George Justice, Editor

Austen Boosters from Down Under

Jane Austen: Antipodean Views

Edited by Susannah Fullerton and Anne Harbers.
Wellington Lane Press Pty Ltd., 2001. 167 pages.
16 b/w illustrations. Paperback. $15.00.

(To order, please send credit card details to Susannah Fullerton, 26 Macdonald Street, Paddington, NSW 2021, Australia;
email: or fax: from the USA 011 62 2 9983 0403. Signed copies available on request.)

Reviewed by Joan Klingel Ray.

The most 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”).

Crediting 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.

The 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 stories.

Actors 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.

The 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!

Even 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.

But 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.

Caring 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:

I 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.

Reading words like this from a fellow Janeite “down under” was a present to me.

Joan Klingel Ray is President of JASNA, Chair of the English Department, Professor and President’s Teaching Scholar, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

JASNA News v.18, no. 3, Winter 2002, p. 19

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