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Professor collects unique new item for Austen exhibit

Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Carnegie Mellon University professor of literary studies Kristina Straub has long held an admiration of classic literature. With the opening of her new exhibit titled “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of celebrity,” co-curated with Janine Barchas, an English professor at the University of Texas, it is safe to say that William Shakespeare and Jane Austen are at the top of this list. This exhibit is a part of the Folger Shakespeare Library and features many unique items that connect back to these authors. Earlier this month, it was announced that a new item will be part of this exhibit’s collection: an iconic shirt worn by Colin Firth in one of the most famous Pride and Prejudice screen adaptations.

Though published in the early 19th century, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice still lives on as one of the most recognized titles in English literature. As is often the case, with great literature comes potentially great screen adaptations. One of the most famous Pride and Prejudice adaptations debuted in 1995 as a 6-part mini series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, respectively. It has been praised as one of the most faithful Austen adaptations to date, which can likely be attributed to its rather long screen time, allowing the portrayal of more faithful content. Even for those that have not had the opportunity to watch this adaptation, it seems that many are strangely familiar with the image of Colin Firth, as Mr. Darcy, emerging from a pond in a wet, skin hugging, white t-shirt. Although, as previously stated, this adaptation is quite faithful, this scene is nowhere to be found in Austen’s novel, but still lives on as one of the most famous images from this Austen adaptation.

This new item, titled as “The Shirt,” will be placed in Straub and Barchas’ “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity” exhibition starting this August.

The exhibition aims to look at the legacies of Austen and Shakespeare and how their works and lives continue to impact us today. On the exhibit’s website, Straub and Barchas note that one way both authors’ lives parallel each other today is in the portrayal of their works in screen adaptations and how this has increased the popularity and approachability of their stories for modern viewers. In addition to the 1995 adaptation, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released earlier this year as a unique portrayal of the struggle of finding suitable matches in the world of the undead. Other notable adaptations of Austen’s and Shakespeare’s works include Shakespeare Undead, Clueless, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and many others.

In an interview with The New York Times, Barchas stated, “The shirt seemed like a celebrity object that demonstrated the kind of fun people have with Austen as an author ... it exemplifies the kind of play that is central to our whole exhibition.”

This item will be among other rarities, such as a scarf featuring Austen’s family tree, and wood collected from Shakespeare’s birthplace.
“Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity” is part of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. The exhibit will be open from Aug. 6 to Nov. 6 this year and is free to the public.