Cecily O’Neill, writer, dramaturg and author of several influential books on drama education was our adjudicator for the Jane Austen themed December meeting. Having brought some of Austen’s most startling characters to life in her play collections inspired by the Juvenilia, she was perfect to judge our entries this month.
Cecily’s adjudication was as follows:
First Place: Phyllis Bennett – Captain Muncaster’s Legacy
Second Place: Jo James – A Perfect Gentleman
Third Place: Wendy Fitzgerald – Common Knowledge
Highly Commended: Miriam Coley – Dance of Change
Highly Commended: Angela Chadwick – A Sign of the Times
First Place: Captain Muncaster’s Legacy by Phyllis Bennett
“This encounter was very ably written. A backstory – with appropriate historical references – was cleverly included and tension arose through a brief misunderstanding. Interesting future developments were hinted at.”
Captain Muncaster’s Legacy
Hebe wished she did not see Dick’s face so clearly as Lord Melchester bent over her hand.
‘I have long desired your acquaintance,’ he said.
‘I trust you will not be disappointed by the reality, Sir’, she replied.
‘Far from it. Do you care to dance?’
‘There is such a crush now, that I fear for my toes, and I really must find my mother and sister. They will be thinking me quite lost.’
Lord Melchester was not to be deflected. ‘I promised your mother that I would take care of you. We are after all bound together by the greatest sacrifice that a man can make and –’
‘I have always thought’, said Hebe desperately, ‘that a ball is a perfect confection of art and artifice and its gossamer perfection crushed by seriousness of any kind.’
‘My dear, I beg but a few minutes. I would have called upon you before, but for the seriousness of my wounds, and must speak to you of Richard before I return to the Peninsula campaign.’
He steered Hebe gently but firmly into an alcove, where they were screened from the dancers and handed her into a seat. He remained standing and gazed down into her face for a moment.
‘You remind me very much of your brother,’ he said. He sacrificed his life to save me and I would devote the rest of mine to the happiness of those whom he loved. As you know, I am a widower – no, I am not such a cradle snatcher as you fear, child – but perhaps you did not know that I have a son. He was at Eton with Richard. I think you might deal well together. Would you consent to his calling on you on his next shore leave?’
Second Place: A Perfect Gentleman by Jo James
“A very original and imaginative scene. The dialogue was convincingly of the period. An interesting plot possibility opens only to dissolve when we discover that Miss Austen’s perfect dancing partner exists only in her imagination.”
‘You dance most gracefully, Miss Austen.’
‘You are kind, Sir; I believe I dance only tolerably. You have arrived recently in Bath?’
‘Yes, my mother is unwell. We have come so she may take the waters.’
‘I trust she rallies.’
‘Alas, she does not. The leeches grow fat on her pale blood while she becomes weaker by the day. But, excuse me, Miss Austen; I fear I have distressed you.’
‘No, indeed! I think only of how you must suffer.’
‘I confess I find great comfort in reading. Do you like to read?’
‘I do, Sir, although I’ve heard it said one can be too fond of books, that reading addles the brain.’
‘You must not listen to such nonsense, Miss Austen. I have been wondering if I might prevail on you to advise on furnishing the library at Worthington. But I see you are surprised! You cannot yet be acquainted with the fact that I recently had the good fortune to inherit the property. Worthington is not so very far from Chawton.’
‘No, indeed. It is but three miles.’
‘I wonder, when you return home, if you, and your family, would do me the honour of visiting. The lake walks are quite splendid in the spring. But, I see Mrs Austen; she appears quite agitated. I think she would have your attention.’
‘Yes, I believe she means for us to leave.’
‘So early? Perhaps your mother tires.’
‘She does not tire. She is pained that her daughters have been passed over for the likes of Louisa Milton and Lydia Blythe.’
‘You puzzle me, Miss Austen, for I have danced only with you.’
‘She cannot see you, Sir.’
‘Your mother’s eyesight is poor?’
‘No, but since you live solely in my imagination, it is only I who can take pleasure in your acquaintance. Mama will not approve; I have not the smallest hope of it. She deeply regrets my fanciful inventions. She fears I will never marry.’
Third Place: Common Knowledge by Wendy Fitzgerald
“This piece swiftly creates a social setting and an interesting heroine – a bookish, plain girl, courted by a rich man who is thought to be in need of a wife. Can we believe him? Clearly complications are about to develop…”
Those overheard words burned her cheeks …
‘Not like her sister, is she? She was quite the toast of last Season.’
‘Oh no, too small and plain. A veritable blue-stocking too, I’ve heard. Quite a hop-out-of-kin!’
… but if she begged go home, Mama would be cross.
‘Lady Alice? Our dance I believe?’
‘Your Lordship; perhaps you would you excuse me? I am a little too overheated for another set.’
‘Perhaps some air on the terrace may help,’ he demurred. ‘Come.’
She put a small unwilling hand on his impeccably attired arm, accompanying him out onto the terrace. Coloured lanterns bobbed gaily against the inky darkness of the gardens beyond; it was cool and peaceful.
‘You do not enjoy yourself then?’ Was that amusement in his usually clipped tones?
‘I am not so fond of balls,’ she countered.
‘So how does the Lady Alice prefer to spend her time?’
She flushed. ‘You are making fun of me, I know.’
‘Indeed not. I have scant love for them either. My question was sincere.’
She looked down at her feet.
‘I like books, my lord; museums and … and science. It is common knowledge I believe.’
‘Ah; so you have let the old tabbies’ prattle upset you. But some men like a bookish woman.’
‘Now you are teasing me.’
‘You think I do not mean it? That feather-brains, like your sister, are more appealing? Now you wrong me.’
‘But … she was a success.’
‘Well, if that is what you want, then tomorrow you will drive with me in the park and I will make you a success. After all, am I not ‘rich’ and ‘in need of a wife’? We can confound the gossips together.’
But would he still respect her? She edged a look at him from under her lashes. He was an interesting man.
‘Perhaps I’d like that,’ she said.
Highly Commended: Dance of Change by Miriam Coley
“The scene and characters are quickly established and the dialogue is well handled. An interesting future is suggested but perhaps not the one the heroine, and the readers, expected.”
“You are looking well, Miss Lavinia.” Arthur Fitzpatrick says, leading Lavinia onto the dance floor. She scans the room, Arthur is heading for the farthest corner. There will be a brief few minutes of opportunity; waiting. The musicians are warming up.
“You too, Mr Fitzpatrick. The Atlantic Ocean breezes must have suited you.”
“You mean I am red and sun-peeled, but thank you Miss Lavinia. And thank you too for your many letters. I read and treasure them.”
“I hope I did not bore you.”
“No. Tales of home lifted my heart as I sat under the savage sky or did battle in the markets… I did not mean to say that, rather I meant to introduce a new theme; that of change.”
Lavinia wonders what has changed. Her feelings, not at all. Except perhaps a growing impatience, surely a proposal could not be too far in the future? She holds her face expectantly, her finger tips in their white lace gloves resting on the back of Arthur’s freckled hand.
“In your letters I found much to admire. You compel me, like a compass needle finding its lode stone. But one thing has changed. I can no longer see my future within the market of commerce where human beings are sold like cattle. No, I have dedicated myself to the struggle to end it, and will be a pamphleteer. And Miss Lavinia, if you would honour me by being my muse and letter writer, I would be the happiest man alive.”
“But your allowance, and your profit from the plantation in Antigua?”
“I cannot take it. But we will be on the side of right, standing with the angels.”
Miss Lavinia studies Arthur’s face. A long, low note sounds from the strings in the consort. The dance of change begins.
Highly Commended: A Sign of the Times by Angela Chadwick
“The two contrasting characters are effectively sketched in and their profoundly opposing views produce some powerful dialogue. There is no place for romance in this strongly political piece.”
Mary looked up with interest as Mrs Marchmount appeared dragging a tall, dark, young
man along. This one had promise. He had hair, teeth and walked unassisted.
‘Oh Mary, my dear! This is the nephew of my sister’s second husband’s cousin (twice
removed), Mr Philpot. He is just back from the West Indies where has extensive plantations! Poor soul, he knows practically no-one here. I would think it a kindness were you to talk to him whilst I am gone!’
Mary smiled and offered her hand. ‘The West Indies! How exotic! What tales you must have to tell! Tell me, Mr Philpot, were you there to emancipate your slaves after the
recommendation of the great orator, Mr Wilberforce?’
‘Ah Miss Lee! That would be doing my slaves a great disservice. They are like helpless
children and would not long survive were I to set them free. They do much better under my strong regulation and discipline.’
‘Indeed. They seem to manage well enough in their own countries!’
‘A common misconception,’ Mr Philpot shook his head. ‘My suppliers tell me had they not
had the kindness to buy these slaves they would have been killed in their barbaric cultures.’
‘A kindness, surely, compared to enslaving them, and their children and their children’s
children, generation upon generation, to eternity. After all, here in our own great country, all men are free and if your slaves were ever to set just one foot on British soil, all shackles would fall away. What is right and proper in Britain, must also be right and proper in all our territories. Or they are not truly British!’
Mr Philpot nodded and moved away. Mary reflected that she would rather have a man who was bent on the outside than one who was bent on the inside.