedy may be your choice, but it will certainly appear that comedy chooses you. You will have to visit me in prison with a basket of provisions; you will not refuse to visit me in prison? I think I see you coming in with your basket.”  12
  The influence of his voice was felt. Julia wavered; but was he only trying to soothe and pacify her, and make her overlook the previous affront? She distrusted him. The slight had been most determined. He was, perhaps, but at treacherous play with her. She looked suspiciously at her sister; Maria’s countenance was to decide it; if she were vexed and alarmed—but Maria looked all serenity and satisfaction, and Julia well knew that on this ground Maria could not be happy but at her expense. With hasty indignation, therefore, and a tremulous voice, she said to him, “You do not seem afraid of not keeping your countenance when I come in with a basket of provisions—though one might have supposed—but it is only as Agatha that I was to be so overpowering!” She stopped, Henry Crawford looked rather foolish, and as if he did not know what to say. Tom Bertram began again:—  13
  “Miss Crawford must be Amelia. She will be an excellent Amelia.”  14
  “Do not be afraid of my wanting the character,” cried Julia, with angry quickness: “I am not to be Agatha, and I am sure I will do nothing else; and as to Amelia, it is of all parts in the world the most disgusting to me. I quite detest her. An odious little, pert, unnatural, impudent girl. I have always protested against comedy, and this is comedy in its worst form.” And so saying, she walked hastily out of the room, leaving awkward feelings to more than one, but exciting small compassion in any except Fanny, who had been a quiet auditor of the whole, and who could not think of her as under the agitations of jealousy without great pity….  15
  The inattention of the two brothers and the aunt to Julia’s discomposure, and their blindness to its true cause, must be imputed to the fullness of their own minds. They were totally preoccupied. Tom was engrossed by the concerns of his theatre, and saw nothing that did not immediately relate to it. Edmund, between his theatrical and his real part—between Miss Crawford’s claims and his own conduct—between love and consistency, was equally unobservant: and Mrs. Norris was too busy in contriving and directing the general little matters of the company, superintending their various dresses with economical expedients, for which nobody thanked her, and saving, with delighted integrity, half-a-crown here and there to the absent Sir Thomas, to have leisure for watching the behavior, or guarding the happiness, of his daughters.  16
 
 
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