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Jane Austen Reading Group

This month we feature some members' opinions on being a member of Interest Groups Online's Jane Austen book group. Read more about the Jane Austen Reading group

"I’m a relatively new member of the Jane Austen Reading Group, having joined part way through the group’s reading of ‘Northanger Abbey’. I’m enjoying the group’s careful and precise engagement with the text as we read the novel aloud, just as Jane’s original readers would have done. This close reading often provokes some lively and fascinating discussions and opportunities for new learning.

Jane Austen’s novels have been part of my life for over 55 years now, since I first read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as a teenager. I remember an acquaintance dismissing the books as ‘just more romances’, but she obviously hadn’t read them! Jane was a close and acute observer of her world and the people inhabiting it. She has a strong sense of the ridiculous – her books are funny – and a keen, even occasionally savage, eye for human foibles and hypocrisies. Having said this, she writes with compassion and understanding, too – as evidenced by her descriptions of Catherine in ‘Northanger Abbey’, for example. Catherine makes mistakes as she enters for the first time the adult world beyond her sheltered home at Fullerton, but we see her learn and grow as the novel progresses. There is humour in Jane’s depiction of Catherine, but there is understanding, too.

I’ve read all of Jane’s six novels many times now, but still find something new on each re-reading. I find it interesting, too, to examine how my responses to the books have changed over time as I’ve read them at the different ages and stages of my life. ‘Persuasion’, more autumnal in tone that the other novels, is perhaps my favourite, but if you are new to Jane Austen, ‘Pride and Prejudice ‘ is probably a good place to start.

TV and film adaptations inevitably take liberties with the text, but can also offer a good way in to familiarising yourself with Jane Austen. The 1995 BBC TV adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, is remembered fondly by many people as respecting the spirit of the novel despite sometimes changing details. Colin Firth’s dip in the lake at Pemberley definitely does NOT appear in the book!

The events of the Jane Austen Regency Week (21st-30th June) also offer a valuable and interesting introduction to Jane’s world and its customs, and to the places and scenes familiar to Jane. All the events of the week sound fascinating. I’m drawn to the garden tours and the Parade for Literacy (love the name!), but it sounds like there’s something there for everyone, however familiar or unfamiliar you are with Jane’s work.

The best way to engage with Jane Austen’s books is, of course, to read them. If you’re coming to them for the first time, you’ll find much to enjoy and much to make you think. Happy reading!"

Anne Jones, Group Member

"It has been a great pleasure to Zoom into the Jane Austen Reading Group. Commencing with Northanger Abbey, Austen’s first novel we are treated to elements of the gothic novel, a romance with its tribulations, and receive insight into the societal demands upon young women of the period.

Austen addresses her reader informally, ironically and playfully and at one point reveals herself by referring to her ‘sister author’.  It is an entertaining and often comic literary satire containing both realism and serious story telling. Readers are reminded of the author’s integral position as she speaks of ‘our heroine’. 

Austen’s almost ‘modern’ approach includes a confident defence of the writer’s craft and close reading raises awareness and appreciation of her striking methodology and the supreme quality of Austen’s writing."

Janet Anderson Kaye, Group Member

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