What’s the Jane Austen News this week?
We had a lovely surprise this week when we discovered that The Guardian newspaper has just published a piece about why visiting Bath is such a wonderful thing to do.
Included in their two and a half mile round-trip walking tour of Bath (beginning and ending at Bath Spa train station, so a good choice for any London day-trippers) is a stop at our very own Jane Austen Centre!
Alan Franks, the journalist who came to visit Bath and wrote the piece, had this short summary of Jane’s two partially Bath-based novels:
Two of her six novels – Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – are set in the town. In the course of their narration Bath changes from being a backdrop to a virtual character, full of airs that are not of the healthiest kind. What for Catherine in the first book was elevating has become, for Anne in the second, enervating. Perhaps, given the hot springs that gave the city its name, the best word is immersive.
If you fancy following in Mr Franks’ footsteps yourself, then you might like to read the whole of his article here.
This week the Jane Austen News was treated to a marvelous sight thanks to Jessica from Derbyshire, who shared pictures of a well dressing which had been created in her local village.
In case you’ve not come across it before, well dressing is a tradition found in the Peak District and Derbyshire area. It involves creating nature-based works of art from flowers, leaves, feathers, twigs and the like, which are then put on display next to wells and water features. Mystery surrounds the exact source of this ancient tradition – but it’s believed to have been brought to the area by the Romans or the Celts, to give thanks for the county’s fresh water springs.
This year the village of Holymoorside, in Chesterfield made a Pride and Prejudice themed display…
A reason that people often give for not liking Austen is that reading romantic love stories just isn’t their thing. Given the emphasis which most film and TV adaptations of Austen put onto the romantic storylines, and given that it’s hard to convey the narrator’s sarcasm in a film adaptation without a narrator, it’s easy to see why so many people might think that Austen’s novels are “just love stories”.
It was a breath of fresh air, then, to read that one famous face, comedienne Sara Pascoe, has since been won over by Austen’s wit and humour.
She began her recent Jane Austen article with a headline stating that “Austen’s women have the same rights as children; her ‘romantic’ match-making smacks of desperation”, but then she goes on to explain that after many years of avoiding all 19th century novels she finally discovered how funny Austen is:
Austen is so easy to read, she makes sense (and sensib … shut up Sara). There is no unnecessary verboseness, fields are for trampling across, not spending pages going on about. The characters are lively and charming and the woman cracks great gags. “Austen is so funny,” I began to say during literary conversations and anyone who had read her would agree.
Sara wrote her article as the stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice which she was commissioned to write is soon to be showing at Nottingham Playhouse and then at the York Theatre Royal this autumn, and she is keen to show the funny side of Austen in her script.
I have been as truthful to Austen’s comedy and language as possible, but with intermittent modern commentary.
We at the Jane Austen News look forward to reading the reviews! Hopefully the focus on the funny side of Austen will convince a few more reluctant readers to give her a go!
If you’re in the nearby vicinity and enjoy literary lectures, then you might like to know that the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Continuing Studies department is joining in with the many celebrations taking place in this, Austen’s bicentenary year, with a series of short courses aiming to shed new light on the world and works of the amazing novelist.
The series, titled Jane Austen: Remembered and Revisited, invites community members to explore her work and her world, drawing on UW-Madison expertise in literature, dance, music, film, and visual arts.
Two particularly intriguing Austen-themed courses include;
Pride and Prejudice: An Abundance of Adaptations, for which students will read the novel before delving into the book’s many adaptations, from films to plays to novels. (“How did the original 1813 Pride and Prejudice lead to 2009’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? This is the place to find out.”)
A Lady’s Education: Women’s Arts During the Era of Jane Austen, which examines the milieu that inspired Austen’s novels. (Expect to hear lots on the need for singing, dancing, poetry, and drawing as part of the courtship ritual.)
Chemistry student Manpreet Kaur makes a most salient point in a blog post we came across the week. She reminded us of just how important it is to read widely, and she explained too how reading Jane’s novels has helped her to become a better student of science! Not an effect of reading Jane’s novels which you’d naturally think of but it’s true:
Slowly, I became more familiar with the prose in these novels. Not only has it helped me with my own style of writing and vocabulary, but it has also taught me to become more evaluative, and to question everything.
I’ve developed my skills as a reader by analysing the characters and putting my own perspective forward, engaging with their lives. Whereas evaluation is a key part of the science sector, evaluation in literature involves putting forward a perspective, or rather a qualitative argument, based on instincts rather than evidence. It is not about proving you are right, but being able to convince others that you are right.
So next time someone tries to tell you that reading for pleasure is a waste of time, point them in the direction of Manpreet’s article!
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