In “An Evening at Home with the Austens” I play Eliza de Feuillde, Jane’s cousin. She eventually married Henry Austen, but at the time of the play, she was still married to her French husband. Their marriage ended when he was guillotined!
Playing Eliza has led me to reread one of my favourite pieces of Austen’s work – Lady Susan – and attempt to re-read one of my least favourite – Mansfield Park. Why? Because it is suggested that Eliza inspired both the eponymous Lady Susan and Mary Crawford. With Mary there are a couple of direct links – both Eliza and Mary play the harp and love amateur dramatics – but with both characters there is a sense of glamour. I like to think that the aspects of those characters inspired by Eliza comes from her exoticism and sexuality, rather than the selfishness and cruelty most people would think of the characters first. Although some people have referred to Eliza as selfish this did not show in her care for her son Hastings, who had some sort of learning disability. And Jane certainly loved Eliza – she nursed Eliza when she was dying.
Anyway, I have found researching and playing Eliza fascinating and a lot of fun. If you have any questions or thoughts about her, please post!