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Being seen at the Pride and Prejudice Panel

There is nothing I love more than a captive audience and a microphone. I was elated. But I had never sat on a panel before. I have been to panels, and I have set up panels before, but I have never had the opportunity to be in the hot seat. I went into it with zero expectations. 

The reason I was asked to sit on this panel was pure serendipity. I had hosted a seminar at my local library about close reading called, “Get Intimate with Pride and Prejudice”. To promote the event, I was posting online and on social media. So was the library. And as a result, I received an email from the Resident Dramaturg for Kennesaw State University, Tom Fish, asking me to speak at the Talk Back session after one of the performances. Being seen opened the door to a cool opportunity.

First, I must say I was impressed with the performance. I was thrilled with the gorgeous set pieces, the costumes, and the actors were brilliant. I would recommend this show for anyone who is obsessed with Bridgerton

The cast of Kate Hamill's Pride and Prejudice at Kennesaw State University

What I loved about attending a stage production of this modern interpretation of P&P was the moment at the end when all the machinations of Jane Austin’s romantic comedy came to fruition and the students – as well as some adults – erupted into squeals of joy. And I had a moment where it dawned on me … ohhhh, there are people who have never seen Pride and Prejudice before. This is a cool feeling. 

Reading classic literature and teaching classic literature around other professors who are classic literature scholars, can make one somewhat jaded. Pride and Prejudice is a classic to teach, but it’s also been adapted into a variety of forms. I am rational enough to know that not everyone has read this novel, but knowing someone is new to something and seeing someone experience something new are different things. I felt privileged to witness it.

My first experience with Jane Austin mimics my experience with most classic literature – I was assigned to read it for class, and I didn’t. After an unpleasant experience in high school with some assigned readings – excessively difficult quizzes on incredibly difficult texts put me in a place where I no longer heeded suggested reading lists, not even for books I liked. My country upbringing, bull-headedness had been triggered and overcoming that is a tough road. So I ignored reading some of my favorite books when they were assigned: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, As I Lay Dying, Wuthering Heights, Sula. After I left undergrad, I missed sitting in literature classes. I missed reading books and talking about books. I had a friend who was a Jane Austin fan, so we read Pride and Prejudice together and then watched the BBC miniseries. I also reclaimed the other books I had been assigned but never read. 

In graduate school, I had to read a list of 100+ books for my comp exams. I would spend all day reading classic literature. Many of the books were not easy reads. Most of them didn’t even have an awesome romantic story to redeem them. So in my brain, I had to create my own adaptations or translations.

So to speak on a Pride and Prejudice panel about an adaptation of a book that I fell in love with, not because someone told me to read it, but because I had come to it on my own with a friend as my reading companion, was an excellent experience.

Playbill for Pride and Prejudice in the foreground with stage in background.

Because I had never been on a panel before, I also forgot that I wasn’t expected to be in charge of it. This might seem dumb, but I am a teacher and have to speak publicly in front of students twice a week. Not only do I need to be ready to relay information, but I also have to be ready to answer any questions. I need to be able to lead and anticipate. When I took my seat, I had that moment of panic: beyond just the fact that I was now sitting in a chair on a stage and wondering what my body – my clothes, my form, my hair, my lipstick – looked like but also what I was going to say in front of all these people?

Luckily having zero expectations worked for me, because as soon as the first question was asked, I felt completely at ease. I didn’t have to know everything. I was sitting there with two other scholars: Dr. Katarina Gephardt and Laura Dabundo, people who have written books analyzing Pride and Prejudice. I was surrounded by smart people with smart things to say. I was also there with other actors who were far more comfortable than I am taking the microphone. So anything I would contribute would be like a lemon wedge on a plate. I can add a little flavor from the perspective of a writer and also a reader. 

My take on the adaptation – and most adaptations – is how they make these classic stories more accessible. Often people feel boxed out by classic literature, feeling that it’s only for the learned or the elite. But the testament of the audience’s response to the story is evidence that the themes still ring true. It’s like that one of those students who were experiencing this story for the first time might drop their prejudice about classic literature for a moment and tell themselves, “I’m going to see what this Jane Austin is all about.” Even if they don’t run out to Barnes and Noble and purchase the edition with the fancy cover, they might stream the Kiera Knightly version, locate the BBC series, or look up “Elizabeth Bennet aesthetic” on Pinterest.

If you have an opportunity to see Kate Hamill’s stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, I would highly recommend it. 

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Read Books. Wear Boots. 




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