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Austen Chat: Episode 13

July 2, 2024

Jane Austen & A Reading Challenge: A Visit with the “Jane Austen July” Hosts


Jane Austen ReadingIt's 
Austen Chat's one-year anniversary!

Encouraging more people to read Jane Austen and gain a deeper understanding of her works and life is JASNA’s mission, and to celebrate our podcast birthday, we welcome not one but three guests to talk about reading Austen and the online event they organize each year: Jane Austen July.

BookTubers Katie Lumsden, host of the YouTube channel Books and Things, Marissa Schwartz, host of Blatantly Bookish, and Claudia Falcone, host of Spinster’s Library, are dedicated Janeites, which is why, for the past six years, they have been spearheading a month-long reading challenge all about Jane Austen. Every July, thousands of readers across the internet join them to read Jane Austen and Austen-related books, watch Austen adaptations, and discuss their experiences.

In addition to her YouTube channel, Katie Lumsden is an editor and author of The Secrets of Hartwood Hall and The Trouble with Mrs. Montgomery Hearst. Marissa Schwartz is a dentist by day, YouTuber by night. She has a degree in English literature from Vassar College and is a member of the New York Metropolitan Region of JASNA. Claudia Falcone is a German BookTuber with an academic interest in the Regency period, particularly the music of the time.

Show Notes and Links

Many thanks to Katie, Marissa, and Claudia for appearing as guests on Austen Chat! You can learn more about the Jane Austen July challenge on their YouTube channels.

Other Links Mentioned in this Episode:

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Listen to Austen Chat here or on your favorite podcast app: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other streaming platforms 

Credits: From JASNA's Austen Chat podcast. Published July 2, 2024. © Jane Austen Society of North America. All rights reserved. Theme Music: Country Dance by Humans Win.


Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

[Theme music]

Breckyn Wood:  Hello, Janeites, and welcome to a very special episode of Austen Chat, a podcast brought to you by the Jane Austen Society of North America. I'm your host, Breckyn Wood from the Georgia Region of JASNA. Dear listeners, this episode marks our one-year anniversary. If you've been with us from the beginning, thank you so much for your support. If this is the first time you're tuning in, welcome! We've been privileged to have terrific scholars and experts join us for our first 12 episodes, and we have a wonderful lineup of guests for Austen Chat's second year, too. I can't wait to delve into more Austen topics with them and with you, our lovely audience.

To celebrate our podcast's birthday, I have invited not one, but three guests onto our show to talk about reading Jane Austen and an annual online event they run called Jane Austen July. My guests today are Katie Lumsden, host of the YouTube channel Books and Things, Marissa Schwartz, host of Blatantly Bookish, and Claudia Falcone, host of Spinster's Library. These BookTubers are dedicated Janeites, which is why for the past six years, they've been spearheading a month-long reading challenge all about Austen.

Here's a quick introduction to each of them. In addition to her YouTube channel, Katie is an editor and author. Her debut novel, The Secrets of Hartwood Hall, came out last year, and her new novel, The Trouble with Mrs. Montgomery Hearst, which is in part an homage to Jane Austen, is out in the UK this month. Marissa is a dentist by day, YouTuber by night. She has a degree in English literature from Vassar College and is a member of the New York Metropolitan Region of JASNA. Last but not least, Claudia is a German BookTuber with an academic interest in the Regency period, particularly the music of the time. On her channel, she aims to make classic literature fun and accessible for her fellow readers. This year marks her fourth time co-hosting Jane Austen July with Katie and Marissa.

Every summer, thousands of readers from across the Internet join Katie, Marissa, and Claudia to read Jane Austen and Austen-related books, watch Austen adaptations, and discuss their experiences. It's a lovely slice of the online bookworm community, and I'm excited to hear more about it. Welcome to the show, guys!

All: Thank you.

Breckyn: Before we get started, I have an icebreaker game for you. For the past year on the podcast, I've been asking guests a desert island question. But for this new year, we're going to play "Would You Rather." So, would you rather be stuck on a two-hour carriage ride with Miss Bates or have to sit next to Mr. Collins at a two-hour dinner party? Katie, I'm going to kick it to you first.

Katie Lumsden: I would definitely go with Miss Bates. I really like Miss Bates, and she would just talk—talk quite halfway. That'd be fine. You wouldn't even need to contribute, would you? She would just do all the talking, and you could just sit back and enjoy her ramble. That would be much nicer than Mr. Collins, I think.

Breckyn: Yeah. Is everyone going to choose Miss Bates? Claudia, are you in agreement?

Claudia Falcone: No, I do not agree with Katie. First of all, a dinner party has food and a carriage ride is very uncomfortable.

Breckyn: This is a good point.

Claudia: And secondly, I would I feel really bad about accidentally being mean to Miss Bates, which I feel like, based on Emma, is really easy to do. Whereas I would have no scruples being mean to Mr. Collins; so, I think I'd have a lot more fun at the dinner party.

Breckyn: And he probably wouldn't even notice, whereas Miss Bates, she picked up when Emma was mean to her, right? But Mr. Collins, it feels like nothing gets through. What about you, Marissa? They both have good arguments.

Marissa Schwartz: They do, but I have to go with Katie on this one. I think I would much rather spend time with Miss Bates on a carriage ride.  I've never been on a carriage ride before, and, like Katie said, I think Miss Bates would do all the talking, which would be rather entertaining.

Breckyn: Yeah. No. I didn't even think about the food aspect, which now seems really obvious. But Claudia, that's a really good point. You would be hungry on your carriage ride and bored with Miss Bates. Maybe not bored, but you'd be inundated with a lot of random information. Okay, that's great! Let's get started. Marissa, let's start with the basics. The seven challenges for Jane Austen July are the same every year, right? Can you tell us what they are?

Marissa: Yes, of course. So, the first challenge is to read one of Jane Austen's six novels. The second challenge is to read something by Jane Austen that is not one of her main six novels. The third is to read a non-fiction work about Jane Austen or her time period. The fourth is to read a retelling of a Jane Austen book or a work of historical fiction set in Jane Austen's time. The fifth is to read a book by a contemporary of Jane Austen. The sixth is to watch a direct screen adaptation of a Jane Austen book, and the seventh is to watch a modern screen adaptation of a Jane Austen book.

Breckyn: Which is so fun. I'm really excited to get into these, and we're going to go step by step later. But first, Katie, can you tell us how Jane Austen July got started? Because you and Marissa are the founding members, right?

Katie: Yeah. I think me and Marissa have been friends on BookTube for years, and we talk a lot about lots of different books, and we were talking a lot about Jane Austen. And we thought it might be fun to do some kind of Austen-related challenge or readathon. And I think, at first, we were like, oh, maybe it will be a week. And then we had so many ideas, we thought, oh, no, maybe it should be a month. And so, we decided to start Jane Austen July as a readathon. I think we were talking about what month it should be, and Jane Austen was born in December, and then she died in July. We thought, well, December is a very busy month; lots of people are doing Christmassy things. So, we thought we'd do it in July. It does seem a bit weird to do it in celebration of her death, so I don't think we ever mentioned that very much, but we ended up doing it in July. But summer feels quite a nice time for Jane Austen.

Breckyn: It does.

Katie: Yeah. And I guess that was—I think that was—was it 2018, I think? Yeah, I think it was 2018 we started. And we've just been doing it ever since. Yeah. And me and Marissa started it together, and then Claudia has been doing it from the start, participating, and always made amazing BookTube videos during Jane Austen July. So, we asked if she wanted to come join us and host as well.

Breckyn: Claudia, tell us—so Claudia joined a few years ago, and now all three of them host it together. What benefits do you think readers gain from participating in a structured reading challenge instead of everybody just like, read whatever you want, and Jane Austen is fun?

Claudia: Well, I think as readers, we all have books that sit on our shelves unread for a while. And I think a readathon like that can really encourage you to pick up the book that you might not have otherwise picked. In my case, that's Mansfield Park, because it's already such a big intimidating book even before you know it. And then, you already get the feeling that it's a sort of "love or hate it" kind of a book, and that there's a lot of strong opinions about it. And I know that if it hadn't been for Jane Austen July, for example, I probably wouldn't have read it, and I wouldn't have fallen in love with Jane Austen's writing quite to the same degree. So, I participated in the very first Jane Austen July. I don't think I realized at the time that it was the very first Jane Austen July. I had only been on BookTube for about six months at the time, and I really immersed myself in Jane Austen, her writing, and all of the—if we can call it—fandom around her. And it just really—It makes reading a much less solitary experience to know that lots of other people are reading the same thing at the same time and talking about it.

Breckyn: Well, this thought just occurred to me, and we don't have to dwell on it too much because I think we're all tired of COVID and stuff. But I didn't think about how you guys were running it during lockdown. Katie, can you speak to that a bit? Were people just so eager to jump in and talk to people because they were stuck at home?

Katie: Yeah, I think the BookTube community has been around for ages and is quite active, and a lot of people have friendships across different countries and everything, which is lovely. I think a lot of new people did join the BookTube community during 2020, during lockdowns, both as creators and as watchers. So, I think that probably did also help.

Claudia: I remember actually at the time, either in 2020 or 2021, reading an article—I think it was in The Guardian—about how readers were flocking specifically to Jane Austen as a sort of escape from the lockdown, but at the same time to experience a story that's as domestic as our lives were back then. And there was this really fascinating article that really drew that connection between Jane Austen and lockdown life that I thought was really interesting. I don't think it was just us that felt that.

Breckyn: Well, and I think I read that article or something very similar. The Jane Austen memes at the time blew up because everyone was at home, knitting and embroidering. And they're like, is this what it feels like to be a Jane Austen heroine? You're just stuck at home doing crafts all the time? Part of it's charming, but also if you have no other choice, it feels like a cage, right? Marissa, what was that first year like? To go back before 2020. What was the first year of Jane Austen July like, and how have you seen it grow and change over the years?

Marissa: Yeah. So, the first year of Jane Austen July, I think my channel was brand new at the time. I think it was when I had first started. And so it was nice to participate in a read-along, or readathon, and just see people getting involved and really get to connect with people. And it was especially exciting to host with Katie because we had been chatting in the comments and via email and everything, and to just host something with her was an extra special experience. Then as the years have gone on, it's been wonderful to connect with other Janeites around the globe and to just see people get excited about Jane Austen with us. It's how we met Claudia and many other friends as well.

Breckyn: Yeah. I can see just from the few comments that I've seen on Goodreads and on your guys' channel, that people are like, is it Jane Austen July? Is it time? Are your videos coming out? Because you guys all released announcement videos in June, and the comments are just like, woohoo! It's happening. So, clearly, it's taken on a life of its own. It's really gained momentum. So, that's something you guys should be really proud of. Okay, let's go to the challenges. The first one is to just pick one of the six Jane Austen novels, right? And it's hard to pick a favorite, but if you had to . . .

Katie: So, my favorite is definitely Pride and Prejudice, but I also feel like I always need to say that Mansfield Park is a close second, because Pride and Prejudice has a lot of love, and Mansfield Park doesn't get enough love. So, I always like to say both of them.

Breckyn: I'm glad Claudia said that, too, because I'm always sticking—I mean, listeners will know. I'm always just like, Fanny Price just deserves way more than she ever gets, and it's not fair. So, I'm always waving the Fanny Price flag. Marissa, what about you?

Marissa: Pride and Prejudice is also my favorite. It's just the one I've read the most times and always come back to as a favorite.

Breckyn: Claudia?

Claudia: Yeah, I have to agree. I'm with the mainstream on this. It's the perfect novel.

Breckyn: I would say my favorite is Persuasion. And I think if you spend enough time with Janeites, most people are afraid to say Pride and Prejudice because they're like, oh, well, then it'll sound like that's the only one I've read, because everybody's read Pride and Prejudice, right? I think the second choice for a favorite is usually Persuasion, because that's her more mature novel. And it kind of proves—it's like, well, I've read Jane Austen. I know her. Okay, so this year, you guys are reading Sense and Sensibility together, right? Claudia, can you tell us a bit about that? The breakdown— you read a couple chapters a day. Do people then hop on and comment?

Claudia: Yeah. There's a schedule, which is always made, I think, mostly by Katie, who looks at the book and then tries to chop it into digestible chunks. We post that schedule on our social media, we post it on our YouTube channels, and we have this Goodreads group, and that's where the discussion really takes place. So, people can read the chapters and then talk about them with other people who are reading them at the same time. But also, if you're a little bit slower, you can still join the discussion later on. It's mostly just about talking about the books in detail, like you wouldn't normally unless you join a book club. It's a book club feeling, I guess. This year's pick is Sense of Sensibility.

Breckyn: Which is great. I'm actually listening to it right now, so I'm ahead of schedule for Jane Austen July. I'm pretty excited about it. Marissa, you guys are also reading Sanditon and The Watsons together. Is that right?

Marissa: Yes. Yeah. That's our second group read.

Breckyn: Do you read them at the same time, or is that going to happen in the second half of the month?

Marissa: That'll be the second half of the month. I believe it is in the middle of the month we start reading Sanditon a few chapters a day. And then, I think from the 23rd on, is The Watsons.

Breckyn: Are you guys usually leading those discussions and starting it up, or is everybody just eager to give their own opinions? How does the discussion usually go online?

Marissa: Yeah. Usually, people comment on the Goodreads group, and it takes a life of its own. People have lots of little discussions on there, and there's usually a moderator. We try to chime in every so often, but people really get into heated debate—lots of Austen chats.

Breckyn: So, Claudia, what are some of the comments you see time and time again? Are there themes that stick out to people—that they're really connecting to, or are there any surprising opinions that you haven't heard before? What's going on in these comment sections?

Claudia: It's either people really getting into the details because they've already read a book 15 times, and then on the 16th time, they pick up something that they haven't before. And that's personally my experience as well when I reread these novels—that I notice new things. Or it's people actually reading them for the first time, and then you get that—actually watching someone experience a Jane Austen novel for the same time, which is also great to see. But yeah, the discussions tend to be really positive and really engaging and really make you think. Yeah, I enjoy them. Also in our own comment sections—because as we go through Jane Austen July, we make videos about it, reading blogs, discussion videos, review videos, all of that stuff. And so, you get discussion in the comments as well, which is always fun to watch.

Breckyn: Well, let's go on to the next challenge, which is reading something by Jane Austen that wasn't one of the six novels. Do you guys have any favorites there? I think the juvenilia and her letters are hilarious, but my shameful secret is that I still haven't read Sanditon or The Watsons. So maybe this July, I finally will.

Katie: Have you read Lady Susan?

Breckyn: I have, I have.

Katie: Okay. Because Lady Susan is one of my absolute favorite things. This amazing epistolary novella that is just completely like, so snarky and so entertaining and is a finished work. It's quite short, but it is completely finished, and I think people forget about it or haven't heard of it a lot of the time. Actually, it's a wonderful, really raucous, hilarious, very different Jane Austen because she wrote it, but it wasn't published—and maybe would have been a bit too scandalous to be published. It wasn't published until well into the Victorian period, later on the 19th century. But Lady Susan is really worth a read.

Breckyn: Yeah. Our Desert Island question from the first season of Austen Chat was often, if you were stuck on a desert island and you could only have one pen pal—one Austen character as your pen pal, and several people were like, Lady Susan, definitely. She would have all the gossip. It would be scandalous. It would be entertaining. So yeah, Lady Susan is a lot of fun. Marissa, what about you?

Marissa: So, Lady Susan is one that I would highly recommend as well. But let's see, if I had to pick a second, I would highly recommend her letters. There's just so much wit and snark about everyday life that you can find in her letters, and it just gives you a better understanding of Jane Austen and how her mind works. They're really fascinating and quite a fun read.

Breckyn: Claudia seemed to gasp at the letters. Do you agree with that, Claudia?

Claudia: I was going to say exactly the same thing. I was going to say, Lady Susan's great, but the letters are fascinating, too. Since Marissa has already said that, I'd like to add that I also haven't read Sanditon and The Watsons. So, this year is going to be my first time reading those.

Breckyn: That's great. Yeah, because I think more people picked up Sanditon definitely because PBS came out with that adaptation, and that was people's first introduction. Okay, non-fiction work—that's the third challenge. Nonfiction work about Austen or her time. There are so many good ones to choose from. Some of the guests on this podcast have been authors of non-fiction books that explore Austen and her world, her writing, her reading habits, fashion, food, the role of Christianity and the Church in Regency England. The list just goes on and on. But if we had to break it down, do you guys have a favorite Austen biography? And then we'll talk about favorite work about Austen's time period. Katie, do you want to start off?

Katie: Yeah, I probably have two favorite Austen biographies. Maybe that's cheating. But I really love Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley. That's great. And I also really enjoyed The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne. Both of those two are really great biographies that feel really complex and personal and where I feel like the authors just clearly love Jane Austen, and you see a real love of Jane Austen's books and her as a person through those books.

Breckyn: So, A Life in Small Things—does it go through objects, like from her house, or what is the focus of that one?

Katie: A Life in Small Things is not a chronological biography, which I think means it's maybe a bit harder if you don't know very much about Jane Austen's life going in. But it's sort of a thematic biography—themed by objects. So, Paula Byrne takes objects which either we know Jane Austen owned or the kinds of things she might have owned. And so she takes historical objects and then uses them to talk about a particular element of Jane Austen's life or a particular element of the time period. And it's just a really different way of doing a biography, and it's really nicely done.

Breckyn: That one's really high on my list. I still haven't gotten around to it, but I need to. I really like the idea of Paula Byrne's biography—that maybe it has a different lens, a way of looking at Jane Austen. Let's go on to the next part of the challenge, which is a favorite work about Austen's time period. I'll give a shout out to What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool. That book, it just sits on my shelf, and it's most important aspect is that it has a table that tells you how much a shilling is, and half a crown, and a sovereign, and all this. I'm like, I cannot figure out the British money system. It's just so confusing. So, every time somebody mentions a bob or a quid, I just open it up and like, and how much is that? I love that book solely for that purpose. What about you, Claudia? Do you have any recommendations in that category?

Claudia: My recommendation would be Amanda Vickery's book, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, which is a bit of a thicker volume, a bit more academic in outlook, and also covers the whole of the Georgian era. So, it goes further back into the 18th century. But I think because the home is such an important part in Jane Austen's books, it gives a real insight into the domestic life of the Georgians, which is where most of Jane Austen's novels take place. So, I found that really fascinating.

Breckyn: And Amanda Vickery, she's actually going to be a—she's a plenary speaker at JASNA's AGM, their big Annual General Meeting, this fall in October. So, shout out to Amanda Vickery.

Claudia: She's excellent. Absolutely excellent.

Breckyn: What about you, Marissa?

Marissa: One of my favorites is John Mullan's What Matters in Jane Austen: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved. That is just absolutely a phenomenal look at some discussions about Jane Austen's themes, and it takes some really deep dives into each topic.

Breckyn: What about you, Katie? Do you have some recommendations?

Katie: One history book I really like about Jane Austen's time is a book called Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James, which is about the whole of the nineteenth century—so from like Jane Austen's time up until the Victorian period and through to the end of the nineteenth century. But it's all about etiquette. And as etiquette is really important and interesting in Jane Austen's books, I think it's a really interesting book to help you understand the purpose of etiquette—like how people are meant to behave at balls and how people are meant to be introduced to each other, how hierarchy and rank works, and who was more important than who. All of that stuff is really interesting and can be quite hard to understand when you're reading fiction, but Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century is really great for explaining all of that stuff.

Breckyn: That's great. Okay. All right. So the fourth one—we're making our way through the challenges. This is a retelling of an Austen book or work of historical fiction set in Austen's time. This is a huge sub-genre, as you know. If I'm being honest, I haven't had a lot of success with Austen retellings. Most of the time I'm like, I would rather just be reading an actual Jane Austen book because nobody's as good as she is, right? But maybe you guys can change my mind. There are a few that I've enjoyed. The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray was fun because all the main Austen characters are at a country estate together, and there's an Agatha Christie-esque cozy mystery element. I also really enjoyed Longbourn by Jo Baker and The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. And the Jane Austen Mysteries by Stephanie Barron, aka Francine Mathews, are really well written, and they're meticulously researched. So, I guess I do like fan-fiction style books where an author takes Austen or her characters and tells a new story or a new aspect of a story, but I can't think of any I've enjoyed where it's like, Pride and Prejudice, but in Space.

That genre is harder for me, although Bride and Prejudice is an awesome movie, so I guess I'm inconsistent about that. But I'd like to hear your recommendations because this is a really fun category. Katie, what do you have for us?

Katie: Lots of recommendations. I love a good retelling. I think partly because Austen's stories, if you boil them down to the very bare bones, they do feel quite universal and you can put them in lots of different time periods and do lots of different things with them. All her characters are really interesting, and she's got a lot of interesting side characters you can explore in different ways. So, I guess one of my favorite modern retellings that takes Jane Austen's story and puts in the modern day would be Just as You Are by Camille Kellogg, which was a rom-com, came out last year, which is a queer retelling of Pride and Prejudice. And it's just really good fun and does it really well, and I really, really enjoyed that one. But it also explores a lot of themes that aren't in Pride and Prejudice. It's got its own stuff that it's doing, but it also has a lot of fun nods to certain elements of Pride and Prejudice, [that] if you're a big fan of Pride and Prejudice, you'll really get. Then I also do enjoy the historical retelling—taking a side character or doing something different, like some of the ones you spoke about—but I also really enjoy Unequal Affections by Lara Ormiston, which is a Pride and Prejudice retelling, which is like a "what if Elizabeth accepted Mr. Darcy the first time?" What if she decided, actually, this was a strategic thing and she was going to accept him? How would that change both of their personalities? That's really worth a read.

Then I also quite enjoy books with Jane Austen as a character. That could be quite fun. I really love Gill Hornby's two books, Miss Austen and Godmersham Park, which are fantastic, fantastic books—really powerful. Then I also really enjoyed Miss Austen Investigates by Jessica Bull, which came out this year, which is Jane Austen, 19 years old, as a sleuth, solving a mystery—solving a murder that's happened in her local area with all the wildness that Catherine Morland would bring to solving a murder. It's excellent fun.

Breckyn: That sounds like a lot of fun. I would read pretty much any beloved literary character or figure solving a murder mystery. It's like, give me the Brontë Sisters. I would watch Mr. Collins solve a murder mystery, right? Just putting anybody in that genre has a lot of fun elements to it. Okay, so what about the other aspect of this? What about the historical fiction set in Regency or Georgian eras? Claudia, do you have some books for us there?

Claudia: One recommendation that I only recently thought of for the Jane Austen July announcement video was Burial Rights by Hannah Kent, which is a book that came out about 10 years ago, and it's based on a real person named Agnes Magnúsdóttir, who was the last person to be sentenced to death in Iceland. And this is set in 1829, and it is a story of her last days. So, it's a very atmospheric historical novel, very dark as you can imagine, but set in a time and place that you probably haven't read about. And I found that just a really interesting and fascinating and gripping book.

Something else I really like is historical fiction that's also old fiction. So, books from the Victorian period, for example, that were set in the Regency period. I mean, something like Wuthering Heights, for example, is actually set in the Regency, which lots of people don't realize, or something like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë as well, is also set in the eighteenth century. But one recommendation from the early twentieth century would be Daphne du Maurier's book, Jamaica Inn, which has a bit of romance, and it has a lot of adventure, and it's also very atmospheric—like a lot of Daphne du Maurier's books are set in Cornwall, so there's a lot of real ties to the place, and it has an adventurous plot about smugglers. And that's also set in the early nineteenth century. So, there's a lot of old fiction that's also historical fiction that we don't necessarily think about.

Breckyn: That's a really good point. I don't know if you guys mentioned this in any of your videos, but The Scarlet Pimpernel is set during the French Revolution and a little bit after. And that's Jane Austen's childhood. But that was written in the early 1900s. And so, that's actually a really good aspect—like, old historical fiction, because you're getting a view of two time periods, right? The time period that the author is from and then the time period that the author has chosen to write about. That's really cool. I like that. What about you, Marissa?

Marissa: Yeah, I'm also not such a big fan of straight retellings of Jane Austen novels, but I do really enjoy it when there's a story that is definitely related to Austen and does something just slightly different to make you really appreciate Austen's original works and want to go back to her original works and read them with a new lens or pay attention to a new topic or a new theme. And one of my favorite time-traveling retellings is The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn. It's about two time travelers who go back in time to try to recover a completed manuscript of The Watsons. So, it explores some things about Austen's work that scholars speculate on and fans speculate on—like Jane's mysterious illness, and why she seemingly didn't write during a certain period of time in her life, and why she never married. And it really just addresses the implications on society of having another finished work by Austen.

Breckyn: That sounds really interesting. I like when people start trying to fill in the gaps.

Marissa: Yeah, yeah. And then in terms of historical fiction, like Claudia was talking about, one historical fiction book that I really enjoyed reading—with Persuasion in particular—was Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. It's a fictional account based on real-life fossil hunters, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. And it takes place during the time period, the early 1800s, and it takes place in Lyme Regis. So that's why it pairs so well with Persuasion, of course.

Breckyn: I read that one. She writes really good historical fiction.

Marissa: Yeah, she's one of my favorite historical fiction authors in general.

Breckyn: Okay, number 5 is a book by a contemporary of Jane Austen. I'm really excited about this one because you could take it in so many different directions. Some recommendations you guys made in your videos were Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, which I never would have thought of, and then also some slave narratives, which is such a great idea, especially considering Dido Bell, who we talked about in an episode in Season One, along with her links to Mansfield Park and Sanditon. So, what have been some of your favorite titles in this category, and how have they broadened your understanding of Austen?

Marissa: Well, I've read a few different things from Austen's time period, but I think my favorite experience was reading Lovers' Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald, which is the play that they perform in Mansfield Park. It really puts the scandal of the amateur theatrical into context. And it's especially interesting to examine the casting within Mansfield Park in relation to the play itself. It just really broadens your understanding of Mansfield Park and about what Austen was writing.

Breckyn: Katie?

Katie: Yeah. So I've really enjoyed dipping my toe into more things from Jane Austen's time periods over the last few years. Last year, I read Belinda by Maria Edgeworth, which was a really, really interesting book—and a novel that—I still don't know if I love the ending, but I feel like the themes in Belinda, especially the themes of the way the book looks at gender and colonialization and a lot of themes that are in Jane Austen's work—but I think they are more to the forefront of a book like Belinda—that stuff is really interesting, so I definitely recommend that one. Then lastly, I also read The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister, who was a fantastic, fascinating historical figure. If you don't know about her, she was a landowner in England in Jane Austen's time and a bit afterwards. She wrote lots of diaries, a lot of which were written in code because she was having romantic and sexual relationships with women and didn't want everyone to know about that. And many, many years later, her diaries were decoded. And reading Anne Lister's diaries is absolutely fascinating. For the historically—cultural history and social history, class history, gender, sexuality history, it's fascinating.

Katie: But also, reading the first volume edited by Helena Whitbread—it's like reading a Jane Austen coming-of-age story. It's like reading Emma. You're watching Anne Lister change and grow up as a person when she was in her early 20s. So, that's been one of my favorite things I've read for this challenge.

Breckyn: Yeah, that sounds really interesting, and I've added that to my list because of your videos. Because Claudia, you mentioned those diaries as well in one of your videos.

Claudia: Yes, I haven't read them yet. I have seen the BBC adaptation, Gentleman Jack, which was excellent. Then I saw Katie's video, and it's made me put that right at the top of my wish list for this Jane Austen July, so I'm hoping to read them this July.

Breckyn: So, what are some that you have read that you would recommend from this category?

Claudia: One that I would recommend that might be a bit out there is actually a conduct book from Jane Austen's period. There was one book by a governess to the royals, Elizabeth Appleton, who wrote a book called Private Education, or a Practical Plan for the Studies of Young Ladies. This was published in 1815. And she wrote this instruction manual for how to raise girls, basically. This was aimed at parents and at governesses and at teachers for how to raise genteel ladies. I think just reading that gives you a real understanding of the environment that Jane Austen's characters lived in—the pressures and just the expectations that were put on them. And it's also incredibly funny from a twenty-first century perspective because it's all the things you'd expect. For example, how young girls shouldn't be reading novels, and how they shouldn't really talk much in public, and how they should always put their domestic tasks before any art or anything like that or any creative endeavors. But it also has some more unexpected lessons, for example, how to talk to girls about death. It suggests—for example, it suggests taking young children to look at dead bodies for an educational purpose and things like that.

Claudia: It's just fascinating because it's so outrageous from our perspective. On the other hand, obviously, we don't know how well these lessons were actually followed by governesses of the time. I want to mention that just because someone wrote it in a book in 1815 doesn't necessarily mean that every governess was taking the children to the morgue. But it's certainly a fascinating insight into the time, and it's particular into the expectation of girls at the time.

Breckyn: That's awesome. I should probably just I have a shout out that we recently had an episode about what Jane Austen's characters read and why. And so all of the books that—obviously, Northanger Abbey, it's all those Gothic romances, and Mrs. Radcliffe, and stuff like that. But in every book, all of her characters are readers, and what are they reading, and what does that say about them? And so that's something that I've wanted to add some of those books to my list, like Mysteries of Udolpho, right? If Henry Tillney read it with his hair standing on end the whole time, there must be something interesting in there. And Belinda—Katie, you mentioned that. That's one that Jane Austen mentions as well. So, we had Susan Allen Ford on, and her book is coming out soon, about what Jane Austen's characters read and why. And then a little bit about Austen's own reading life, because if you read her letters, she's always talking about books and being part of a lending library or a subscription library and stuff like that. So it's really fun to read those books that you know have an influence on her—that she was reading and talking about with her sister and things like that.

Breckyn: So, I think that's a great category. I love that you guys do that. Okay, so six and seven are both about watching screen adaptations. As far as screen adaptations, there are fewer surprises in these categories because I think everyone knows the main ones. For modern adaptations, you guys in your videos mentioned Clueless, right? Everyone loves that one. Classic. And you also talked about vlog adaptations like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which was really popular about 10 or so years ago. And I thought those were good. I didn't really think to check the Internet. Has anybody done anything since The Lizzie Bennet Diaries? Probably lots. Do you guys have any other don't-miss recommendations like that for listeners?

Claudia: I feel like we're probably going to recommend the same things here, right Katie? Rational Creatures?

Breckyn: Rational Creatures? What's that one about?

Claudia: It's an adaptation on YouTube that came out in two seasons, I think, and they were also a year apart, but I think it finished last year or possibly the year before that. It's very recent anyway. It's an American YouTube adaptation of Persuasion, which is really interesting. They just took the plot of Persuasion, transplanted it into modern-day America, and really updated the plot and also the themes to fit the medium and to fit the time and place. It's just really well done.

Breckyn: What are some of those updates that you think are done well, or what are some themes that are either changed or that are still relevant today?

Claudia: A lot of the gender—for example, the way gender is explored in Rational Creatures, and sexuality, is updated. Also, the way that it's transplanted to America means that the social connections don't quite work the same way. I think you can always tell in a modern adaptation if they try too hard to stick to the social environment of the Regency. In this case, the way that they've done it—just the way people interact with each other—just works really well for the setting.

Katie: Yeah, I think that is a hard thing to adapt when adapting Jane Austen to the modern world. But I think there are some book and screen adaptations that do it really well. Like Claudia was saying, I think Rational Creatures does that really well. There was a great Pride and Prejudice retelling, Fire Island, that came out a couple of years ago, which is a queer retelling of Pride and Prejudice—five gay men as the Bennet sisters going to Fire Island. The way they deal with class and social structures in that is fantastic, and they really adapt it to the modern world really well and create a clear social status divide that works very well for the modern U.S. I think there are ways of doing it well. I think Rational Creatures and Fire Island really get it, but I do think that is something that can be a bit harder to adapt when you're adapting something to the modern world, especially because class and social status in Jane Austen is so complicated, and the intricacies of it are so—they're such fine things, I guess. But I think some of the adaptations do it pretty well.

Marissa: I also really enjoyed Fire Island. I think it's a really smart adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I feel like it does what Clueless did for Emma, but for Pride and Prejudice. And they just—the choices they make in terms of adapting it to a modern audience really work and capture the original spirit of Austen's work while making something that can absolutely stand on its own and—as a good movie.

Breckyn: Yeah. Well, and you've got to be really careful with the details and the nuances when retelling Austen, because everything has so much weight—like all these etiquette—and all of these social interactions, they have so many nuanced layers of meaning, which is fun and interesting, but it also makes it hard to just transplant into the modern world. Okay, so we're getting close to the end. This is just the last one. Out of all of these challenges, there's only one title—or this year, three titles—that everybody is reading together, correct? This year, it's Sense and Sensibility and Sanditon and The Watsons. So, what does the discussion look like when everyone is reading and watching something different, Katie?

Katie: I think usually on our Goodreads group, we have separate discussion boards for the books that we're all reading, so Sense and Sensibility, actually, this year. But then we also have a general "currently reading" thread, and people just say what they're reading at the moment, and we just have a bit of a discussion. That's how it works in Goodreads, and then usually people who are taking part might be posting things on Instagram, or if they also have a BookTube channel, they might be posting things on BookTube. I always really enjoy seeing other people's Jane Austen July content, and that's always a really lovely way to keep the discussion going. There's always lots of interesting videos on Jane Austen July. And I think because we're all reading and watching different things, but on a theme, there still feels like there is a conversation ongoing. Sometimes I'll read something that someone recommended in a video two years ago, and that's a very elongated conversation. But yeah, it's really nice when people are watching and reading different things, but sharing their experiences of what they've been enjoying.

Breckyn: Claudia, can you talk about that a bit—the relationships that you see form through Jane Austen July?

Claudia: My favorite thing is always seeing people discover Jane Austen for the first time through Jane Austen July, and in particular, people who are new on BookTube, and I have to say that's my social media of choice, where I watch the most and interact with the most. There are people who just pick up Jane Austen books because of Jane Austen July and then get deeper and deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. And what's really good about Jane Austen, in particular, is that it isn't a vast amount of books. It's not like Charles Dickens, where you have the feeling you're never going to finish reading Charles Dickens. It's just—there's so much. But with Jane Austen, it's six novels that we know, and then these extras. I'm almost finished with the extras now, because once I've read Sanditon and The Watsons, I think I've read all of it. And there's nothing new to discover. But it's still a good amount of work, and you get the feeling that everyone who takes part gets something else out of it, that people have their favorites and people have things that they enjoy more and things that they know less about it, but everyone always finds their little corner of Jane Austen's work to feel comfortable in.

Breckyn: Well, that's what I love. I love that you guys are spreading the Jane Austen gospel, right? You're evangelizing for Jane Austen. There are always new converts to be found. There's always something else. And that's what I appreciate about being a member of JASNA and doing this podcast is that if you just learned about Jane Austen yesterday for the first time, or if you have been reading Jane Austen for 70 years, there's always something new to learn, always something new to talk about, and there's always delightful people to talk about it with. And so, this has been such a fun conversation, guys. Thank you so much for joining me. In addition to your YouTube channels, which just to go over it again . . .

Marissa: So, you can find me, Marissa, at Blatantly Bookish.

Katie: So, I'm on Books and Things on YouTube.

Claudia: Spinster's Library on YouTube.

Breckyn: And then, how do people find you on Goodreads, Katie? How do people find Jane Austen July and the discussion that's going on?

Katie: So, if you head over to our YouTube channels, our announcement videos will be there, and we'll have links to the Goodreads group in our announcement videos. You probably could find it by searching Jane Austen July 2024 in Goodreads groups, but that might be a little bit harder to track down.

Claudia: Or complicated, yeah.

Breckyn: Or also just google it. That's always my answer to everything. I'm like, we always have these really long, "here's the link," and I'll read out 30 words, but really, just google it. It's there. And we'll also have links in the show notes to your channels. Everyone should just look it up. Look up Jane Austen July. There's this whole community online who's reading together every year. And now I have like 30 new books that I have added to my To Be Read list. And that's such a wonderful feeling. So, thank you guys so much. Thanks for coming.

All: Thank you so much for having us.

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Breckyn: OK, Janeites, it’s time for a morsel of JASNA news. This is your reminder that in celebration of Jane Austen’s 250th anniversary, JASNA is offering one-year digital memberships free of charge to students enrolled in a course of study that will lead to a high school diploma, a college or university degree, a trade or professional license or certificate, or the equivalent of any of these. We're excited about this offer because it supports JASNA's mission to foster the study, appreciation and understanding of Jane Austen's works, life and genius. By offering free memberships to students, we hope to introduce a new generation to the wonders of Austen's novels and inspire future scholars and fans.

To sign up, visit the membership page on our website at jasna.org/join. You'll find information there on all our memberships, as well as a link to a special page with a full description of the free student membership offer.

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Breckyn: Now it's time for "In Her Own Words," a segment where listeners share a favorite Austen quote or two.

Joan Reynolds: Hello. My name is Joan Reynolds, and I am a member of the JASNA Vancouver Region in Canada. One of the things that I enjoy most about Jane Austen's writing is her sense of comic timing. A favorite quote of mine comes from Pride and Prejudice, the very first of her novels that I read as a young teenager. Elizabeth has just refused Mr. Collins's proposal of marriage and has been summoned to Mr. Bennet's library, where she finds her father, together with a very heated Mrs. Bennet. Mr. Bennet proceeds to lay out the facts of the situation.

"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day, you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will I will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."

Priceless. Jane Austen firmly understood the value of a well-crafted punchline.

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Breckyn: Dear listeners, I just wanted to thank you once again for your support during Austen Chat's first year, and thank you especially for the five-star reviews you've left on Apple Podcasts. It really helps us get the word out to other Austen fans. Here's one from FredandGinger7000, titled "A Must Listen for Janeites." "Austen Chat is a fantastic podcast, featuring interviews with experts on many different aspects of Jane Austen's works, life, and times. Your To Be Read list will grow as you are introduced to lots of fascinating authors and topics." Thank you, FredandGinger7000, and to everyone out there helping us spread the word about the podcast. I can't wait to embark on another year of Austen with you all. I remain yours affectionately, Breckyn Wood.

[Theme music]

 

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

Pride and Prejudice