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Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie writers and Jane Austen

December 13, 2010
Jane Austen sketch by Cassandra

Cassandra's portrait of her sister, c. 1810

Funnily enough, I’m not the only Australian who loves Jane Austen – and so we too have our very own Jane Austen juggernaut. We see the films and miniseries, we have the Jane Austen Society of Australia – and we have academics and others researching and writing on all sorts of topics relating to her. Today, I thought I’d post about one of the lighter Australian-published books on her because it is, after all, that time of year when we tend to relax the brain power a little – or, at least, I do. The book is Jane Austen: Antipodean views (edited by Suzannah Fullerton and Anne Harbers).

I clearly remember when this book was published, nearly 10 years ago, because it included comments that I related to – that tickled me, in some cases – by some Aussie writers, and so this is what I’m going to share now.

The comment that made the greatest impression on me was the one from John Marsden, a popular and award-winning Australian children’s writer:

I’ve deliberately refrained from reading Persuasion, so that I would never get to the point where I had no more Jane Austens left 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 am avoiding crossing roads when busses are in sight.

Now, I can relate to this because I too saved a Jane Austen for quite a long time. Although I’d reread all of the others a few times, I was saving Mansfield Park for the same reason. Finally, a decade or so ago, I decided that I could put it off no longer (mainly because the Patricia Rozema film version was coming and I wanted to read the book first!). I’m glad I changed my mind and I hope Marsden has too, as rereading Jane Austen is as enjoyable, really, as reading her the first time. Why deny yourself that pleasure?

Close to that one is the following from one of my very favourite Australian writers, Elizabeth Jolley:

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’s like having a present.

This one tickles me because my reading group often jokes that when we get to a certain age – and it’s moving rapidly closer – we’ll read the same book over and over because it’ll be new every time! I’ll be very happy if that one book is a Jane Austen…

My third favourite comment – and those of you who regularly read my blog will soon see why – comes from the mellifluous broadcaster and writer, Phillip Adams:

The longer I live the more bored and irritated I am by excess  – and the more grateful to find such a wide range of emotions, and such accuracy of observation, in the less-is-more prose of that remarkable woman.

“Less-is-more”. Exactly so! Need I say more?

There are many more comments along similar lines to those above but, just to be even-handed, I’ll end with the words of the award-winning but clearly unenlightened children’s book author and illustrator, Graeme Base:

Jane who?

The cheek of it!

Suzannah Fullerton and Anne Harbers (eds)
Jane Austen: Antipodean views
Neutral Bay: Wellington Lane Press, 2001
ISBN: 9780908022168

23 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2010 04:28

    I can relate to leaving one novel unread to avoid the dreadful feeling that ‘they’ve all been read.’ I felt that way about Geoff Nicholson, and I started rationing out his books.

    I am currently rereading a much loved Thackeray novel.

    • December 14, 2010 08:15

      Oh good, I’m glad John (Marsden that is!) and I aren’t the only weird ones! Re-reading is such a guilty pleasure – guilt because there are all those books out there waiting, and pleasure because you know you are going to enjoy it and that you’ll be likely see something new in it. Which Thackeray? He’s a Victorian I really haven’t read a lot of.

  2. December 14, 2010 08:37

    Recently I picked up Mansfield Park because of you. No pressure. Happy Monday. Cheers, Kevin

    • December 14, 2010 08:45

      Oh good … I look forward to your response (when you find you are able to get to it … no pressure!) I did have a happy Monday – it’s nearly 9am on Tuesday here!

  3. December 14, 2010 11:58

    I am not quite sure how it has happened, but I still haven’t managed to read Jane Austen. *gasp* Shocking I know.

    One day!

    • December 14, 2010 13:58

      What the? People like you exist! LOL. Seriously though, I do hope that one day you do – and fall in love with her like John Elizabeth, Phillip and me!

  4. December 14, 2010 12:23

    Love this post! Though Jolley (and you) should remember that we young’uns forget things too (though some things, we don’t. I can still recite the plots of Girl of the Limberlost and Little House of the Prairie like I lived those stories myself)! Good old John Marsden…

  5. Lithe lianas permalink
    December 14, 2010 16:53

    I never feel guilty about rereading any novel. If it is enticing enough to beckon you to reread you are sure to find something new in it – and even if you don’t you can still enjoy what you found the first time. I’m old enough to be your mother so take my advice – no guilt!

    Incidentally, if I was to be marooned on an island with only one book it would be an omnibus Jane Austen.

    • December 14, 2010 17:39

      Isn’t that cheating? Still, I like it … all those lovely characters and delicious language.

  6. December 15, 2010 03:07

    Love the quotes you pulled out! I can certainly understand wanting to save an Austen book so you have it to look forward to, but I agree with you, the rereading is as delightful and sometimes even moreso than the first reading when it comes to Jane.

    • December 15, 2010 09:06

      Thanks Stefanie. They are great ones aren’t they? Clearly, if this post is any indication, we readers love and value the pleasures that come from rereading. Marsden should know that – many of his readers, particularly of his Tomorrow when the war began series, would reread his books over and over.

  7. December 15, 2010 19:27

    More Jane! (sigh). I confess to finding her books uninteresting but realise the deficiency is in me rather than Ms Austen’s writing. However, the quotations above are fun and I particularly like the thought that old books become new through age-related forgetfulness.

    • December 15, 2010 22:41

      On that I would have to agree! LOL. Seriously though, we all have our reading preferences, so
      I’m ok, you’re ok”! Must say though that my brother, a big reader, recently read a Jane Austen after discounting her for decades and loved it. When I asked him what he particularly liked, he said “everything”. Does that inspire you?

      Anyhow, I’m glad something in the post entertained you – so thanks for your response!

  8. December 17, 2010 05:00

    This is such an interesting post! It reminds me of … myself. I’ve been avoiding rereading Pride & Prejudice (my fave) so I would forget the details and nuances such that I can be surprised the next time I do read it again. I like all your quotes… esp. the first one. And hey, a Happy Jane Austen Birthday to you all Janeites of Australia! (although by the time you read this comment it will have passed already… but greetings just the same.)

    • December 17, 2010 08:03

      Oh thanks Arti – for both the comment and the birthday wishes! My Jane Austen group will be celebrating her birthday tomorrow at our end of year Christmas lunch. It was rather convenient of Jane to be born when she did. We always begin our lunch with a toast to her, followed by the cry, “Oh why did she have to die so young!”

      • December 17, 2010 16:20

        Isn’t that just so sad! Not only do I wish Jane could have had a much longer life, I like to see her become a modern day writer even… wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could go to her readings and signing, and, for us to take photos with her…

        • December 17, 2010 16:35

          Absolutely. Funnily enough, my daughter and I, just 15mins ago, finished watching pt 3 of the Firth/Ehle P&P – the one the ends with Darcy’s first proposal. It’s such a joy to watch this version … Apparently Jennifer Ehle is in the film, The King’s English, which opens here after Christmas. Can’t wait to see it.

  9. December 18, 2010 23:04

    I do like the notion of leaving one book for later, but like most people I’m too well aware of the fickle nature of fate, and I think it’s best not to leave things to chance like that. Having said that I haven’t read Sense and Sensibility as yet, not through active decision, I just didn’t get to reading it when the local Jane Austen book group did it. I have it sitting in the mountainous TBR. As one who is still only moderately old I find Elizabeth Jolley’s comment a bit alarming. I have taken to rereading in the past few years. Well I don’t completely avoid it now, like I used to. You do probably get more from a rereading than you do a first reading. But if that’s one of the best things about Old Age, well, I think we have a problem. BTW Sue I’m jealous of you rewatching the BBC P&P, I’ve been meaning to do that for ages. Although I have been watching the 1940 movie. I watched it once, but fell asleep through much of it, and am attempting to watch it again, but have to find a few spare moments without DH and DS distracting me. And I too am keen to see The Kings Speech, am planning to squeeze it in next week sometime.

    • December 19, 2010 20:29

      Well, 2011 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of S&S so next year is the year to read it! Anyone who is anyone will be doing so!!

      The Greer Garson-Laurence Olivier version of P&P was my first adaptation. Pretty incorrect but it’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Firth was great but there are certain lines/actions of Olivier’s that I’ll never forget (notwithstanding Elizabeth Jolley’s comment on aging!)


  1. Jane Austen: Antipodean Views by Susannah Fullerton & Anne Harbers (eds.) « The Sleepless Reader

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