By Huang Lijie
The Jane Austen Tea, held at The Arts House on Saturday, is no ordinary afternoon affair.
Organised annually by fans in Singapore of the 18th century English novelist, the tea comes complete with scones and clotted cream, served with sides of dramatised readings and live performances of music from the author’s time. Optional on the menu – finding your Mr Darcy, or Lizzy, from amongst the attendees.
That the tea recalls a playful mash-up between a book club gathering and cosplay meeting is unintentional. But it is not necessarily a bad thing for the tea’s organiser, the Jane Austen Circle Singapore.
The group’s co-president, Ms Nicole Kang, a literature teacher in her 20s, says: “A common misperception people have of the tea is that it is hoity-toity.”
In fact, it aims to create an immersive and convivial environment where people are not intimidated by the language of Austen’s works, or the status of her novels as classics.
“We want to help people appreciate the humour in her writing and the insight she had of society then,” says Ms Kang. Dressing-up is voluntary and attendees need not have read Austen’s books.
Past participants have included cosplayers, fans of English period dramas such as Downtown Abbey, and children as young as eight years-old, accompanied by their parents.
The Jane Austen Circle Singapore comprises enthusiasts who volunteer their time to organise the tea, and a separate annual Jane Austen Ball, where participants learn dances from the author’s time.
The first tea was started in 2011 by a handful of friends who shared a mutual love for Austen, including British musician Amanda Aston, and the group’s other co-president, teacher Margy Supramaniam. The initial gathering was held at Aston’s flat, but the group’s events have grown in attendance and are now held at the Arts House, accommodating up to 50 persons each time.
On the enduring appeal of Austen to audiences today, Ms Kang cites the author’s astute understanding of courtship and romance as an example.
She says: “Austen’s characters change and grow in the process of finding their partners. They realise that the partner they are looking for will not be perfect, but that they also need to be better themselves.”
We’ll drink to that.
Details on the Jane Austen Tea here.