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Jane Austen in Bogotá

In Cocktails with Miss Austen, Victoria Kellaway wonders what her place might have been in a Jane Austen household and celebrates how much society has evolved since Jane’s time.

We caught up with the co-author of the best-selling Colombia a comedy of errors to find out what might happen if Jane Austen landed in modern day Bogotá.

Bogotá is an enormous South American capital that might seem a huge culture shock for Jane at first, but she’d be more at home than she would initially realise. Colombia has a shocking wealth disparity and gaping social divisions. Jane would definitely recognise the preoccupations, prejudices and public behaviour of its ruling classes, although she’d no doubt struggle with the salsa.

I’d take Jane to the cinema, if she hasn’t already been. We have several independent movie theatres in Bogotá, the kind with overstuffed red velvet armchairs and rickety tables where you can perch your wine. I think she’d be fascinated – especially if I convinced them to show an adaptation of one of her novels. Can you imagine Jane Austen’s reaction to a dripping wet Colin Firth?

Of course we would talk about her characters. I have a soft spot for Persuasion’s Anne Elliot. I learned to love Austen when I was in my late twenties and Anne, at twenty-seven, was the only older heroine. That’s probably why she’s the most perceptive of them all. Like so many, she was influenced at a young age by others’ opinions and she suffered for it. Fortunately, she grabs hold of her own destiny in the end.

On a trip back home to England, I would invite Jane to The Greyfriar, the five hundred-year-old pub opposite her former home in Chawton, Hampshire, on a snowy winter’s eve. I hope she’d be in the mood for a mulled wine with a dash of something naughty, probably Grand Marnier. The surroundings, and the vaguely familiar drink, might help her relax and I’m sure she’d be intrigued as to how the village has changed. Writers can be guarded about their habits (especially one whose books were never published under her name in her lifetime) but I’d love to ask her about her characters. Emma’s Frank Churchill, for example, went all the way to London just to get a haircut. I’m sure Jane must have known someone similar. I doubt she’d want to share her most intimate secrets immediately, but with a few mulled wines under her belt she might unleash her acerbic side.

My favourite Jane Austen quote is:

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

It’s a quote that often comes in handy, not least when you want to defend the joy of re-reading centuries-old novels.

Victoria Kellaway is a British freelance writer based in Bogotá, Colombia. She spent six years as a news reporter for English newspapers, from London to Liverpool, before moving to Colombia in 2010. She is the co-author of the bestselling satire Colombia a comedy of errors and co-edited the essay collection Was Gabo an Irishman? Tales from Gabriel García Márquez's Colombia. Victoria has won awards for Banana Skin Flip Flops, an online journal that records her British-Colombian culture clash, and has written hundreds of articles and given dozens of talks encouraging people to visit Colombia.

She retains her affection for her roots though and continues to host nineteenth century-style tea parties despite living in the home of the world's most famous coffee.


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