|Jane Austen Society of Australia
The President's Report
According to a recent report in The Sydney Morning Herald, Jane Austen is the third most written about woman ever! The Virgin Mary takes first place and she is followed by Joan of Arc. Considering that both those women had some hundreds of years advantage over Jane, and had the vast power of the Catholic Church promoting them, Jane Austens ranking is remarkable. She is also the only one of the three who gained her place solely through her own efforts.
Jane Austen may have been awarded only the bronze medal in the most written about woman stakes, but a recent report in The Australian newspaper awarded her a gold! Jane Austen, it claimed, has given pleasure to more men in bed than any woman in history. Im sure you will agree that Joan and the Virgin Mary cannot even begin to compete with her here! I would add that she has not reserved bed pleasure for men only. Women, reading in bed, have probably far outnumbered men when it comes to getting pleasure from Jane Austen. I would not like to make any predictions about polls at the end of the next millennium, but I do feel that with a declining reader interest in religious publications, theres an excellent chance that Jane Austen could overtake Joan and Mary and be the most written about woman ever at the end of next century.
Jane Austens novels were published about 184 years ago. Until very recently anyone wanting to become acquainted with her characters had to read her books. Now people all over the world get to know Jane Austens men and women via the movies, the television, the theatre and their computer screens. Jane Austen enjoys amazing accessibility.
Not only are her novels accessible in more ways than she could ever have dreamed of, her name has also given rise to a whole industry. Continuations and completions have been appearing at a furious rate, the number of biographies written about her quiet life would have astonished her, while the flourishing societies formed in her name in Australia, England and North America would (I hope) have delighted her. She never earned a great deal from her writing, but the Jane Austen industry is now earning plenty from Jane Austen stationery, carry bags, key-rings, cups and paper dolls. My favourite item is a shocking pink nightie which has printed across the front Not tonight, dear ... Im reading Jane Austen. I think Jane Austen would have laughed with Cassandra over such a garment.
Books on Jane Austens life, letters, works and times continue to appear, there are more movie versions to look forward to and technology in all its forms introduces more and more readers to her novels. Austenmania is alive and well. It is clear that in 184 years Jane Austen has gained for herself a secure place amongst mankinds greats. I feel very proud to be president of a Society that bears her name and devotes its energies to promoting her wonderful novels. I look forward to leading JASA into the 21st century and a new millennium.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you all.
Current JASA Publications
The articles in this latest issue of Sensibilities are:
including the papers presented at the 1999 JASA Northanger Abbey Conference:
You can read short extracts of each of these Sensibilities articles online.
Items from the Newsletter (and from Practicalities, JASA's news update sheet published in March and September) are reproduced on this website.
Most past issues of Sensibilities can be purchased for A$6.00 each. See the Sensibilities list of articles.
For another taste of what members enjoy in Sensibilities, the JASA refereed journal praised for its consistently high literary standards, read a longer extract from a talk by Penny Gay to a JASA meeting in 1994: 'Emma and the Battle of Waterloo'.
News, Views & Titbits
British Library Celebrates Jane Austens Writing Desk
In papers found at Chawton Cottage, Deirdre Le Faye discovered that the Reverend George Austen purchased the handsome mahogany piece in Basingstoke for his youngest daughter, possibly as a birthday gift. Her sister Cassandra was the first to receive it as a legacy. Ownership then passed from aunts to nieces until Joan Austen Leigh received it from her aunt, reinforcing Jane Austens remarks about the importance of aunts.
At a gala reception celebrating the receipt of the desk, two more precious pieces of Jane Austen memorabilia in the possession of the library were on display: a letter in Janes own hand and the two cancelled chapters of Persuasion. [Her History of England, illustrated by Cassandra, is part of the inaugural Treasures of the British Library exhibition marking the relocation of the British Library from the British Museum to its vast new red brick facility in Euston Road.]
Claire Tomalin, the distinguished biographer of Jane Austen ... said that the presence of Jane Austens writing desk at the British Librarys Millennium exhibition would demonstrate that All you need if you are a writer is a desk, a pencil and of course a great brain.
Elsa A. Solender
Jane Austens writing desk
|An Emma Charade
One of the requirements of entering the quiz on Emma at the JASNA Conference was the writing of a charade. I bravely expose my effort to the public eye, but perhaps you may not dislike looking at it.
By reading this slowly and distinctly, and two or three times over, with explanations of every part as you proceed, you will soon come to the solution Poor Miss Taylor.
| Hugh Thomsons Illustrations of Jane Austens Pride &
This marvellous small book contains some 65 of the 160 illustrations from the 1894 George Allen edition of Pride and Prejudice. It has been edited by Jean Bowden, former Curator and current Archivist of the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, and Jeans introduction gives an excellent biography of the artists career covering some 40 years to his death in 1920. Jean has also written the captions to the drawings. A delightful book, and currently available in our Regency Fair for only A$8.
|| Box Hill
Member Anne Morley has sent us these two photographs of the famous picnic spot. Anne lived at Ranmore, on the other side of the Mickleham Valley, from whence this 1957 photo of her was taken, with Box Hill in the background. The second photo is taken from the top of Box Hill, and is from the April/May 1999 Heritage magazine, which explains:
There is only one road from Mickleham to get to the top of the hill, as seen below, and this would have been the route taken by Emmas party that summers day .
The connection with Jane Austen is, to say the least, tenuous, but this blood-curdling tale of Sydneys past has its fascinations. This passage refers to a John Knatchbull, member of the Kent family into which Janes niece Fanny Knight married. Fanny was the much-loved, but later very sharp-tongued niece, daughter of Janes brother Edward, and married into the ancient Kent family of Knatchbull in 1820, three years after Janes death. What would Jane have thought of the connection?!
Quoted from Ruth Parks Sydney, Ruth Park and Rafe Champion, Duffy & Snellgrove, Sydney, Revised edition 1999, pp72-3, 134-5.
Why A Jane Austen Society?
Our patron, Yasmine Gooneratne, reflects on the Society and its beginnings.
I have been trying to recall the particular feelings and intentions that took me to Sydney for the first (and as it turned out, Foundation) meeting of the Jane Austen Society of Australia.
Why did I go? It was partly because anything and everything to do with Jane Austen interests me, and has interested me since I first heard Pride and Prejudice read aloud by my mother and my elder sisters on the verandah of an outstation bungalow in Sri Lanka. It was partly because the invitation or perhaps I should say summons came from Nora Walker, whom I had first encountered as a student in my 18th century literature classes at Macquarie University, and whom I knew to have an absolute passion for that subject: a passion that emerged in the form of closely reasoned, beautifully written essays and perceptive class discussions of the work of two writers in particular for whom my own admiration was little short of idolatry: Jane Austen and Dr Samuel Johnson.
The decision to establish a society in Australia whose members would share their enjoyment and knowledge of Jane Austen was one which I entirely endorsed. However, I had by then lived 17 years in Australia, and knew from observation of such things on my own university campus how difficult it is to raise enthusiasm for literary and cultural matters in a society dedicated to sporting activities of a mindless nature.
There was no doubt at all in my mind that Nora Walkers brain child, if it actually managed to be born that afternoon, would have to struggle to survive. I was glad to do anything I could to do anything I could to help, but was very vague as to what that anything would be.
Nora changed all that. Her ideas and her determination had the steady, loyal and enthusiastic support of her husband Roy. She established a committee and an agenda.
To my surprise I found myself invited to become Patron of the new Society I say surprise because although I had written a study of Jane Austens works that Cambridge University Press had published in 1970, which had become something of a standard text in schools and universities in Australia and overseas, I have always regarded myself as a lifelong student of the 18th century, rather than as any kind of expert.
I said as much to Nora, who took no notice whatever of my diffidence, and put my name up for election. (I later gathered that she had inquired earlier of my husband Brendon, with whom she has a common interest in Project Jonah Australia, the non-governmental organisation for marine mammal conservation, whether I would accept such an invitation. Brendon, who has little time for shrinking violets and has always been convinced that I can do anything he sets his mind to, had assured her that I would.)
Since then, I have to say that membership of the Society, participation in its activities, and fellowship with its members have provided some of the principal joys of my life off campus.
It has been very satisfying to watch the Society grow to its present size under Susannah Fullertons able and imaginative chairmanship, to observe the respect it receives from similar organisations here and overseas, and admire the professionalism which, under the guidance of Helen Malcher, is a feature of its publications. I benefit (as of course we all do) from the dedication its committee members bring to their work. As we know, none of that work is performed for financial reward or profit. Membership (or for that matter, patronage) of the Society will bring no one a fortune or a seat in parliament. So we are left to ask ourselves: why do we do it? Why does the Society exist?
The answer or at any rate, my answer lies in the nature and spirit of Jane Austens writing. That is, in itself, an incredible fact, especially in these times, when (as we see demonstrated on all sides every day) television and internet technology seem to be replacing the book in every civilised society, and when (as we also see demonstrated every day) no one seems to do anything unless there is some material profit to be made from it.
The fact that the unillustrated writing of an English spinster who lived 200 years ago should be so thoroughly enjoyed by so many people all over the world, should motivate and inspire them in the ideas they bring to the business of daily life, is not merely curious, it is downright miraculous. I never cease to wonder at it the same wonder I feel when a plane in which I am seated lifts off the ground and rises into the air, defying all the forces that would pull it downwards to the ground.
Jane Austens writing represents for me, in its cool reasonableness, its moral fastidiousness, its idealism, and the shapeliness of every sentence, my idea of civilisation in its most perfect form. The existence of a Society which encourages and diffuses knowledge of that writing is for me a lasting symbol of the connection between art and human life.
Report of the JASA Conference 1999:
There was a young lady named Jane ...
Yasmine Gooneratne gives us a critical analysis of the Limerick form, in the process of judging the JASA Limerick Competition.
According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the limerick had its very beginnings in a kind of extemporised nonsense-verse sung by each member of a convivial party.
In introducing the winners of JASAs Limerick Competition, therefore, Id like to call attention to the appropriateness of the form itself to the present occasion, a party to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. I
t has been suggested that the name derives from the chorus of an 18th century Irish soldiers song, Will you come up to Limerick? The origin of the limerick is unknown. The Shorter Oxford suggests 1898/1899 as the date of origin, in which case we should be celebrating the limericks centenary as well as our own 10th anniversary, but the Encyclopaedia Britannica assigns the earlier date of 1820 to the first collections of limericks in English. Edward Lear, who composed and illustrated those in his Book of Nonsense (1846) claimed to have gotten the idea from a nursery rhyme beginning There was an old man of Tobago. A typical example from Lears collection is this verse:
My own favourite among Lears limericks is probably the one that you all know well:
Like all other literary genres of the 18th century, the limerick is a poetic form with its own strict rules. First among these, which Lear and others duly observed, is, clearly, that a verse which is meant to be sung as a chorus must satisfy the demands of metrical accuracy; ie. it is important that an acceptable limerick, whatever its subject, should scan satisfactorily. The Encyclopaedia Britannica is very definite on this point: The limerick, says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, consists of five lines, usually rhyming aabba, and the metre is roughly anapestic, with two feet in the 3rd and 4th lines, and three feet in the others. However, some limerick-writers experimented with the form, Walter de la Mare among them. He came up with several variations, one of these being the double limerick. Among de la Mares best, I have a special favourite, which Id like to share with you because it reads like a sub-plot from a novel by Fanny Burney or Jane Austen:
Since I know that the Societys members read widely and love literature, I thought it quite likely that an entry or two might come up with a double limerick. One came close to it Marjorie Jones striking a personal note with an extra line in her entry on Mansfield Park:
Other rules gradually attached themselves over the years to the limerick, deriving more from practice than from prescription. These are: that a limerick should be popular in character, brief, humorous, often nonsensical and frequently ribald, crowded with improbable incident and brimming with innuendo, occasionally exploiting the anomalies of English spelling, or using the form for pithy observations upon serious philosophical concerns.
All these principles were taken into account when reading the entries to the competition. On consideration, some adaptation of the rules seemed in order. For example, since the limericks were to relate to the work of one of the most sensible and accurate writers in the English language, it seemed proper that nonsense should be ruled out, unless of course it was called for by Austens text itself; as, for example, in the verbal contributions to the novels of such notable nitwits as Mr Woodhouse and Harriet Smith in Emma or Mrs Allen in Northanger Abbey. (As it turned out, all the entries without exception ignored mere nonsense and nitwittery.) Also, and again because of the care with which Jane Austen constructed her plots and characters, entries which treated her text with respect and accuracy were looked on with favour. This, I hasten to say, did not rule out humour, it only eliminated inaccuracy. For, since we are an Australian society (and not North American or British) popular in character was taken to read related in some way to our own experience, ie. local or contemporary, or even Australian. Indeed, several entries, including the winning one (to which I will come later) used popular or Australian idiom to good effect. Some, interestingly, indicated to me that many of Jane Austens readers in the Society habitually compare her world with ours: for example, Pat Bolands speculation on Jane Austen in Australia -
or Shirley Byrnes philosophical and moral comparison of Janes times with our own:
You will agree that within the rules of the limerick as applied to this special case, there are plenty of possibilities for the limerick poet, and plenty of scope for the imagination. The entries that came in explored all such possibilities, and discovered some new and unexpected ones. However, a few entries failed to fulfil the basic requirement of accurate scansion, and so had to be eliminated at stage one with much regret, I should add, because such entries, though they might have had a foot too few or a foot too many, were by no means short on humour or pithiness (and even occasionally on ribaldry).
A general survey showed that the great majority of the entries succinctly summarised the plots or sub-plots of the novels. Among these were notable entries by Shirley Byrne on Pride and Prejudice:
Hilary Rudden, also on Pride and Prejudice:
And Marjorie Jones on Persuasion: When Louisa fell on her head They [all were] afraid she was dead [When] Mary set up a wail Captain Wentworth turned pale But it all turned out well for dear Fred. Also popular were character sketches as the subjects of limericks ideal subjects since the limerick affords very little space and, as we know, Jane Austen herself went in for miniature painting in literature. Good examples included Pamela Whalan on Persuasive People:
And Christene Evans, also on Persuasion:
Sometime the entries allowed Jane Austens characters to talk (or think) aloud, and did it very convincingly, as in Melissa Kangs limerick on Emma:
Or Sadie Underwoods delightful portrait of guests entertained at Hartfield by Mr Woodhouse, also in Emma:
Ribaldry, as such, was present in some of the entries, but was mild by 18th century standards. However, we had Pamela Whalans Potted Persuasion:
Bedtime comes into the picture again, accompanied by lust, when Bertha McKenzie goes to work on the play within the plot of Mansfield Park:
and a little later.
The limerick, like the sonnet, requires accurate rhyming, and some entries experimented with amusing and unexpected rhymes, as Marjorie Jones did in her limerick on Pride and Prejudice:
Most of us would agree with Marjorie and Helen Sims when they rhymed Darcy with classy. Marjorie (who sent in several good entries) completed that particular one with:
While Helen Sims saw the ending of the novel differently
And added, in another limerick, that the Bennets daughter named Mary sang songs that would curdle a dairy. Christene Evans, an impressively inventive rhymester, and Marlene Arditto were among several competitors who noticed, like Helen, that the young Georgian lady name Lizzy sent Mr Darcy into a tizzy.
Two pithy observations that were, alas, defeated by the scansion rule included that of Denise Harris from Hunters Hill who thinks Fanny Price needs assertiveness training, and Katarina Bavcevic from WA, who yearns to throw Caroline in a den together with her sister Mrs Hurst, and then check them in a year or ten.
Needless to say, several entries gave the author priority over her works. One of these tributes came from Jean Boland:
Another was sent in anonymously from the Northern Suburbs:
A third entry, by Julia Ermert writing on Pride and Prejudice, paid tribute to Jane Austens modern imitators and successors:
Since none of these entries, good as they were, made it to the very top, you can expect that the winning entry was exceptional. And so it was. Or rather, so they were. Because there were two, and they were exceptional in such interestingly different ways that the Jane Austen Society has decided to present not one prize but two. Both Christene Evans and Pamela Whalan sent in several limericks, among which, in each case, two were outstanding; one (by Pamela, titled Mansfield Meditations) is strikingly witty in the Augustan manner, including in five lines two of the 18th centurys favourite literary devices, alliteration and the pun. Pamelas other winning limerick (titled Prejudiced Pride) combines accuracy as regards the text with a delicious Australianness very appropriate to a celebration such as ours. Here they are:
And Prejudiced Pride
A similarly refreshing contemporaneity is at the heart of the two entries by our equal First Prize winner, Christene Evans, who also impressed with her ability to pun and rhyme effectively:
I would like to thank on behalf of the Society all those who sent in such entertaining and clever entries, and to thank and congratulate the winners: Christene Evans, and Pamela Whalan.
Other Places, Other Societies
For contact details of other Jane Austen societies and links to other Jane Austen web sites see LINKS.
Jane Austen Society of Melbourne
The Society continues to grow at a pleasing rate and meetings are well attended. We have had some great speakers this year. At our last meeting held in October one of our members Andrea Richards explored the much-debated question of whether Jane Austen was a feminist with a delightful talk entitled Was Jane Austens Corset Combustible? At the August meeting we had a very interesting talk by Richard Heathcote, Manager of Rippon Lea, one of our National Trust houses, on Mr Gilpin, Mr Repton and the Landscaping of England. The talk was particularly relevant to Rippon Lea as its garden was designed in the picturesque style, one of very few in Australia.
In September a group of members went to the Melbourne Theatre Companys production of Pride and Prejudice adapted as a stage play by James Maxwell. The views of the members were mixed. Most thought that William McInnes as Darcy acquitted himself well but none of the other actors was as well received. Of course there were a number of constraints in bringing the story to the stage, there was no visit to Pemberley and most of the action took place at Longbourn.
Now that daylight saving has begun, Rippon Lea is running Jane Austen tours of the gardens on Saturday evenings. These have been a feature of the Rippon Lea calendar for a couple of years now, and are very popular. The garden tour is combined with readings from Jane Austen and culminates in a boat ride on the lake. A lovely way to spend a Saturday evening.
Our bi-monthly book discussion groups have been very successful. We have discussed Sense and Sensibility, and those attending have taken the opportunity to get to know one another better and to range over a number of discussion topics, not least of which was Jane Austen and her works. It is fascinating to realise how many interests (apart from Jane Austen) the members have in common.
Our last event for the year is a our Christmas tea which will be held on 27 November. A number of musical and other items have been planned, with a delicious afternoon tea. We then have a long wait until February when we start the activities for 2000.
Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year
Jane Austen news from Adelaide
Adelaide has had a busy year, and JA Adelaide is never a dull zone. Members participated in delivering some of our most inspired talks and stimulating arguments. We are finishing the year with Birthing Practices of the 18th century, and Science especially Women in Science of the 18th century, then a visit to a notable collection of Silhouettes and a talk on charting that form.
We will again be changing venues. It seems we are just ahead of the bulldozers where ever we go. Do they follow us? However we have not found our next years address stay tuned for further news. I will advise you when we have a new home: we are scouring Adelaides church halls and pub back rooms for space. Our membership has increased substantially over the past year with enthusiasts. Like Jane, we too know about having brains and being broke. We have monitored the growth of Jane Austen on the Web frenzy and have used many of the subjects to enhance discussions. We have had a wonderful time on the net finding the funniest, strangest JA news item. Every month I think we have gone over the top but we always find better.
Our favourite is the Tokyo Jane Austen, karaoke singalong with the bouncing ball of Emma and Frank Churchill. Unfortunately the words of the singalong go something like. Virgins are like fresh flowers of the field which is all very peculiar.
We are all getting anxious over our Sanditon projects. How could JA have made Sanditon in to a masterpiece when the best we can do is link the cliches?! It is most telling, doing it ourselves. We all agree that we will not be read in 224 years time!
All the Best for a Good Christmas and Birthday.
Letter from Western Australia
What a busy year we have had. We have gathered together a small, but ever-growing group of fellow Jane Austen lovers, currently numbering sixteen. Our monthly meetings (first Saturday, 1pm) were at first necessarily in members homes, but now we have our very own venue a room in the Alexander Library in Perth.
In September this year we had the privilege of meeting and listening to Susannah Fullerton. We were all very much pleased with the advice Susannah gave us, and have subsequently set up raffles, and are selling some Regency Fair items the Jane Austen bags and umbrellas have already become must haves.
We enjoyed Susannahs interesting and informative talk on the Juvenilia, with delightful extracts from Lesley Castle, Jack and Alice and others, and have had a few talks from other members as well. Our meetings generate much discussion on Jane Austen, for example, pondering on What if she married Mr Harris Bigg-Wither. At every meeting we have quizzes, kindly arranged by Jill Reece, to further use our grey cells, and stimulating a wish for more knowledge. For the rest of this year and much of the next we are immersing ourselves very much in Austens life.
Our end of year expedition is to Tranby House, Maylands, and next year we have many good things in line from guest speakers on Map-making (such as the marvellous Literary Tour Map of Jane Austens England, recently published) and Medical History of Georgian Times, as well as another expedition to the Fremantle Town House.
We welcome other Janeites to join our group. Jane Austen was right in having Anne Elliot saying...
My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation. That is what I call good company.
Report from Christchurch
Since we are always watching for new publications with an Austen connection, we have found plenty to discuss in Professor John Sutherlands latest collection of literary puzzles. How could we overlook its intriguing title of Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet? To find out just who is nominated for the title role we recommend that JASA members read the book, but here in Christchurch we feel there is plenty of room for debate about his conclusions on this issue (see review on page 34). He goes on to raise questions about some of Jane Austens novels other than Pride and Prejudice; he asks how Miss Frances Ward could have met Lt Price before the action of Mansfield Park takes place and also revisits the matter of the apple blossom in June in Emma.
The material in the book ranges beyond the 19th century in which this author specialises to include writers such as Defoe and Fielding. Perhaps we may feel that Professor Sutherland is milking the appeal of literary puzzles for all they are worth, but his collections do prompt readers to study the texts of classic novels ever more closely (as he does). Well certainly be keen to see the next volume when it appears.
Our small group has also been thinking about how we first encountered Jane Austen. Enthusiasts come to her work via different paths. Perhaps JASA members elsewhere would care to share their own journeys of discovery through the Newsletter as XXXChristene Evans is doing here for us. Readers may recognise Christenes name as joint winner in this years Limerick Competition and also from previous New Zealand contributions. She has maintained her keen interest in Jane Austens life and work for more than 50 years and recently celebrated her 80th birthday. I am sure other JASA members will join me in congratulating her. Long may her tireless and fruitful searches for fresh material with an Austen theme continue!
The Australian Brontė Association
A Brontė Performance Evening is to be held by the Australian Brontė Association, Collins Bookshop, Broadway, Friday 11 February 2000, from 6pm to 7.30pm at a cost of $5. Refreshments of wine & cheese will be served. Members can look forward to a selection of readings from the novels, poems and letters of the Brontė sisters. The Associations Christmas party was to be held on 4 December at Randwick.
The Brontė Societys June Weekend 1999
I attended the Brontė Societys annual weekend in Haworth in June this year, with my wife Elisabeth. The Friday evening concert featured the Steeton Male Voice choir and included a setting of one of Anne Brontės poems as well as a solo by a choir member who still has quite a voice at the age of 96!
The AGM was a lively affair. There was a proposal put forward to the members by the Council concerning some renovations at the Parsonage. It was only after some heated questions that it came out that the Finance Committee had voted unanimously against it but had been over-ruled by Council! Our local Austen and Brontė societies are fortunate in not having the responsibility of major assets. The meeting was still going strong after 2½ hours when the vintage buses arrived to take us off to dinner at the Three Sisters Restaurant overlooking the Wurth valley.
On the Sunday morning those who went on the excursion to Top Withins got soaked. Luckily we had chosen to visit the Three Graces Lodge, of which Bramwell was once Secretary.
One of the shopkeepers in Haworth noticed my ABA name-tag with a map of Australia in its logo, and expressed surprise that Australians had even heard of the Brontės. I explained that we werent just a nation of sporting enthusiasts, and that attendances at this annual British Brontė Society weekend were little more than we typically get to our JASA conferences. I also discovered that London is the only city in the UK that holds regular Brontė meetings, and that their attendances are not much more than our Australian Brontė Association in Sydney!
Haworth, the home of the Brontė sisters, had another JASA member visiting later this year. I was there in October, and learned a couple of things about Brontė country. For instance, Haworth is pronounced Hah-worth, not Hay-worth, which the view from the same Three Seasons Restaurant over lunch high above the Wurth/Worth valley explains high in the local dialect very easily becomes ha. The view is of rolling green hills, rows of black stone houses, and the Yorkshire dark satanic mills a somewhat depressing aspect.
The village is, not unnaturally but disappointingly, very tourist-centred. Its cobbled street climbs the hill through a wide variety of businesses existing on the Brontės and little else. The Brontė Society has its own premises in the village, and presents the Brontė story and memorabilia in the Parsonage, home of the Brontės, very well and professionally. The Parsonage itself is almost hidden, encroached upon by shops, houses, the church graveyard, and ... carparks.
The rooms in the Parsonage are tiny, as one would expect, and the details of the lives are well presented, but it is hard to catch the spirit of the Brontė familys lives. Yet it is here that the Brontės produced the large volume of work which we still so much admire. The building is by no means a cheerful place graves in the churchyard encroach right under the windows (as you can see, below), though these do post-date the time of the Brontė sisters. The darkness of their work is more understandable.
Curator Mr Tom Carpenters address to the UK Jane Austen Societys AGM gives a background to the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton, so central to studies, research and the profile of Jane Austen. A summary follows:
The museum is 50 years old! On 23 July 1949 the Duke of Wellington opened the door of the House as a museum, after its rescue by the late Thomas Edward Carpenter, grandfather of the present Curator. Its setup as a charitable Trust the Jane Austen Memorial Trust provided the infrastructure to restore, preserve and open the House and artefacts for access to the general public. And it has been a vibrant success.
Considerable conservation work and planning made it possible for the House to cope with the dramatic increase of visitors from the 20 visitors a week in a busy period upon opening, to over 1100 a week in 1996 in the middle of Austenmania, a figure which has eased back to 40,000 per year, which seems likely to continue for some years. Over 60 (!) visits from television crews from around the world have been welcomed, because there is a story to be told. Considerable appreciation is expressed to former Curator Jean Bowden, for her excellent groundwork and present Assistant Administrator Ann Channon for their work in making the house (and its marvellous bookshop) what it is.
This year the House has been involved in the unveiling of the plaque at 10 Henrietta Street at Winchester, by Amanda Root, who played Anne Elliot in the recent production of Persuasion, with Janes own little donkey cart, now superbly restored, involved in the surrounding publicity. Louise Ross and her team were also assisted with the establishment of the new Jane Austen Centre in Bath (XXXsee review on page 2).
In his final remarks, Tom Carpenter shows a charming attitude to Jane an attitude which goes far to explain the success of the centre:
That remains without question unchanged.
Sandy Lerners Chawton House Library:
This article was first published under the auspices of the Chicago Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America, and well deserves reprinting. Tom Hoberg, who so enlightened and entertained us at our Leura conference last year, turns his perceptive eye to Rudyard Kiplings fascinating The Janeites (from which we all have our name!).
Written in 1923 as a part of Debits and Credits (Kiplings last great prose collection), The Janeites is in part a reminiscence of the Great War and partly a celebration of the enduring spirit that enabled men to survive it.
The frame of the story places us in just-postwar London, in a Masonic lodge: the narrator, one of the Brethren, is a nameless surrogate for Kipling himself. He, in turn, is auditor to the central tale, set on the Western front in the last months of the war, and told to him by Brother Humberstall, a hulking, mildly shell-shocked relic of the Royal Heavy Artillery. His is the story of how a likely Freemason became an improbable Janeite, and how Jane, in turn, helped him return to tell the tale of his conversion. Humberstall, an unapologetic urban prole, relates his tale in a pea-soup-thick, aitchless Cockney that Jane, and many of the rest of us, need to pause over. But his devotion, once secured, is as durable as it is sincere.
Humberstalls induction into the Order of Janeites came after he has returned to his old Battery as Officers Mess Orderly, and overhears his superiors discussing This Jane, the only woman Ive eard em say a good word for. Later, by the grace of the regimental factotum, he is made privy to the initiatory password (Tilniz and trapdoors) and listens with bewildered fascination to the officers rapt discussion of this talismanic figure. For a consideration, the mess orderly offers to initiate Humberstall into all the Igher Degrees among the Janeites, and sets him to work reading her collected works. From first to almost last, Humberstall cannot grasp the talismanic attraction of a little old maid ood written alf a dozen books about a hundred years ago, books which
Humberstall dutifully goes along with the program and acquires a kind of rote expertise in Austeniana but the mesmeristic power of her stories continued to elude him. Er characters, he complains, was only just like people you run into every day! Collins (always on the make and lookin to marry money) puts him in mind of his old Boy Scout Troop leader; Lady Catherine (an upstandin ard mouthed Duchess or a Baronets wife that didnt give a curse for anyone oo wouldnt do what she told em to do) of an acquaintance of his mother, and Miss Bates (just an old maid runnin around like a hen with er ead cut off) of his aunt. And so it goes.
Most of the Brethren who are listening to the story, working blokes like Humberstall, are as baffled as he had once been: the characters seem to them at best replicants of ordinary people. But not so, says her advocate. Every dam thing about Jane is remarkable, he declares, to a pukka Janeite.
And certainly it seems so to our narrator, apparently an already-anointed Janeite who does not share the others bewilderment, and who has passed the story on to us, to make of remarkable what we will. And this narrative sharing begins Kiplings tribute to Jane. For he is not using her as a satiric foil on which to skewer uncomprehending unappreciation. As Humberstall in ignorance tells to him, so he in enlightenment to us. To be a Freemason, as the narrator is with the others within the story, is a rare privilege. But to begin to be a Janeite as he is mediating between Humberstall and us is to begin to initiate the reader into the Secret Order of Jane, a dispensation that the author elects to bestow on us, without the burden of ritual.
However, if Humberstalls intellect is a bit recalcitrant in the matter of Jane, his heart is in the right and loving place. To make a writer ordinary in the sense of accessible (as opposed to literary and remote) is to pay him or her a rich compliment and this Humberstall does when he re-christens the three superannuated pieces in the battery The Reverend Collins, The Lady Catherine de Bugg and the largest, least reliable gun General Tilney because it was worse wore in the groovin than anything Id ever seen. This bit of roguery lands him in hot water with his superiors, Janeites all, who object not to taking her words in vain, but to the unfortunate misspelling of de Bourgh, and to the appellation General Tilney to the old howitzer which, the officers rightly felt, should be called Miss Bates.
On the surface, all this may strike one as cloyingly cabalistic, shifting Jane from the subject of satire to the object of a cult. In fact, I think, it introduces her as a force for bonding as intense as that of the military or Freemasonry, and even more potent because of its unlikely, even contradictory origins. If we know Jane and the tenor of the story insists on our doing so, or at least wanting to we can only conclude that if Jane can be taken so seriously by such a unit as this, can indeed help make it a unit, she must be very strong medicine indeed.
For the unit is doomed. Literally. One of the officers in private life an actuary estimated that members in a forward artillery unit like theirs have a life expectancy of six weeks. This, as it turns out, is a generous estimate. For the Germans launched a last offensive that overran their entire front and in Humberstalls words, Believe me, gents or Brethren, I should say we copped it cruel. A few confused, blood-soaked hours after Humberstall comes to consciousness, dazed and wounded, to find himself the only Janeite left. His mates had all been killed, and Lady Catherine and the General was past prayin for.
But he underestimated the societys resilience and its ubiquity. When denied access to an ambulance train by a twittering, empty-headed nurse, he chances to castigate her as Miss Bates in the hearing of her formidable superior, whom he remembers as the Lady Catherine de Bourgh of the area, and who, recognising the allusion as the sign of a kindred soul, shifts him aboard the train and ministers him safely home to England.
This miraculous intervention elevated Humberstall from tepid acolyte to fervid proselytizer for Janeite-ism, the highest and most select of all secret orders. I read all her books for pleasure now, he enthuses:
Emma: The Case for the Prosecution
In the above paper, summarised below, Tom Hoberg takes the devils advocate position to that of the JASNA Conference title (Emma: Jane Austen at her Peak?) at the Chicago branch AGM in September.
Someone out there must be prepared to take up the cudgels for Emma! Write to us!
The watercolour reproduced here is said to be by James Stanier Clarke, of Jane Austen, painted in 1815.
It comes from a Liber Amicorum or Friendship Book comparatively recently discovered, belonging to the Rev Clarke, the librarian of the Prince Regent who had some (rather earnest) dealings with Jane leading to her dedication of Emma to the Prince. The beautifully-bound book contains other watercolours and precious items, such as a verse by novelist Charlotte Smith, signed and dated 1793, and a watercolour (rather amateurish) by Clarke of Princess Caroline dated 1795.
But is it Jane? How extraordinary if there should actually be another image of her. This picture shows an extremely well-dressed and prosperous (young?) lady, with a most fashionable hat, a rich fur muff, and fairly indistinguishable features perhaps more an Emma than a Jane.
If this IS Jane, it is a very different perception from that more familiarly put forward, of the poor rural clergymans daughter. The validity of the painting is argued by Richard Wheeler in his James Stanier Clarke and his Watercolour Portrait of Jane Austen (1998). Wheeler is also author of The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen (1996), which argued for the authenticity of that portrait of a young girl, now (unfortunately) proven NOT to be Jane (see Practicalities, March 1999). In that earlier text comparisons of the Clarke and Rice portraits with the familiar image by Cassandra and with Janes silhouette, were made to authenticate both these portraits a justification that tends to be a little circular, particularly based on an image now proven NOT to be Jane.
The image can be seen in full colour at the Artworks Gallery.
Greer Garson & Laurence Olivier in the 1940 film production of Pride and Prejudice
The early 1940s found me in Bombay, doing war work in the form of coding for the Royal Indian Navy, while my fairly new husband was fighting in the Middle East.
We regarded it as a lucky break indeed when he was posted back to India for a short staff course in Poona (now spelt Pune). I was granted leave and we had the happy prospect of an unexpected month together in the middle of the war.
During a couple of days off in Bombay, we saw a film called Pride and Prejudice at the Metro, the citys newest and most glamorous cinema. I chose the film because Greer Garson was my favourite star. Well, she didnt let me down and neither did her Darcy! In fact, for me, Laurence Olivier has always been the definitive Fitzwilliam. Later I was to become more critical of 37 year old Garsons Elizabeth, and of the film I thought so wonderful at the time. Our first impression, though, was that we both loved the film.
I didnt know then that Louis B. Mayer hadnt liked the Empire-line costumes and changed them for (historically inaccurate) crinolines. Thus the anomaly of Darcy in Regency breeches and Lizzy in clothes his grand-daughter might have worn!
We returned to Poona the next day. Installed in a small, quiet hotel, I found my husband was to be the Armys from 8am to 6pm for the next four weeks. How was I to fill in those empty hours in a strange place, knowing not a soul? After breakfast, despite the stifling heat, I explored the neighbourhood. Presently I came to a small cluster of English-type shops, among them Knight and Day, the Chemists; then Thackers Book Shop, which I entered, and found it seemed to have been transplanted from London. There I browsed along the shelves while just looking, as we say, I spied the title Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Pouncing on the book, I paid, and took my prize back to our hotel room, where I hardly lifted my eyes from its pages until my husband returned at six. This was to be the pattern of my life during our month at Poona. I cant remember much about the place, but I became very familiar with Thackers, to which I returned until I had denuded their shelves of all the Austen novels...and I have been reading them ever since.
Was this a grasping at pure escapism from the awful things that were happening in our world, our uncertain future? Yes, of course, but how invaluable was that voice of sanity, then as now, in troubled times.
Reported by new member Maria Loutsopoulos
The JASNAs Annual General Meeting will be held in Colorado Springs at the Antlers Adams Mark Hotel. The featured novel this year is Emma.
Plenary Session speakers will include Rachel Brownstein (author of Becoming a Heroine) and Claire Tomalin (Jane Austen: A Life). The featured debate Is Emma: Austen at her peak? will be moderated by JASNA News Book Review Editor Inger Brodey. Supplementing the plenary sessions this year there will be 33 break out sessions showcasing 54 speakers and canvassing a range of interesting topics, including the significance of Mr Knightleys interest in changing footpaths, Jane Fairfaxs skills as a pianist, marriage plot comparisons between Emma and Seinfeld, and music and film in Emma. There will even be a Peak of Fashion Hat Workshop where participants will be able to assemble and trim their own headpiece to wear at the Saturday evening banquet.
Australian speakers present include John Wiltshire (LaTrobe University), Nora Walker (founder of the JASA) and Pamela Whalan, director of the Genesian Theatre. Nora and Pam will be presenting a point/counterpoint piece on When Imperfection becomes Perfection to the JASNA meeting. Does Emma, imperfect at the beginning, become perfect? It should be a most interesting session, and we wish them well and we know theyll enjoy the Conference!
Frances O'Connor as Fanny in the latest movie production of Mansfield Park
The new film adaptation of Mansfield Park is STILL coming real soon now. Currently it is expected here on 20 April. A trailer of the movie is on the Net, which also produces a fairly glowing report of what is obviously a very different production. Lets hope we get to see it soon so that we can form our own opinions!
Maria Loutsopoulos has sent us reactions from the Janeites OneList, from which we have extracted Diana Birchall on Birchalls@aol.com airing her views.
The Sydney Morning Herald piece on 17 November quoting from The Guardian was certainly less glowing. One of the gentler of the comments of journalist Fiachra Gibbons is that ...
Certainly gets your attention, doesnt it! The article quotes Ashton Dennis, an Austen expert, as saying:
The expert Dennis is also quoted as objecting to Pinters portrayal of Sir Thomas as being haunted by the slave trade being the basis of his wealth, saying...
It is also hard to understand how an Austen expert can make such a monumental error in his reading of Chapter 20 where the West Indies and slavery ARE mentioned. Perhaps he was misquoted.
Director Rozema is also said to have incorporated into her version of Fanny and Austen her own view:
A strong dichotomy of views is obviously to be expected of this very different production.
PS Did you notice the name of the Austen expert? Mrs Ashton Dennis (M.A.D.!) was the pseudonym Jane Austen used to contact her publishers. Is The Guardian being had, or are we??
The Jane Austen Centre in Bath
The Centre opened in May 1999, with the support of the Jane Austen Society, the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, and central Austenite Maggie Lane. It is a commercial venture, offering a first central starting off point for visitors to Bath interested in Jane Austen. It is located on the tourist route between The Circus and Queens Square at 40 Gay Street (Jane lived at No.25, if you recall).
Maggie Lane says of the Centre:
During the first four weeks of its opening, the Centre hosted some 500 visitors per week, mostly Americans and Australians. The Bath press reports that it has three dimensional images of the Pump Room, Assembly Rooms, the Circus and Milsom Street among the backdrops used in the centre. Their web site is at www.janeausten.co.uk.
The newly instituted Regency Fair carries items specifically for Janeites, from all around the world: they are listed here for the convenience of those who cant actually attend JASA meetings. Indulge yourself!
To order, contact:
Postage will be charged for items sent by mail.
25 January 1999