Many readers of this blog will be aware that a new adaptation of Persuasion is available on Netflix. I first heard about it through my dear friends at El Sitio de Jane, a Spanish-speaking Jane Austen appreciation community, who this week are celebrating this latest addition to the list of adaptations with a virtual tea party.
Leaving thoughts on this particular Persuasion adaptation aside (I haven’t watched it yet but I hear reviews are mixed), I find the idea delightful. There is nothing quite like a refreshing cup of tea, accompanied by delicious sandwiches, scones and cake, particularly when shared among friends (virtual or not).
And I’m sure Jane Austen herself would approve. Her heroines certainly spend a great deal of time having tea with their families and neighbours, and the tea-things are forever being brought into and removed from drawing rooms. In fact, Austen uses tea drinking as a clever plot device in more than one occasion.
Tea Drinking in Jane Austen
That’s because tea drinking brings people physically close, which encourages conversation, whispered gossip and even the discovery of secrets. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne, who is sitting next to Edward Ferrars, notices the ring “with a plait of hair in the centre” he is wearing as he takes his tea from Mrs Dashwood.
The particular way in which tea is served also says much about a household. At Mansfield Park, tea is taken very seriously, with a “solemn procession” of servants led by the butler, with a “tea-board, urn and cake-bearers.” In contrast, Fanny is dismayed to see that tea at the Prices in Portsmouth is a chaotic and rather unappealing affair:
“… the tea-board never thoroughly cleaned, the cups and saucers wiped in streaks, the milk a mixture of motes floating in thin blue, and the bread and butter growing every minute more greasy than even Rebecca’s hands had first produced it.”
Mansfield Park, Chapter XLVI
The ever-presence of tea in Austen’s novels makes it a particularly suitable drink to celebrate the Janeite community (coffee makes the odd appearance, but tea undoubtedly rules!). I can certainly attest that tea is always involved in any meeting of the Scottish branch of the Jane Austen Society.
It’s also no wonder that my Janeite friends have long chosen high tea as our preferred excuse to get together. Our lives are much busier now than in the days we went to Bath for the Jane Austen Festival, but our tea-drinking gatherings have become a sort of pilgrimage.
With each outing, we like to try different venues. Thankfully, there are plenty of suitably posh options in our local area of Edinburgh and environs (pictured in this article are the luxurious Prestonfield House and the stunning Signet Library). We like to push the boat out, so to speak, and order the full monty, champaign included. So far, we have never been disappointed.
Because of all of this, this week I look forward to polishing my very own tea-things and preparing some fine Russian Caravan (or perhaps Earl Grey) in honour of Jane Austen. Whether I like the latest Persuasion adaptation or not, I am sure to delight my tastebuds with this delicious drink, and I invite you to do the same!
Would you consider yourself to be a tea drinker? If so, when do you like to enjoy a nice cuppa and which is your favourite variety?