Q&A with Jane Austen Society of Australia’s Susannah Fullerton

As a Sydney-sider, I find it particularly fun when I come across Australians with a Jane Austen side to them. Even more so when they release Pride and Prejudice-orientated books (see my review from yesterday) that have me gushing.

Susannah Fullerton is that Australian Jane Austen fan. I say this with the understanding that she heads the Jane Austen scene over here, both Australia’s actual Jane Austen Society (more on that soon) and through talks and her writings.

I’ve been meaning to post this up for a while but, as usual, life gets in the way. Fingers crossed, and it’s on my New Year’s Resolution list, I’ll be heading to the Jane Austen Festival in Canberra over April and will be able to meet Ms Fullerton in person.

Here’s what she told The Bennet Sisters about her book (Celebrating Pride and Prejudice), being a Janeite in Australia and her life.

Where did the idea come from for writing a Pride and Prejudice tribute?

A couple of years ago I started to think about how JASA should celebrate the important anniversary of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ turning 200, and I wondered if anyone would be writing a book about its 200 years. The more I thought, the more I liked the idea and decided I’d just love to write such a book myself. So I proposed it to my publisher and fortunately they loved the idea. I then started to worry that dozens of people in the Jane Austen world would have had the same idea and that the market would be flooded with similar publications. I was most concerned when I heard that two of my favourite Austen writers, Maggie Lane and Hazel Jones, were working on something similar, but their booklet is a much shorter publication and does not cover as many aspects of ‘Pride and Prejudice’s remarkable life, or in such depth. As far as I know, no-one else has done anything similar to my book, which is a relief.

There is a lot of information about Pride and Prejudice in this book. Where did you start and how long did it take you?

Because of a tight deadline from my publishers (the book HAD to be out this January in time for the anniversary!) I had about 6 months to complete it. So it was head down and serious hard work during that time. However, I was blissfully happy writing it, totally immersed in the world of the Bennets,  Darcys, Bingleys etc, glorying more and more in the brilliance of Jane Austen’s prose. I felt sad when my book was finished, but then came the excitement of holding the first copy in my hands and getting fabulous responses from my first readers.

What was your favourite section to write and why?

I think perhaps I most enjoyed writing about Elizabeth Bennet, trying to analyse why she is such a superb heroine. We all know that we love Elizabeth, but just why do we love her so much and why is she so superior and so much more charming than any other heroine in literature (except Emma Woodhouse, who I also adore)? I tried to look at the way she appears to a first time reader of the novel, at her faults and virtues, her relationship with family and friends, and her intelligence.

How much did you learn when writing this book?

I loved writing the chapter on the translations and learning that the very first translation of the novel came out the same year the book was published. Jane Austen almost certainly never knew that her novel had been translated into French and that’s probably a good thing, because it was incredibly abridged, changed and toned down, so she’d hardly have recognised her own words. Nor was she paid any royalties for such use of her book.

I also felt I learned a lot from writing about the first sentence. I knew it was famous, but hadn’t really thought about why, and about just how complex and rich it is. I loved writing that section.

And of course writing about sequels was eye-opening because I hadn’t realised quite how many of them there are, and how far some of them stray from Jane Austen’s world and characters!

Nor did I know that there were Dutch, Spanish, Italian and Israeli film versions of the novel.

Writing my book was a journey of fascinating surprises and insights, and I hope that my readers learn much more about ‘P & P’ from reading what I have written.

As the president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, you must be fairly aware of fans all over the country. Is Australia big on Austen? Why should Aussies consider joining JASA?

The Jane Austen Society of Australia is the largest literary society in the country and has the largest attendance at regular meetings of any Jane Austen Society in the world!!! We are extremely active, publish wonderful journals, hold talks, study days, conferences and special events. Anyone in Australia who loves the writings of Jane Austen should join JASA – you will receive the publications and be kept informed of all our events, which are especially exciting in this ‘P & P’ anniversary year. If you live in Sydney you can come to the excellent meetings here, but there are also regional groups in Perth, Brisbane, Southern Highlands, Canberra, Newcastle, and there are separate groups in Melbourne and Adelaide.

Is Pride and Prejudice your favourite of Austen novel?

As the author of ‘Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice’ (the US title is ‘Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece’) I should be saying Yes to this question, but I actually love ‘Emma’ most. For me, ‘Emma’ is the perfect novel. “P & P’ is my 2nd favourite and I adore every word of it, but I think Jane Austen showed even greater mastery when she wrote ‘Emma’.

Which Austen character are you most like?

How I would love to say Elizabeth Bennet, but I’m now the age of her mother so only in my dreams can I imagine I’m Elizabeth. I probably more closely resemble Emma, I love organising like Mrs Norris, I’m an indulgent mother like Mrs Dashwood (my new book is dedicated to my daughter Elinor Elizabeth), I respond to poetry just like Marianne, and I love food as much as Dr Grant. I think I married a man who is rather like Edward Ferrars, so perhaps I’m an Elinor at heart. And just at the moment, having had a house full of visitors for some weeks, I’m feeling just like Jane Fairfax when she says “Oh Miss Woodhouse, the comfort of being sometimes alone.” Jane Austen has a word or sentiment for every occasion!

I do hope that all Aussie visitors to your site will consider coming along to JASA this year. You do not have to be a member to attend meetings – there’s an open invitation to anyone who is interested, so come and discover what fun we have. I hope you will read and enjoy my book – it’s written for all those who love ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and I hope in this anniversary year everyone re-reads the novel itself. There’s no better way to celebrate!

Really, it’s about time I sign up and become a JASA member. I’ve been intending to do this since I started this blog and read, enviously, all about it (in 2010) and have been slack ever since. If you haven’t, I recommend you also sign up or come along to the meetings – they sound fantastic.

Many thanks to Susannah Fullerton for her time in answering these questions. Let me know if you decide to come along to any Australia meetups, it’d be great to meet some other Sydney-based Janeites.

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2 Comments

Filed under Other Review, Q&A

2 responses to “Q&A with Jane Austen Society of Australia’s Susannah Fullerton

  1. Each issue of JASNA News includes reviews of books about Jane Austen, her writing, and her era. Publishers and authors who wish to submit a book for review are requested to contact the Book Review Editor, Sue Parrill, sparrill@bellsouth.net , and provide a copy of each book.

  2. She sent short pieces of writing to her newborn nieces Fanny Catherine and Jane Anna Elizabeth.

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