Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Susannah Fullerton’

Inquiring readers, Susannah Fullerton lives in Australia, a land Down Under, which at this moment is experiencing spring, that blessed season. Recent articles on this blog have referred to her book, “Jane Austen & Crime,” first published in 2004. Susannah presents yet more historical information from her knowledge of this era. Much of the information in this post was new to me.

On a hot Australian summer morning in February, 1844, a man was led forth, closely guarded, from the impressive gates of Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney. It was 9 o’clock in the morning, but already 10,000 people had gathered in the public square in front of the prison, eager to watch the last moments of the condemned man. He was praying as he walked and “appeared to be deeply sensible of the awful position in which he stood. A dark and frowning eternity began to press itself with fearful force upon his mind, while his apparently sincere cries for mercy became more and more earnest as the tragic scene drew on.” He was given a chance to speak some last words to the two clergymen who were present, and then he mounted the scaffold. The noose was placed around his neck, and the man “was launched into another world”.  Church bells tolled his passing nearby. The huge crowd, which included women and children, watched silently, awed by the solemnity of the spectacle and, after the body was cut down and removed to within the prison, they quietly walked away. The event was widely reported the next day in Sydney newspapers, so those who had been unable to attend, could read all about it there.

Image of A hanging outside Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney

A hanging outside Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney

Jane Austen had died more than 25 years before this horrid event. What possible connection could there be between this man, and the great novelist? Well, his name was John Knatchbull and he was the half-brother of the Edward Knatchbull who married Jane Austen’s favourite niece Fanny Austen Knight. Edward and John’s father, Sir Edward Knatchbull, had twenty children by his three different wives.  Fanny’s family and the Knatchbull family, also from Kent, had known each other for some years before her marriage with Edward united them, and it is quite possible that Jane could have heard something of the ‘difficult’ son of the family. 

John Knatchbull was probably born in 1793 (he was baptized in January of that year) in Kent. As a schoolboy he displayed “vicious inclinations” and when he joined the Navy, he soon found himself treated with contempt by fellow officers, and in financial difficulties. To pay what he owed, he indulged in petty frauds and in 1824 he was tried for the theft of two sovereigns and a blank cheque form. That was enough in value to see him hanged in England, but the judge was lenient on the young man and instead sent him to Botany Bay, the dumping ground for England’s unwanted criminals. John Knatchbull was sentenced to remain in Australia for 14 years before being permitted to return to England. His Kentish family was relieved to be rid of him.

Image of John Knatchbull

The family black sheep failed to behave any better once he was in Australia. In 1831 he was sentenced to death for forgery. But once more the sentence was commuted, this time to seven years of penal servitude on Norfolk Island, about the grimmest place a convict could be sent. In his time on Norfolk Island John took part in two mutinies and tried to poison with arsenic the food prepared for the guards. However, by 1839 he was back in Sydney. In 1844 John Knatchbull was planning to marry, but he needed money. Returning to his brutal ways, he stole from a shopkeeper Ellen Jamieson, then killed her by hacking at her skull with a tomahawk. Her two children were left orphaned and her murderer, who tried to make a plea of insanity, was described by the judge as “a wretch of the most abominable description”.  This time there was no leniency and John Knatchbull was sentenced to hang. Darlinghurst Gaol is still there today (though an art college, not a prison, now does business behind its high stone walls). The square where the 1844 hanging occurred is named Green Square, not for the colour of the grass that grows there but because Mr Green was the name of the hangman.

Image of the Gates of Darlinghurst Gaol

Had Jane Austen still been alive, no doubt she and Fanny would have discussed the shameful story and its horrific outcome. Both women were aware that another member of their family could also have ended up in the Antipodes. Aunt Jane Leigh Perrot had been at serious risk of a trip to Botany Bay, when she was accused of shop-lifting in Bath in 1799. Incarcerated for some months in Ilchester Gaol, Mrs Leigh Perrot had defended herself vigorously and, at her trial, she was acquitted. However, she knew a journey to Australia was highly probable and made plans that her husband James would accompany her if she was sent there. The entire Austen family must, at this worrying time, have speculated about what life in the colony would be like for their relations.

Jane Austen was interested in prisons. In 1813 she visited Canterbury Gaol with her brother Edward, who had to visit the institution as part of his duties as a magistrate. This was a most unusual thing for a Regency lady to do. My book Jane Austen and Crime explains what sort of institution she saw there. Jane Austen’s interest in punishment and imprisonment went into her next novel, Mansfield Park, a novel that is rich in prison imagery and a book that examines various types of imprisonment in its themes.

 

 

Photo of the gaol in Canterbury visited by Jane AustenThe gaol in Canterbury, visited by Jane Austen

Anyone who lived in Britain’s Georgian era must have had a strong awareness of crimes and punishments. Hangings, time in the pillory, and other punishments were very public events. Trials were short and brutal, prisons were being much discussed and were undergoing huge changes, and yet some crimes such as smuggling and poaching were regarded much more leniently by the general public. I started to write my book on crimes in Jane Austen’s world and fiction when a bus on which I was travelling stopped by Darlinghurst Gaol and I began to reflect on the Knatchbull story and to wonder what actually constituted a crime in Austen’s day? Was elopement to Gretna Green a crime? What about Maria’s adultery with Henry Crawford – how did the law regard such behaviour? Which of Jane Austen’s characters commit hanging offences, and how does her juvenilia reflect her interest in criminal activity? Which of her characters work as magistrates, who are the lawyers in her fiction, and how did she regard such crimes as duelling and gambling? The result of that moment on a bus was, some years later, my book. Claire Tomalin was kind enough to describe it as “essential reading for every Janeite”. I found it fascinating to see Jane Austen’s world and fiction through the lens of crime – I hope you enjoy and learn from it too.

Photo of Susannah FullertonAbout Susannah Fullerton, OAM, FRSN, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia: Susannah Fullerton is a Canadian-born Australian author and literary historian. She has been president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia since 1996, which is the largest literary society in Australia.

Image of the book cover of Jane Austen & Crime by Susannah FullertonIf you would like to buy Jane Austen and Crime, it is available from https://susannahfullerton.com.au/bookshop/ (signed copies on request) 

 

You are welcome to sign up to Susannah’s free monthly newsletter, ‘Notes from a Book Addict’. To sign up, email susannah@susannahfullerton.com.au and

your name will be entered in a draw ON DECEMBER 20TH to win one of the following prizes:
  • A signed copy of Jane Austen and Crime by Susannah Fullterton.
  • An additional copy of the book from Vic Sanborn for U.S. and Canadian citizens.
  • A 1-year subscription to ‘Tea with a Book Addict’, an exciting programme of zoom / video talks which will take you around the world with 12 fabulous novels.
  •  1 video talk of your choice from Susannah’s website
Please quote the password KNATCHBULL to have your name entered in the draw for prizes.
To join in the fun with ‘Tea with a Book Addict’, visit https://susannahfullerton.com.au/tea-with-a-book-addict/ 

Image of Tea with a Book Addict and travel the world with great books with Susannah Fullerton

Other posts by Susannah Fullerton on this blog:

Readers: all other posts by Susannah on this blog and her writings about Jane Austen can be found at this link that tag her name: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/susannah-fullerton/

 

Read Full Post »

Inquiring Readers, I discovered that Susanna Fullerton, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia and Austen author, is as much of a fan of Georgette Heyer as I am, perhaps more. This delightful article compares and contrasts the writings of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Susannah also offers a giveaway at the end of her article. Enjoy!

In Georgette Heyer’s novel Regency Buck there’s a delightful scene that takes place in Hookham’s Library in London’s Bond Street. The heroine, Judith Taverner, picks up a novel called Sense and Sensibility, one of the “new publications on offer” and written “By a Lady”. She proceeds to read aloud to her cousin Bernard from the scene when mercenary John Dashwood congratulates his sister Elinor on capturing the romantic interest of Colonel Brandon. John Dashwood is of course mistaken – it is Marianne that interests the Colonel – and it’s a lovely comic moment of misunderstanding. Judith closes the book and says to her cousin, “Surely the writer of that must possess a most lively mind?” This is one of the tributes that Heyer pays to Jane Austen, in her fiction. She knew only too well how very lively was the mind of her favourite novelist.

She’d have loved to have learned more about Jane Austen, but Heyer did not have the wealth of material available to today’s reader. James Edward Austen-Leigh’sMemoir had been published, and she could also turn to Constance Hill’s Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, but otherwise she had to pretty much rely on the novels to gain details she could use in her own fiction. There was no superbly researched edition of the letters by Deirdre le Faye, no Tomalin biography, no John Mullan analysis, for Heyer to turn to. But she made the most of what she had and reread the novels frequently. One reviewer of Friday’s Child picked up on this, noting with approval, “The author has read Jane Austen to advantage”.

I think Heyer must have felt, even with the limited biographical material available to her, that she had much in common with Jane Austen. Both women lost adored fathers and had rather troubled relationships with their mothers, both cherished their privacy, both were meticulous when it came to accuracy, and neither suffered fools easily. Both novelists “dearly loved to laugh” and their humour shines through in their fiction.

Sense and Sensibility is a novel about sisters and one can see the influence of this in Heyer’s oeuvre. Frederica is the sensible sister in the novel of that name, while Charis is the emotional and romantic equivalent of Marianne Dashwood. Mary and Sophia Challoner of Devil’s Cub, Horatia and Elizabeth Winwood of The Convenient Marriage are more examples of Austen-influenced sister-pairings, and Heyer shows, just as Austen did in Sense and Sensibility, that second attachments can succeed and that sometimes handsome young men turn out to be rotters.

Heyer learned from Northanger Abbey too, playing with Gothic conventions such as abductions, strange and overbearing ‘villains’, dark and stormy nights, and people being locked in cellars – but, like Austen, she mines Gothic tropes for humour, not for scariness. We find Gothic devices being mocked in The Reluctant Widow, Devil’s Cub, Friday’s Child, Cousin Kate and Faro’s Daughter.

Image of the cover of 24 novels of Georgette Heyer published by Sourcebooks Cassablancain 2008
Image of the cover of 24 novels of Georgette Heyer published by Sourcebooks Cassablanca in 2008

Novelist PD James once described Pride and Prejudice as “Mills & Boon, written by a genius”. Certainly, Austen’s novels give us the standard romance plot of ‘boy meets girl – consequent misunderstanding – romantic happiness’. Of course, Austen adds to this standard plot her own unique depth, psychological acuteness, and complexity of character which lifts her books into the realm of genius. Heyer uses this standard plot too – just as Elizabeth Bennet has to listen to Darcy’s “not handsome enough to tempt me”, so does Arabella have to listen to slighting comments from Mr Beaumaris. Like Austen, Heyer shows her couples learning about themselves and their world, often through making mistakes or initial prejudice. Sylvester, like Darcy, will learn to be “properly humbled” by the woman he comes to love, Sherry has to learn from Hero to think of others and not just himself, Freddy Standen in Cotillion must discover that love comes into one’s life in unexpected ways. Heyer shows couples sparring with each other in seeming dislike, just as Elizabeth and Darcy bandy words in the ball room. In Bath Tangle, Lady of Quality, Black Sheep and The Grand Sophy we see young men and women falling in love as they argue, and so often their language has echoes of the language used by Austen’s characters.

Eyes are said to be the windows of the soul, and eyes that speak to each other are important in Jane Austen’s books. Darcy finds himself admiring Elizabeth’s very fine eyes and when Emma’s eyes “invited him irresistibly to come to her”, Mr Knightley doesn’t even try to resist. The eyes of Heyer’s heroines (usually cool grey ones) are often mentioned and are a great part of their attraction to their lovers. Eyes in her novels also sparkle with laughter, for Heyer’s heroines all love to laugh, as do Austen’s (even Fanny Price laughs – once!). Gurgles of laughter, lips twitching in smiles, and sudden bursts of laughter, all remind one of Elizabeth Bennet’s laughter, or of Emma’s smiles.

Stack of the annotated editions of Jane Austen's six novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.
Stack of the annotated editions of Jane Austen’s six novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.

“There are just so many similarities in language, character and plot, as one sees again and again how Heyer pays tribute to Jane Austen. To many modern readers, the idea of cousins marrying each other is not appealing (we know of the possible genetic consequences for their children), but we find cousin marriages, which must have been common in the Regency, happening in Mansfield Park and in The Grand Sophy. That Heyer novel has a rather sleepy Spanish woman, a Marquesa, who is surely a Lady Bertram copy-cat, Dr Grant’s obsession with food and wine is mirrored in the wonderfully named Sir Bonamy Ripple of False Colours, and sudden illness, elopements to Scotland, and marital unhappiness (all to be found in Mansfield Park) are found frequently in Heyer. Sir Thomas Bertram and Miles Calverleigh have money from Indian plantations, Tom Bertram and Horatia Winwood are addicted to gaming, Fanny Price and Kitty Charing are taken in by relatives when young, and even Lady Bertram’s lazy pug is comically reincarnated in Friday’s Child. Emma is a rather managing young lady – so is Sophy Stanton-Lacy of The Grand Sophy though Emma has more to learn than Sophy; Miss Bates rarely stops talking long enough to draw breath and we gain such a vivid sense of how exhausting it must be for poor Jane Fairfax to live with her – Maria Farlow in Lady of Quality also has an inexhaustible flow of “nothing-sayings” which exhausts Annis; and Mr Woodhouse’s hypochondria has influenced the vapourish and imagined illness of many Heyer characters. Mrs Elton’s social climbing teaches Mrs Challoner a thing or two, dim-witted Harriet Smith and Belinda of The Foundling have much in common, while Bath Tangle concerns itself with lost love and second chances, just as does Persuasion.

Both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer wrote about young women who enter the marriage market, and their novels are centred on romantic relationships. However, both novelists then proceed to de-centre this romance by using comedy, irony and by showing us the realities of marriage. Sometimes love or lust are just not enough, as is obvious from the Bennet marriage. Both writers investigate what W.H. Auden called “the amorous effects of brass” and show how money influences and distorts. And both show us the instability and social concerns of the Regency era (urban poverty, enclosure of land, women lacking dowries, a growing middle class, and soldiers with not enough to do). They give us heroines who must learn to cope on their own while losing homes, income, family and love, both show an unerring sense of place, and they give us so much to laugh over.

I love both of these authors, sometimes for the same reasons and sometimes for very different reasons. Jane Austen was writing contemporary novels, Heyer historical ones, so she spends more time explaining social detail than does Austen. I love Heyer’s sense of fun and relax into her fiction without feeling challenged or disturbed (which in these Covid times is exactly what I need). But Heyer never provides the acute psychological brilliance that we find in Austen, or the sheer innovation, or the depth of characterisation, or the knowledge that every single time we go back to her books we will learn something new about ourselves or other people. Austen challenges our intellects and makes us think; Heyer soothes and restores. Georgette Heyer would have been the first to admit that her own talents were far inferior to those of her literary mentor – she knew her novels were not in the same class. And yet her novels have huge charm and I am happy to keep going back to them, always with delight. I think that as readers we can rejoice in the differences and enjoy both writers in different ways, and have the fun of finding the echoes of Austen in the pages of Heyer.

Jennie Chawleigh of A Civil Contract reads Mansfield Park after her marriage to Adam. She is consoled by reading in its pages that a man can form a deep and lasting second attachment, and seeing Edmund Bertram begin to forget Mary and think about Fanny brings her comfort. I love such references made by one of my favourite novelists to the writer whose books I adore more than any other. In my view, one can find that both writers are, in the words of Heyer, “complete to a shade”, each in their own inimitable way.

About Susannah Fullerton:

Susannah Fullerton, OAM, FRSN, has been President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia for the past 25 years. She is the author of several books about Jane Austen – Jane Austen and Crime, A Dance with Jane Austen, Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Jane & I: A Tale of Austen Addiction. She has also organised 3 Georgette Heyer conferences in Sydney and edited Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade. Please visit her website at https://susannahfullerton.com.au/ She is a ‘Lady Patroness’ of the newly formed International Heyer Society, which publishes a newsletter ‘Nonpareil’ and sends out fascinating posts about all things Heyer. For further information, see https://heyersociety.com/

Bibliography:

A fuller version of this article can be found in Heyer Society: Essays on the Literary Genius of Georgette Heyer, Edited by Rachel Hyland, Overlord Publishing, 2018

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, Jennifer Kloester, ,Penguin, 2011

SPECIAL OFFER!:

Susannah writes a very popular blog, ‘Notes from a Book Addict’, which comes out for free on the first day of each month. This blog provides reading recommendations, keeps you up-to-date concerning film versions of classic novels, discusses a fabulous poem each month, and much more.

If you subscribe to this blog before 31 September, your name will be entered into a draw to win one of these prizes:

  • A signed copy of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade 
Image of the cover of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade
Cover of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade
  • A signed copy of Jane Austen and Crime

  • A 25-page Reader’s Guide to Jane Austen’s Emma

  • Complimentary membership for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020 of the International Heyer Society

  • Two of Susannah’s fabulously illustrated video talks: ‘Jane Austen: Her Life and Works’ and ‘The Inimitable Georgette Heyer’ (each talk is about 60 mins)

To enter the draw, simply email Susannah on susannah@susannahfullerton.com.au, reference HEYER, and she will subscribe you to the blog and enter your name in the draw. Winners will be announced at the end of September.

Georgette Heyer links on this blog:

How I Fell In Love With Georgette Heyer, Vic Sanborn, August 7, 2012

Georgette Heyer Posts on Jane Austen’s World

Read Full Post »

9780760344361Happy 200th year anniversary, Pride and Prejudice! Much to my delight, author Susannah Fullerton has written a comprehensive homage to the novel to start off a year-long celebration. Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece is chock full of new and old information about Jane Austen’s most popular and beloved work. Written in Susannah’s breezy style (reading the book is like hearing Susannah talk enthusiastically about one of her favorite authors in person), the book follows the creation, writing,  and publication of Pride and Prejudice; examines the appeal of its hero and heroine minutely; analyzes other major and minor characters; and discusses translations, illustrators, sequels and adaptations, films and theatricals, and P&P paraphernalia in some depth. In other words, Celebrating Pride and Prejudice is a one-stop reading shop for P&P enthusiasts.

Gough2 (1)

Copyrighted Gough image courtesy Voyageur Press.

Fullerton’s book is lavishly illustrated, with a number of images not well-known in the Austen cannon, such as Philip Gough’s lovely colored images which have been hidden from contemporary view for too long (unless one purchases an expensive out of print 1951 edition – if one can be found!), and also those from Robert Ball, Rhys Williams, Joan Hassal, and Isabel Bishop. Modern illustrators like Jane Odiwe, Liz Monahan, and Anne Kronheimer are also included.

DarcyStamp

Mr. Darcy on a UK stamp commemorating Jane Austen. Copyrighted image courtesy Voyageur Press.

Fullerton enlivens her chapter with interesting details, such as the location of Lydia’s wedding, Mrs. Bennet’s housekeeping skills, what other critics say about Lizzy and Darcy, and Christmas in Austen’s day. She also includes an interesting theory about Mr. Darcy (with which I vehemently disagree), which describes him as being “slightly autistic”. (Note that Fullerton merely introduces a theory proposed by Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer in her book, So Odd a Mixture.) Such details add a little peppery spice to this celebration of P&P. There are many more insights, but I particularly liked Fullerton’s own conclusion about Elizabeth and Lydia:

Ghastly as Lydia Bennet is, she and Elizabeth make credible sisters; Jane Austen has taken genetics into account. Both are attracted to Wickham, both break society’s rules (Elizabeth walks alone through the countryside), both have high energy levels,… and they share the same thoughts about Miss King (‘nasty little freckled thing’).”

google image pride and prejudice

Shot of google page with Pride and Prejudice book covers.

Celebrating P&P includes an extensive listing of British, American, and foreign film and television productions of P&P. As a would-be purchaser you might ask yourself: Does Fullerton offer new insights about P&P in her new book? Not for the more seasoned Janeite, but that isn’t its purpose. It’s meant to be an homage and celebration, much as the title states. Fullerton concludes her book with “Pride and Prejudice as bibliotherapy” and an essay from Elsa Solender, past president of JASNA. For those of us who eat, breathe, sleep, and dream Pride and Prejudice and all things Jane Austen,  Reading Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece is exactly the bibliotherapy we need to start 2013 off right. I congratulate Susannah Fullerton for a job well done and thank her for an enjoyable three evenings of reading this holiday season.

Opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice in different languages. Fullerton discusses its meaning in quite some detail.

Opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice in different languages. Fullerton discusses its meaning in quite some detail.

Susannah Fullerton

Susannah Fullerton is also the author of A Dance with Jane Austen

The book is on sale today:

ISBN: 9780760344361

Item # 210748

240 pages, 35 color, 35 b/w photos

http://www.voyageurpress.com

More with Susannah Fullerton

Read Full Post »

Jane Austen was born and grew up at Steventon in Hampshire. That tiny village is still a place of pilgrimage for Jane Austen devotees from around the world – the house has gone, but the church she attended is still there.

Steventon Station, New Zealand

Steventon Station, New Zealand

However, on the other side of the world there is another Steventon, with interesting Jane Austen connections. Steventon station lies on the banks of the Selwyn River, in the foothills of the Southern Alps, in New Zealand’s South Island. It was a property of 9700 acres that was taken up by Richard Knight and Arthur Charles Knight, great-nephews to Jane Austen (they were the sons of William Knight, son of Jane’s brother Edward) and named ‘Steventon’ in honour of their childhood home in England. They bought the land in 1852, but before long Richard bought his brother out and in 1855 built a working homestead on the station.

In 1866 Richard Knight sold the property to Henry Hill and Frederick Napier Broome, both of whom had been his cadets and worked on the station. Frederick Broome and his wife, Lady Barker (she had been married before and in order to get her first husband’s army pension, had to keep his name) built a property called ‘Broomielaw’ and settled in, but terrible floods and a freezing winter which killed most of their sheep, resulted in them selling the station and returning to England. The house they built still stands. Lady Barker wrote a best-selling book, Station Life in New Zealand, as a result of her experiences at Steventon, and later she and her husband lived in Western Australia, when he was made Governor there (the town of Broome was named after them).

The Knight boys remained in New Zealand. Richard married and had two sons. He died in 1866. Arthur purchased land on Banks Peninsula, near Christchurch, married, and is said to have had twenty-one children, so there are many Knight descendents in New Zealand today. Arthur died in Christchurch in 1905.

Susannah Fullerton guiding her literary tour

Susannah Fullerton guiding her literary tour

On a visit to New Zealand a few years ago I took a literary tour group to Steventon station. It was a wonderful visit. The owners Gavin and Nathalie McArthur gave us a truly Kiwi welcome, provided us all with a home-cooked lunch, and took us on a tour of the station. Inside the house are many fascinating documents and photos of Lady Barker and her writings, and information about the Knights. It is a beautiful place, and we all enjoyed finding this Jane Austen connection in New Zealand.

Susannah Fullerton has authored two books this year – A Dance With Jane Austen and Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece (Coming out in January 2013). She is also President of JASA, tour guide, lecturer, mother and wife.

Read Full Post »

Inquiring readers: Tony Grant from London Calling has been a frequent contributor to this blog, sending posts and images. He lives in Wimbledon and acts as a tour guide, taking visitors on tours to Jane Austen country, the Lakes region, and points of interest all around London and the U.K. Recently, Tony sent in his thoughts about Jane Austen and his wish to delve deeper into other authors and their lives. As an active guide, he knows whereof he speaks. I asked Susannah Fullerton, author, president of JASA, and also a tour guide, to give her response (with Tony’s approval).  Here, then, is their very interesting conversation. I intend to weigh in. Does anyone else have an opinion? If so, please feel free to comment. Meanwhile, to all my U.S. readers, Happy Thanksgiving! Drive safely and have a wonderful time with kith and kin.

“Good-Bye to All That,” is an autobiography by Robert Graves. Graves said, “It was my bitter leave-taking of England where I had recently broken a good many conventions”.

I was reading a poem by Edward Thomas, (Philip Edward Thomas, 3rd March 1878 – 9th April 1917) recently, entitled, “The Brook.” In the poem Thomas is sitting by a stream and watching a child paddling in the brook. His senses are completely alert to the sights and sounds of insects, the sight of birds and the sounds of birds unseen, the play of sunlight, the rippling tinkling sounds of water and the memories of a past horseman and horse buried under a barrow on the heath nearby. The poem ends,

And then the child’s voice raised the dead.
“No one’s been here before,” is what she said.

It occurred to me that the child was right. Of course, probably, many people had been to that spot over years and decades. For each of us, however, when we go to a place for the first time that is pristine and natural and remains how it has always been we do experience something for the first time. It is as if nobody has been there or done that, or experienced that before us. We can experience things fresh and new for ourselves when we go somewhere like this, for the first time.

Signpost. Image @Tony Grant

Now lets take a visit to Chawton, Jane Austen’s last home before she died. I wonder if we can actually experience things fresh and new to us on a visit to Chawton and say,“No one’s been here before,” in the way the child in Edward Thomas’s poem did?

I remember standing at the crossroads in Chawton , years ago, for the first time. What I should have experienced, according to Jane Austen pilgrims to Chawton, is a sense of where she lived, a connection with Jane Austen – where she wrote, cooked, sewed, wrote letters, enjoyed the company of Cassandra, Martha, her mother and brothers and neighbours too. Indeed, Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) did all this over two hundred years ago. But can I or any of us get that feeling of, “No one’s been here before.” Do we really get an experience standing at Chawton crossroads next to that much photographed sign post put up in the 1930’s with pointers to the great house, the church and the cottage that it is the Chawton of Jane Austen? Do we really believe that we have a connection with Austen by being there? Isn’t it all in our imaginations because we want to believe?

Chawton Village street. Image @Tony Grant

Chawton high street is full of parked cars with Japanese, French, German, Spanish and Scandinavian makers emblems on them. The road is metalled and covered in tarmac. It has a pavement edged by slate and granite curb stones from Dartmoor. It has concrete and tarmac pavements. Houses surrounding the cottage have a mesh of telecommunication wires leading to each one. People who live in Chawton are all connected to the World Wide Web with broadband like the rest of us. Modern street lights light the streets at night. In the small park opposite the cottage there is a children’s playground with steal clambering structures and swings. The pub opposite, The Greyfriar, is a Fullers pub. They hold a quiz night once a week for locals that probably doesn’t include questions about Jane Austen. Fullers, by the way, is a London brewery situated on the Great West Road, leading out towards Heathrow Airport, close to where Hogarth had his country retreat. These very locals travel to Winchester, Southampton or even commute to London for work every day. Chawton C of E Primary School, just along the road, on the way to The Great House, is an ordinary primary school that teaches the national curriculum. The children are like children anywhere and this is where they live. The Jane Austen connection to them is by the by, not really pertinent to their lives. Although, I am sure, as the school is in Chawton the children will know a lot about Jane Austen, but she will really be just somebody else on their list of famous people and writers to know about. Those children play computer games on their Ipads at home. Chawton is an ordinary place where people live and get on with their ordinary lives, where Jane doesn’t loom much in their minds when they are peeling the potatoes or hoovering their carpets or watching the TV.

Chawton Cottage signs. Image @Tony Grant

Looking at the cottage from the outside, the Jane Austen societies have stuck large obtrusive signs on the walls facing the road. If you look at the structure of the building itself you begin to wonder what of it Jane would actually recognise if she were to come back today. Windows have obviously been bricked up. Was that a result of 18th century window taxes or because at one time the cottage was split into a group of smaller cottages? It has a variety of doors to enter by too which probably weren’t there or were in different locations in Jane’s day.

Staircase. Image @Tony Grant

When you go into the cottage you see modern radiators, electrical wiring, plug sockets and fire exit signs with the requisite fire extinguisher points. These are not subtly hidden or unobtrusive but are very prominent. Many of the display cases, especially upstairs, are bulky and obtrusive. They don’t look good. The staircase itself is not the staircase Jane Austen would have known in her time. The whole house has actually been restructured. The Austen’s might not recognise the place. It’s not really the place they knew.

The visitor’s entrance to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

I always come back to the books and her letters. That is where to find Jane Austen. That is where we are going to get glimpses of the real person if we are attentive.
Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love reading Jane’s novels, her letters and the biographies written about her. However all these Jane Austen societies bother me. They worship and idolise her. They focus exclusively on her. They wring every bit of Janenness out of her. They make Chawton a false holy of holies. She was one writer for goodness sake. The world is a diverse and varied place full of great writers that we all need to read and not be partisan about. If I had my way I would get rid of all literary societies connected with all writers and say, just read. Reading develops us and helps us grow. Centering on one writer narrows us.

Penguin Classics

As a paraphrase of Robert Graves, this article “ (Is) my(not so) bitter leave-taking of (Austen) where I (have) recently broken a good many conventions”. We all need to stop squeezing the life out of Jane Austen and get on with real life and the rest of the real literary world. Returning to the essence of the Edward Thomas poem, I feel that my senses need to be open but to other writers without the weighty manufactured image of Jane Austen hovering over my shoulder.

Doesn’t anybody else feel that they would like to get out from underneath the weight of Austen and breath freely again?

Tony Grant

I am going to read all of Virginia Woolf’s novels after Christmas and post reviews. My mate Clive and I are going to do this in tandem. If you want an antidote to all things Jane, don’t stray!!!!!!! Clive and Tone are on their way.

Tony Grant, Wimbledon

Hi Tony,

I hope you are well. I enjoy reading your comments on Vic’s lovely website. Your photo of the Dolphin Hotel looks so nice in my new book, A Dance with Jane Austen. Thanks again for giving me permission to use it when we met.

I’m intrigued by your comments about Jane Austen societies, but don’t agree with you that they are in any way narrowing. My experience is quite the opposite. At JASA we’ve had talks on Jane Austen’s connections with / influence on many other writers – Kipling, Georgette Heyer, Byron, Radcliffe, the Brontes, etc. Such talks immediately send you hurrying off to get to know more about those other writers. We’ve had talks about Jane Austen and various historical figures, so you then want to learn more about them, and of course we’ve had talks and articles about the age in which she lived, so our members then explore music in her time, art and what paintings she knew, they learn about the church in that era, the navy and army, Georgian crime, fashion, food, travel, and the list goes on. I see JASA (and the other literary societies to which I belong) as a wonderful way of extending my reading and my knowledge, not limiting it.

And joining good literary societies is addictive. If you get great pleasure from learning more about one writer, you soon realise that you can do the same with another writer. It does not have to be exclusive – I’m extremely promiscuous indeed when it comes to joining literary groups! I’m part of an Anthony Trollope group (we have trouble knowing what to call our group – ‘The Trollopes’ has dubious connotations – I’d love to hear suggestions??) and we have been making our way through Trollope’s more than 40 novels with enormous pleasure. (Trollope, by the way, was a great admirer of Jane Austen). We have also read biographies of Trollope, biographies of his mother Frances, critical books about his writings, and books about the position of women in Victorian England. It’s a small group but we have all felt so enriched by it. Plus we have great fun, good food and wine, picnics (in places Trollope visited in Australia) and we have all made new friends.

And lastly a fabulous reason to join a literary society is for the social aspects. I have met some of my dearest friends through JASA and other Jane Austen connections. I can honestly say that joining JASA has totally changed my life – and all for the better – so there’s been nothing ‘narrowing’ about my passion for Jane Austen’s novels. Rather than ‘squeezing the life’ out of Jane Austen, my love of her writings has widened my knowledge, increased my appreciation of her books, life and historical era, has taken me around the world, given me new friends and given me intense happiness. The more I turn to her novels, the more I get from them; and the same goes for JASA – Jane Austen keeps giving and giving and I receive so very happily all she has to give in so many ways.

Am I waxing too lyrical??? I think you need to pay a visit to Australia, Tony, so that I can show you in person all you could get from a great literary society. Please come and visit any time!!!! JASA would love to welcome you to sunny Sydney.

Cheers,
Susannah

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: