Jane Austen: Her life and works
Since most of us know our Jane’s biography, I won’t summarise Susannah’s talk here, but just make a few observations. The talk seemed well attended for an inclement Canberra Sunday afternoon. Apparently about 100 people had booked, but it was hard to count numbers: people were scattered around the bookshop, many hidden between bookshelves. There was of course a preponderance of women, but men were definitely in attendance, and I don’t think the only reason for that was Valentine’s Day!
Susannah included three readings in her talk – all appropriately chosen for Valentine’s Day. The readings were:
- the scene in Pride and prejudice between Mr and Mrs Bennet and Elizabeth over Mr Collins’ proposal;
- the first letter in the delightful juvenilia work, The three sisters; and
- the proposal scene from Emma.
Towards the end of her talk, Susannah gave her reasons for Jane Austen’s longevity:
- the marvellous language to which you never want to take a red pen like you might, for example, with Dickens!
- the humour – she’s genuinely funny
- the romance – she’s “incredibly romantic”
- her understanding of human nature.
She elaborated on this last point by suggesting that we’ve all known a chatterbox like Miss Bates (Emma), a stingy person like Mrs Norris (Mansfield Park), a party animal like Sir John Middleton (Sense and sensibility), a youthful bore like John Thorpe (Northanger Abbey) and/or a hypochondriac like Mr Woodhouse (Emma).
Susannah’s experience as a speaker shows. The talk was just right for an audience that ranged from true afficionados, who still managed to glean something new from the readings though they’d read the novels many times before, to some who, I discovered, had not yet read Jane Austen but went away determined to start now! What better proofs can there be that your talk has hit the mark?