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Jane Austen's IPod

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BBC Radio 4, 2 January 2010
 
A sort of eighteenth-century Desert Island Discs, based on nine music books discovered in the Austen family house at Chawton, Jane Austen's IPod told us something about her interests in music and drawing; how she copied out her favourite songs and music, with drawings to accompany them. The narrative was illustrated with performances of some of her favourite pieces performed in specially commissioned recordings. They included songs set from Robert Burns' poetry, dances, jigs and ballads. We learned that she was especially fond of the kind of Scottish songs - preferably with choruses - which were fashionable in the late eighteenth century, as well as formal dances. As in her novels, Austen remained well aware of what was happening outside the confined world of rural Hampshire; her books included French songs about faıthful lovers and the onset of spring - a response to the wars with France, both at sea and on land. She also included songs about the 1789 French Revolution - an event which apparently had a traumatic effect on her as she began to understand just how violent humanity could be. Domestic politics also played a part in shaping her music books: one song "The Ploughboy" was penned by a radical Geordie who wanted both to be a millionaire and an MP. However both his background and his origins prevented him from fulfilling his aims: most people of influence came almost exclusively from the south of England.
 
Austen's books also revealed a person concerned for her family circle. She copied out a Haydn sonata, as well as nursery rhymes designed to be read out loud to her her many nephews and nieces (she had nearly thirty of them). They ranged from the unfamiliar to the famility ("Goosey, Goosey, Gander," being one of them).
 
Entertainingly presented by David Owen Norris, with contributions from the Austen expert Deirdre le Faye, and Austen family descendant Richard Jenkins, Jane Austen's IPod demonstrated Austen's preoccupation with current events that dominates all of her work - not just the major novels.