Thursday, 19 July 2007

Jane Austen and Cricket

Upon watching the cricket scene in Becoming Jane, Yankee viewers might go, ‘Eh? That looks like baseball… isn’t it baseball?’ And then, they will try to remember if baseball or cricket was already played during Jane Austen’s time. Hence, I was thinking to make a short article about cricket. However, I am not a cricket aficionado; hence I’m not going into details. I will refer you to Wikipedia though, for better reading about cricket (and baseball)

Now, in the cricket scene, we saw (or you will see) Jane getting impatient and grabbed the cricket bat to defend ‘her team’ (whatever her team was). In the BBC sneak peek, we can see that she actually hit the ball hard (though Tom Lefroy rather underestimated her) and finally won the game. Clever girl. If any of you doubt that the real Jane Austen indeed played (or interested in) cricket, let me quote you a passage from the first paragraph of the first chapter of Northanger Abbey:

‘She [Catherine Morland] was fond of all boys’ plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush. Indeed she had no taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief – at least so it was conjectured from her always preferring those which she was forbidden to take.’ [bolded words by Icha]

I should have written a brief review of NA first before this, for then you will see how similar Catherine Morland to the young Jane Austen herself. Anyway, the point is, cricket was mentioned in Jane’s novel (one of the first one she wrote, c1798/99). Now, what is cricket? For people from non-cricket cultures, this is what Wikipedia says:

Cricket is a bat-and-ball sport contested by two teams, usually of eleven players each. A cricket match is played on a grass field, roughly oval in shape, in the centre of which is a flat strip of ground 22 yards (20.12 m) long, called a pitch. At each end of the pitch is a construction of three parallel wooden stakes (known as stumps) driven vertically into the ground, with two small crosspieces (known as bails) laid across the top of them. This wooden structure is called a wicket.

Ah! We see a wicket in Becoming Jane. That’s the wooden structure that Tom hit as he tried to save his team, to no avail! Baseball does not have wicket, thus the game Jane &c played was not a baseball game. And the cricket game in BJ was a village game, hence, no need for fancy uniforms &c. According to Wikipedia, the ‘village cricket’ has begun in the mid 17th century in England, though the basic form of cricket can be traced back to pre-13th century. From England, the game spread to other parts of the world, especially parts of the British colony. Cricket is said to be the second most popular game worldwide now, very popular not only in the U.K., but also Australia, India, New Zealand, etc.

Northanger Abbey also mentioned baseball (although my eyes deceived me by NOT getting it firsthand - thanks Jane Odiwe!). The third paragraph says that 'Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books' (check the online excerpt here). There is a note on the 'baseball' term, it might explain what kind of baseball it meant. I don't have this version of the book with me, and my Penguin edition does not have the footnote for the base ball. Anyway, although the first printed term of baseball was found in a 1744 book titled A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, the game itself can be traced back to the 14th century as the descendant of a game called ‘stoolball’. Perhaps the note in NA also refers to stoolball as the ancestral game.

At glance, viewers like me (who did not know that cricket was not baseball until I read it) would think that what Jane played in the movie was baseball, instead of cricket. However, although both games are similar (both include a bat and a ball…), there are differences between them; at least in the modern forms. In addition to the fact that cricket and baseball are not played in similar fields (cricket’s field is oval, baseball’s is diamond-cut), they are different in game duration (baseball duration is much shorter than cricket: 2.5 – 4 hours compared to 7 – 8 hours or even days), equipment (baseball players use thin, round bats and wear gloves to field; cricketers use wide, flat bats and field barehanded, except for the wicket-keeper, who wears gloves and protective leg pads), regulation, etc. See this article in Wikipedia for the comparisons between cricket and baseball.

Now, happy? At least you can talk your male significant others to accompany you to see Becoming Jane, even if ‘just’ to see a game of cricket and two boxing sessions… By the way, my incomplete fan-fiction (Becoming Jane: the Vignette) has a short chapter about cricket in the movie.

Pic 1 & 2 from

Pic 3 from the already updated U.S. Official Site of 'Becoming Jane'


Jane Odiwe said...

If you look on the second page of NA (the link you posted) you will find the reference to baseball in the last paragraph on the page. I hope this helps!

Jane Odiwe

Icha said...

Ouch. You got me, Jane! :-D

Yes, thanks a lot for telling me my mistake... I duly acknowledge my inaccuracy here.

Hence, I will adjust the article accordingly. Thanks so much! Glad to have you around.

docweasel said...

I recently viewed "Becoming Jane" and was put off by the obligatory scene of women besting males at their own game! Austen may have been interested in cricket, it's seriously doubtful that a woman in those times would have played at all, let alone bested grown men while wearing a full-length dress with all the petticoats and other accoutrements. It seems like every movie these days must show women to be the equal of men in every activity in order to validate, what, exactly. I find it off-putting and stupid. As a woman there are things women do better than men and vice-versa. Why come up with apocryphal, insulting nonsense to prove we are BETTER in every single field?

It's like the trend now in every single adventure fantasy to have a female warrior/archer/what-have-you who is every bit as strong and capable as a man. It's just boring and stupid.