Persuasions #12, 1990 Pages 67-68
The Theatre in Southampton
MARY BELLE SWINGLE
Laguna Beach, CA
The façade of the theatre in Southampton appears in a print entitled SOUTHAMPTON, published in London by T. Woodfall, Villiers Street, Strand and dated February 1, 1805.1 This is the theatre as it looked when Jane Austen, her sister and mother, and Martha Lloyd lived in that city from 1806 to 1809. The theatre was not far from the Austens’ home in Cattle Square and was, in turn, not far from the historic quay where Henry the Fifth’s army left for Agincourt and the Pilgrims sailed in the Mayflower.2 The scale of the theatre’s façade may be gauged by the five figures the artist has drawn in the street scene, among them two gentlemen greeting one another and, perhaps to show that this was a city on the sea, a woman holding a basket with lobsters for sale.
In a letter from Castle Square dated November 21, , Jane wrote to Cassandra at Godmersham Park:3
Our brother4 we may perhaps see in the course of a few days – & we mean to take the opportunity of his help, to go one night to the play. Martha ought to see the inside of the Theatre once while she lives in Southampton ….
Then follow the telling words: “& I think she will hardly wish to take a second veiw.” There is no reference to the theatre’s exterior and the modest façade may not have been considered worthy of a comment or a “second veiw.” But it may be inferred from the words “ought to see the inside” [italics added] that the Southampton theatre, seen from the street as in this print, was familiar to Jane Austen, her family, and friends.
1 [James Winston]. Theatrical Tourist, A Collection of Views with Historical Accounts of the Principal Provincial Theatres … By a Theatrical Amateur. London, 1805.
2 Anne-Marie Edwards. In the Footsteps of Jane Austen. Second edition. Southampton, 1985.
3 Jane Austen. Letters to her Sister Cassandra and Others, ed. by R.W. Chapman. Second edition. London, 1952.
4 Ibid., notes to page 233. Chapman says the brother was probably James.