Tag Archives: Susannah Fullerton

Interview with Susannah Fullerton, Author of ‘Celebrating Pride and Prejudice’

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.

A Review of ‘Celebrating Pride and Prejudice’

Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Publication Date: January 1, 2013

There’s magic in reading a book that’s destined to stay with you through the years.  The act of discovery is reactive.  It ripples into perspective, tearing off rose-colored glasses or placing them back on.  As with the best books, this alchemy alters everything.  The world is suddenly different.  And this is wonderful.

The terrible part comes next.  There’s that twinge of sadness when the first impression is over because there is only one first time, one exhilarating intake of those perfect moments of pleasurable reading.  Pride and Prejudice evokes these feelings in the happy souls who experience love at first read, and the loss is enough to make readers inclined, if only for a heartbeat, to go about wailing like Mrs. Bennet.

The good news is that Janeites can save themselves the trouble.

Much like rereading P&P, spending a few hours with Susannah Fullerton’s Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece is a balm to the dismal fact that there is but one P&P among myriad imitations.  It’s a bonus that Fullerton’s enjoyment in writing the commemoration is palpable; what the book tries to accomplish and indeed does is evoke the delight of what Austen called “my own darling child” by exploring what makes the novel unforgettable.

The table of contents is enough to get this reader excited.  My favorite chapter is ‘Did They all Live Happily Ever After?: Sequels and Adaptations’ as it is an amusing summary of what happens when a novel enters the public imagination.  Visually, Celebrating also has much to recommend itself.  The pages offer illustrations adorning various editions, covers on translations and teen imprints, and historical depictions of place and person.  Fullerton’s character analyses of Elizabeth as a luminously unique heroine in her time and Darcy as the mold from which many beloved romance heroes now spring are likewise irresistible.

Underscoring all is a history of the novel’s journey, from its inception in 1796, to its underwhelming public reception before it eventually reached epic literary status.  By the book’s end, Celebrating presents an engrossing study of why P&P is so appealing.  For Janeites, it is a thoughtful guide to everything P&P.  For writers, it invites us to consider the forest for the trees.  History buffs and literary enthusiasts will also enjoy a look inside the evolution of a masterpiece, from publication to metamorphosis through films, literary sequels and adaptations, and yes, merchandising.

Verdict

I believe Fullerton has celebrated P&P in a way Jane Austen would appreciate.  The tone of Celebrating Pride and Prejudice possesses nothing of the sparkly fandom that Lydia Bennet might exhibit, nor the dry pedagogical airs of Mary Bennet.  It achieves something akin to the sisterhood between Elizabeth and Jane: best enjoyed with a warm cup of tea in a room shared with an old friend. I loved it and would highly recommend giving it a read.

~ Book Description ~

“Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure,” Elizabeth Bennet tells Fitzwilliam Darcy in one of countless exhilarating scenes in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The remembrance of Austen’s brilliant work has given its readers pleasure for 200 years and is certain to do so for centuries to come. The book is incomparable for its wit, humor, and insights into how we think and act—and how our “first impressions” (the book’s initial title) can often be remarkably off-base. All of these facets are explored and commemorated in Celebrating Pride and Prejudice, written by preeminent Austen scholar Susannah Fullerton. Fullerton delves into what makes Pride and Prejudice such a groundbreaking masterpiece, including the story behind its creation (the first version may have been an epistolary novel written when Austen was only twenty), its reception upon publication, and its tremendous legacy, from the many films and miniseries inspired by the book (such as the 1995 BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth) to the even more numerous “sequels,” adaptations, mash-ups (zombies and vampires and the like), and pieces of merchandise, many of them very bizarre.
 
Interspersed throughout are fascinating stories about Austen’s brief engagement (perhaps to the man who inspired the ridiculous Mr. Collins), the “Darcin” pheromone, the ways in which Pride and Prejudice served as bibliotherapy in the World War I trenches, why it caused one famous author to be tempted into thievery, and much more. Celebrating Pride and Prejudice is a wonderful celebration of a book that has had an immeasurable influence on literature and on anyone who has had the good fortune to discover it.
 
~ About Susannah Fullerton ~
 
Susannah Fullerton is president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia (the largest literary society in the country), a post she has held for the past fifteen years.  She is a popular literary lecturer, the author of Jane Austen and Crime and many articles about Austen, and the co-editor of Jane Austen: Antipodean Views.
 
For more about Ms. Fullerton and her work, please visit her website.

An 18th Century Perspective on Elizabeth Bennet

In anticipation of an upcoming review I’ve been reading Susannah Fullerton’s Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece.  I’ll be posting the full review on December 16th, Jane Austen’s 237th birthday, but in the meantime, I wanted to share with you an 18th century perspective that shows just how incredible the character of Elizabeth Bennet truly was.

Unproven portrait of Jane Austen at Bath, age 15 | Johann Zofanny
Unproven portrait of Jane Austen at Bath, age 15 | Johann Zofanny

Jane Austen started writing Pride and Prejudice in October 1796 at the age of twenty.  She would no doubt have been exposed to the popular publications of the period, including the ever so entertaining Lady’s Magazine: or, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex.  A few years prior to Austen putting pen to paper for what was then called First Impressions, The Lady’s Magazine published in their 1791 edition “A Letter from a Father to his Daughter on Relative Duties,” part of which is excerpted below.

“Of all the weaknesses the younger part of your sex are most prone to are pride and affectation, and there are none scarce which render more contemptible in the eyes of the thinking and sensible part mankind; therefore as you value the esteem of your friends, crush them in the bud.  The ingenious Mr Addison says “Pride in a woman destroys all symmetry and grace; and affectation is a more terrible enemy to a fine face than the small pox.  

And yet there is no passion so universal or steals into the heart more imperceptibly than pride; at the same time, there is not a single view of human nature, under its present condition, which is not sufficient to extinguish in us all the secret seeds of pride.  As nothing appears more odious and disgusting than pride and affectation, to nothing is more amiable in your sex than humility; it adds a beauty to every feature and a luster to all your action.”*

These epistolary tutelages served as continual nudges against youthful waywardness, advising sons on achievement in politics and education, and daughters on obedience and humility.  Based on works they produced, writers like the young Jane Austen must have felt the thorn in these infuriatingly narrow instructions at one time or another.

From 'Pride and Prejudice' film showing Jane and Elizabeth | 2005
From ‘Pride and Prejudice’ film showing Jane and Elizabeth | 2005

Elizabeth Bennet was a character written from the breed of proud, independently-minded women who were mightily disapproved of by the majority of gentlemen (and a whole lot of gentlewomen) during the 18th century. She is, in many ways, diametrically opposed to the ideal gentlewoman and her genius, of course, is in being appealing nevertheless.  As Fullerton says, “She was a highly unconventional, new sort of heroine, and it is easy for modern readers to underestimate just how astonishing she was for readers of the time.”  What’s interesting is that Austen made Elizabeth THE favorite daughter of her father and despite all obstacles of temperament, she is our heroine.  As Fullerton points out, according to the values of the time Jane Bennet would’ve been the appropriate choice.  I think we can all say thank goodness she wasn’t Austen’s choice, as today only Elizabeth would be ours.

*Find the full letter on page 42 here