Austen Boosters from
Jane Austen: Antipodean Views
Edited by Susannah Fullerton and Anne
Wellington Lane Press Pty Ltd., 2001.
16 b/w illustrations. Paperback.
(To order, please send credit
card details to Susannah Fullerton, 26 Macdonald Street, Paddington,
NSW 2021, Australia;
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or fax:
from the USA 011 62 2 9983 0403. Signed copies available on request.)
Reviewed by Joan Klingel Ray.
dramatically ironic line written by Jane Austen may well be Emma
Woodhouse’s pronouncement, “One half of the world cannot understand the
pleasures of the other.” With active Jane Austen Societies around the
globe and in both hemispheres, the pleasures of reading her novels are
undoubtedly understood and enjoyed by both halves of the world, however
one slices it. In 2000, Maggie Lane and David Selwyn presented, in
association with the Jane Austen Society, Jane Austen: A Celebration, a
charming collection spanning more than a century of views of Jane
Austen by her fellow Britons. Austen, herself, recorded her friends’
and family’s “opinions” of Mansfield
Park and Emma, frankly
including both the positive and negative (e.g., Mrs. Lefroy on Mansfield Park: “Liked it, but
thought it a mere Novel”).
Lane and Selwyn as their inspiration, Susannah Fullerton, President of
the Jane Austen Society of Australia (Sydney), and fellow member Anne
Harbers offer the equally charming Jane
Austen: Antipodean Views: 110 verbal views of Jane Austen, to be
precise, offered by Australians and New Zealanders. To add to the fun
and attractiveness of the antipodean collection, there are 16
Austen-related cartoons solicited from and provided by some of today’s
most popular Aussie and Kiwi cartoonists. Reading this volume from
“down under,” I found myself staying up until I finished it.
editors sent out scores of requests for opinions on Jane Austen and had
a one-in-six response rate. They also took a few “views” from
previously printed materials: for example, a newspaper interview with
actor Toni Collette, who played the bull-in-the-china-shop Harriet
Smith in Doug McGrath’s film, Emma.
Perusing the results, I saw how much we Janeites love Jane Austen for
the same reasons, particularly her knowledge and depiction of human
nature, which is always and everywhere the same, whether one is a Kiwi
or a Coloradoan. Likewise, readers everywhere repeatedly return to the
six novels for “that vague serenity—that soothing balm” to counteract a
nervous and busy world, for her “elegance of wit and order,” for her
“cleverness at shaming human…pretences [sic],” for her “generation of
mind-pictures of [the] characters.” And then there is her skill at love
who played in a professional Australian production of Pride and Prejudice in 1999 offer
views. Kerry Walker (Mrs. Bennet) noticed “the proprietorial attitude
of the audience to the characters.” She concludes, “[C]ertainly
audiences seem much more open to a variety of interpretations of
Shakespeare’s characters than they are of Jane Austen’s.” Reading her
comments, I thought, “Why, indeed, is it that I have a very clear
mental picture of Elizabeth Bennet (and all Austen characters), even as
the book gives very little physical description of her, but I have no
idea what Hamlet looks like?” Reading
Antipodean Views with pen in hand, I engaged in margin-based
conversations with many of the view-givers.
volume fair-mindedly includes responses from those who confess to
disliking Austen, or being forced-fed Austen in their youth and later
seeing the error of their ways, or who even confuse her identity. (Just
spend half an hour sitting by Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester, and
you’ll hear some tourist mention Jane Eyre.) So it was not shocking
even to see an occasional respondent to the editors’ request confuse
Jane Austen with that other Jane!
as the views offered by the antipodean contributors sound familiar,
most of their names will be completely unfamiliar to us. I recognized
film director Bruce Beresford (Breaker
Morant, Driving Miss Daisy), Olivia Newton-John (who, at least,
owns the books), Dame Joan Sutherland (who has revisited Austen’s work,
seen the movies, and read several biographies—an opera fan, I always
loved La Stupenda!), Frances O’Connor (Fanny in Patricia Rozema’s film,
Mansfield Park), Toni
Collette, as well as Katherine Mansfield, represented by an extract
from a letter written in 1921. JASNA members will know Dr. Penny Gay
and Dr. John Wiltshire as AGM speakers. One or two of the cartoon jokes
will slip by us simply because we are unfamiliar with Australian and
New Zealand popular culture.
my unfamiliarity with the culture only made reading the responses from
those who described first encountering Jane Austen while in school as
they prepared for the “HSC” (a “high school certificate,” I wondered?)
or a particular “Form” a mind-opening experience in cultural awareness.
in my home for my eighty-eight-year-old mother who suffers from
dementia, I was moved when I read Professor Elizabeth Jolley’s words:
find in old age, I have forgotten the novels, in particular the magic
of being lifted into other lives and backgrounds. Re-reading is one the
Best Things of old Age. Forgetfulness—it is like having a present.
words like this from a fellow Janeite “down under” was a present to me.
Ray is President of JASNA, Chair of the English Department, Professor
and President’s Teaching Scholar, University of Colorado, Colorado
v.18, no. 3, Winter 2002, p. 19
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