I’m delighted to welcome Susannah Fullerton, author of the lovely new book Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece to the blog. As it just so happens, today is EXACTLY the 200th anniversary for P&P (Pop the champagne, Mr. Darcy and the rest of Meryton’s residents are officially one-fifth of a milllennium old!) To celebrate I’m hosting a bonafide Austen expert and true enthusiast of the great authoress. As my regular readers know, I found Susannah’s book incredibly enjoyable (read review here) and Susannah was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions regarding the project.
You’ve been the President of JASA (Jane Austen Society of Australia) for 15 years. How did you first get hooked on Jane Austen and, more specifically, Pride and Prejudice?
It is actually now 18 years since I became President of JASA and it has been a real labour of love. It’s a wonderful, vibrant society and I’ve made so many great friends through JASA and have loved being its President.
My mother read me ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when I was about 12, and I was instantly hooked, though I’m sure I understood very little of its irony or subtlety at that age. My mother adored JA’s novels and so did her mother and grandmother, so I’m from a long line of women who have gained huge pleasure from reading her works.
Your previous book A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters Went to a Ball was published in October of 2012, three months prior to when Celebrating Pride and Prejudice hit shelves this month. What was it like researching two historically rich writing projects back to back?
Never again will I do two books so close together!! I was asked quite some time ago to write the book on ‘Dance’ for Frances Lincoln. Just as I was close to finishing it, they contacted me about a proposal I’d put to them many months before for a book about 200 years of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and gave me a deadline, so it was all quite tight. However, I adored every minute of writing ‘Celebrating Pride and Prejudice’ – I was for months immersed in the world of the Bennets, Darcys, Bingleys etc, and was just so happy! The tough part was the images, as both books are very beautifully illustrated. Getting permissions and good quality images was the hardest part of the whole project, especially with a deadline to meet.
People kept saying to me that after 2 books about Jane Austen I must be tired of her and need a change, but quite the contrary! I’m so excited about the big ‘Pride and Prejudice’ 200th anniversary year and am looking forward to giving a huge number of talks about my new book and ‘P & P’ in Australia, the USA and the UK. I feel very proud of both my books, but will try in future to make sure that I have a bit of a break in between writing projects.
I enjoyed your commentary in the chapter ‘Did They All Live Happily Ever After?: Sequels and Adaptations.’ It’s indicative of Pride and Prejudice’s everlasting appeal that a great number of writers wish to tell their version of the characters’ happily ever afters. As an expert on Jane Austen, were you ever tempted to have a go at it, even simply for your own amusement?
Those of us who love the novels of Jane Austen want more!!! She only wrote 6 completed books and it is just not enough. And as her characters are so real to us, we naturally think about their lives after the novel ends, wonder who single characters might end up marrying, ponder the happiness of the various marriages etc. So it’s not surprising that so many people have tried their hand at sequels. However, I am so in awe of Jane Austen’s brilliance as a writer that I would not dare to even attempt to imitate her, and for me no sequel is ever really satisfying because it is not written by Jane Austen.
Pride and Prejudice is rarely, if ever, interpreted on screen as a Georgian period piece. Given that it was first begun in 1796, then later revised and eventually published in 1813, do you think there is anything quintessentially Georgian about the text?
I think Jane Austen was hugely influenced by the Georgian era, rather than the Regency (which was technically Georgian too, though we often tend to think of it as a separate era). Dr Johnson was the quintessential Georgian writer, and quite often Mr Darcy sounds like Dr Johnson. I think the first sentence of the novel (and I write a chapter about that sentence in my book) is strongly influenced by Georgian moralists and essayists. I think the wonderful balance of her prose is typically Georgian, as is the way in which she weighs up various qualities and characteristics, her rationality and good sense.
The fun question comes last. You have a chapter devoted to ‘Selling Pride and Prejudice’ that discusses the merchandizing and tourism worlds associated with the novel. Do you own any memorabilia that you absolutely had to buy, or have you visited any must-see places related to Pride and Prejudice?
I have a car number plate holder with words from the novel, I have notepads and other stationery with quotes, I have a cake of Mr Darcy soap (yet to be used!) and fridge magnets, a nighty, a mug, a trivia game, a jigsaw puzzle, postage stamp, and confetti (I’m waiting for the right bride to throw it at!) so, as you can tell, I’m as addicted as most fans to buying ‘P & P’ related merchandise.
And as I lead literary tours to the UK every year, I have visited the places connected with Jane Austen and her novel. When I cross into Derbyshire and see the sign for it, I immediately think of Mr Darcy. When I enter Hertfordshire I think of the Bennets, and of course Hampshire is Jane Austen country for me.
However, my most treasured ‘things’ are my copies of the novel – I have about 12 different versions, with different illustrations (there is a chapter in my book about the very varied illustrators of the novel), different scholarly notes and introductions, different designs for their covers. No matter which copy I pick up, it somehow always falls open at the right place and is always guaranteed to bring me joy. This 200th anniversary year is so special! For 200 years ‘Pride and Prejudice’ has been delighting the world – long may it continue to do so!
Thank you, Susannah, for allowing me to host you on Life Takes Lemons! For more information about Susannah and her work, please visit her home on the web.