Last year Sue from Whispering Gums and I exchanged some comments on each other blogs about our Austen-dedicated bookcases. Shortly after, Sue sent me (all the way from Australia!) “Jane Austen: Antipodean Views”, edited by Susannah Fullerton, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, and Anne Harbers.
It is the Antipodean counterpart of a 2000 book called Jane Austen: A Celebration, a collection of opinions about Jane Austen from famous Britons. Fullerton and Harbers were curious about the impact (if any) of Austen on a part of the world as far away as it’s physically possible from where she lived and wrote. They sent letters “in the hundreds” to Australians and New Zealanders from all walks of live asking
(…) for a personal response to Jane Austen. We wanted to know if the letters’ recipients could remember a first reading of a Jane Austen novel, if they re-read their books, if they were forced to read their books at school when they would rather be playing sports. We asked if their first reaction to Jane Austen hand changed over time, if the film versions of her books had been enjoyed or disliked and if Jane Austen aroused feelings of pleasure, warmth, indifference or loathing.
The result is a very fun and poignant book. Its biggest assert is the variety that the editors looked for, including several cartoons especially made for the occasion.
Some responses were four pages old, others a single sentence, some written by Professors of Literature, others by cartoonists, Archbishops, librarians, psychologists, race-horse breeders, Prime Ministers.
Some are serious, some are funny, some are emotional. I laughed out loud and even got a bit teary. All together they make a wonderful celebration of Austen and the way she connects so many people around the world. I couldn’t I really fell the “Antipodean” part, though. Apart from a reference here and there to a specific place, these letters could have been written in England, Canada or America.
Can someone out there please compile a similar thing for non-English-speaking countries, where Austen is not compulsory reading in school? I don’t find the fact that an Australian high-school student reads and loves Austen that special, but why would a Mongolian, Yemenite or Croat? How cool would such a book be?
Here are some great quotes:
(My favorite of all letters was by) John Marsden, writer of teenage fiction:
I’ve deliberately refrained from reading Persuasion so that I would never get to the point where I had no more Jane Austens to read. When the doctor, with grave countenance, gives me the news that I have only three months, the grief will be mitigated by delight that at last I am allowed to read Persuasion. In the meantime, I’m avoiding crossing roads when busses are in sight.
Murray Ball, cartoonist, author:
Anyone able to have her chaste, fully clothed, never so much as “felt up” heroine discussed seriously by a first Fifteen changing room of a boys high-school cannot be considered to be anything less than a genius.
Dr Gideon Maxwell Polya, reader and Associate Professor in Biochemistry, author of Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History:
Jane Austen’s most profound message for me is that no matter who, where or what we are, we are empowered by the sensible expression of our thoughts.
Professor Elizabeth Jolley, Writer, Chair of Creative Writing:
I find in old age, I have forgotten the novels, in particular the magic of being lifted into other lives and background. Re-reading is one of the Best Things of old age. Forgetfulness – it is live having a present.
Harry Smith, ex-coal miner:
I’m sure that any one paragraph can be taken at random and the thoughts behind it would present much food for thought and discussion.
Graeme Base, book author and illustrator:
Read for Advent with Austen.
Other thoughts: Whispering Gums (yours?)