What we're about
This group is for those who wish to study the works of Jane Austen, along with any novels, poetry, criticism, plays, visual art, etc. that serve to enhance our understanding and enjoyment of this great novelist. Our group, which was christened on 9/24/14, started with the novel, "Emma", considered by many to be Austen's best. We read and discussed the text, volume by volume for a total of three sessions, one per month. We then looked at Sir Walter Scott's seminal critical review of this novel to see how it was received in Austen's day. As a companion reading to "Emma", we then proceeded to Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" for a cross cultural comparison of the two Emmas. Emma Woodhouse and Emma Bovary both happened to live in 19 th century provincial towns, one in Surrey, England and the other in "Yonville", France!
Then we moved on to "Persuasion" and Romantic poetry of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron (discussed by characters in the text), Austen biographies, "The Mysteries of Udolpho" by Ann Radcliffe (to understand what Austen is spoofing in her novel), "Northanger Abbey" by Jane Austen, "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens (for an additional British perspective on the French Revolution), "Lady Susan" by Jane Austen (because Whit Stillman's "Love and Friendship" had arrived at theaters near us!), and "Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen.
We commenced "The Bride of Lammermoor" by Sir Walter Scott at the beginning of 2016 as a companion read to "Sense and Sensibility". Given the effect that seeing the Donizetti opera "Lucia di Lammermoor" (based on the Scott novel) has on Emma Bovary in "Madame Bovary", we thought we might better appreciate the cult of Sensibility that Austen is commenting upon in her work. We were surprised to find that Scott's "romantic" novel really isn't about the fate of two lovers, but more about the clash of values, and the failure of families, classes, all actors of the various sections of Scottish society to adapt successfully to change at a particular point in time.
In 2017 we read "All Roads lead to Austen" by Amy Elizabeth Smith, "Evelina" by Fanny Burney, "Love and Freindship" by Jane Austen, "Pride and Prometheus" by John Kessel, and "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.
We cap each Austen reading with a session on critical essays by scholars and a "Film and Feast" session featuring a comparison of clips from film adaptations of the novels along with a potluck feast of British and Regency inspired foods.
Readers at all levels of familiarity with Jane Austen, who wish to better understand her genius (we typically avoid fan fiction and sequel literature in our reading selections, although we do pass comment upon them from time to time), are invited and encouraged to join us!
Here are some guideline criteria for potential members to consider. They are taken from the philosopher John Locke's "Rules of a Society". They also happen to be the ones Founding Father Benjamin Franklin chose as base qualifications for membership in his Philadelphia Junto!
"1. Whether he (she) loves all men (women), of what profession or religion soever?
2. Whether he (she) thinks no persons ought to be harmed in his (her) body, name or good, for mere speculative opinions, or his (her) external way of worship.
3. Whether he (she) loves and seeks truth for truth's sake; and will endeavor impartially to find and receive it himself, and to communicate it to others?"
Francine Prose's, "Reading Like A Writer" is also highly recommended reading for active members of our group. Prose shows readers a way of discussion to which our group at the very least aspires!
We are beginning to sketch out our schedule for 2018. So far it looks like this:
Thursday, January 18, 2018, 6:30 PM "Jane Austen: The Secret Radical" by Helena Kelly, Part One
Thursday, February 15, 2018, 6:30 PM "Jane Austen: The Secret Radical" by Helena Kelly, Part Two
Thursday, March 22, 2018, 6:30 PM "Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen, Volume One
Thursday, April 19, 2018, 6:30 PM "Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen, Volume Two
Thursday, May 17, 2018, 6:30 PM "Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen, Volume Three
Thursday, June 14, 2018, 6:30 PM Critical Essays on "Mansfield Park" by Austen scholars
Thursday, July 12, 2018, 6:30 PM Review of Film Adaptations of "Mansfield Park"
Thursday, August 9, 2018, 6:30 PM "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte, Part One
Thursday, September 6, 2018, 6:30 PM "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte, Part Two
Thursday, October 4, 2018, 6:30 PM "North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell, Part One
Thursday, November 1, 2018, 6:30 PM "North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell, Part Two
Thursday December 6, 2018, 6:30 PM View film adaptation of N&S or discussion of "Sanditon" by Jane Austen
"Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen's very finely written novel of "Pride and Prejudice". That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings of characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big Bow Wow strain I can do myself like any now going: but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!"
Sir Walter Scott , Journal entry on March 14, 1826
"Forget the Jane Austen you think you know. Forget the biographies; forget the pretty adaptations. Ignore the banknote. Read Jane's novels. They're there to speak for her: love stories, yes, though not always happy ones, but the production of an extraordinary mind, in an extraordinary age.
Read them again." Helena Kelly, "Jane Austen, The Secret Radical"