An interview with the Jane Austen Society

By Hannah Griffiths

Why did you set up the Durham University Jane Austen Society?

I set up the Jane Austen Society because I visited the Jane Austen Festival in Bath in September with my friends. I enjoyed it so much – and had made the costumes – that I thought it would be fun to continue it in Durham and maybe organise a society trip to the festival next year.

What kind of events does the society organise?

We have done film nights and plan for guest speakers and maybe to do a ball and trips. If people feel really dedicated I have many sewing patterns and a sewing machine if they want to make costumes.

You must really love Jane Austen to have set up a society dedicated to her. What makes her so special?

Austen is my favourite author, if you could not guess. Like many, I first read her novels when I was in my early teens and loved them. I find her use of language amazing: the closer you read the more amazing I find her work. Her characters are funny and complex and she is such a great observer of character. I can read the books again and again and still discover more.

We’re guessing you’ve read Austen’s books many times! Which one is your favourite and why?

My favourite? It’s hard to choose. Depending on my mood, I would have to say Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion. Pride and Prejudice is the funniest and most polished of her works, in my opinion. Austen wondered if it was “too light and bright and sparkling”, but sometimes that is needed. Conversely, Austen completed Persuasion whilst she was dying. It was published posthumously and thus it is one of the least polished of her works; it is less “bright and sparkling” but a poignant and moving story.

Do you have any obscure Austen facts for us?

An obscure Austen fact that comes to mind is that she was the best in her family at spillikins (an eighteenth-century version of ‘pick-up sticks’). She played a lot with her nieces and nephews and was good at many games. Cards and games feature in her novels and usually reveal something about the characters or their relationships. Another fact: Winston Churchill read Austen during the war and admired her work as an escape when he was ill with pneumonia: “What calm lives they had, those people!” he wrote, “No worries about the French Revolution, or the crashing struggle of the Napoleonic Wars. Only manners controlling natural passion as far as they could, together with cultured explanations of any mischances.”

What are your future hopes for the Jane Austen Society?

In the future, the trip to Bath is on! But I want to do more – a reading group? A ball or ceilidh? If anyone is interested in exec experience please do contact me!

How can readers get involved in the society?

If people want to join, our group page is www.facebook.com/groups/dujaneausten/. You can also sign up to our mailing list there.

Photograph: Lizzie Dawson

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