In 1995, a simple white shirt helped transform actor Colin Firth into a star. While playing Mr. Darcy in the BBC mini-series adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, one scene required Firth to dive into a pond while clad in a loose white tunic. Austen fans swooned when Firth emerged from the water, the fabric clinging to his torso. Soon, those fans will be able to see the famous fashion item in person at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. According to The New York Times, the shirt will go on display on August 6, as part of the exhibition “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity.”
The display takes a look at Austen and Shakespeare’s fame after death, identifying the movie adaptations, parodies, and milestone events that helped cement the authors’ popularity among generations of later readers. According to the Times, it will include a bundle of wood from Shakespeare’s birthplace, a bottle of Austen-inspired Bath Gin, and Will and Jane action figures. However, Firth’s shirt—which will be labeled simply as “The Shirt”—is the show’s main highlight.
“The shirt seemed like a celebrity object that demonstrated the kind of fun that people have with Austen as an author,” Janine Barchas, a University of Texas English professor who co-curated the show, told the Times. “It exemplifies the kind of play that is central to our whole exhibition.”
The pond scene never appeared in Austen’s original work. It was added to the BBC adaptation to spice up the otherwise chaste Regency period piece. (According to Andrew Davies, who wrote the BBC adaptation, Firth was originally "meant to be naked.") The evocative scene ended up spawning countless homages, including a photo reenactment by actor Benedict Cumberbatch for a charity fundraiser in 2014.
The shirt will be dry in its display case, although Barchas says the library staff is already bracing for the lipstick marks Austen fans will leave behind on the glass. For more information on the exhibition (which ends in November), check out the library's website for details—and for fun, take a few minutes to re-watch Firth’s iconic dip in the video above.
[h/t The New York Times]