John Turner’s Take on Jane Austen

At our last Jane Austen gathering, John Turner spoke to us on “Austen’s England.”  [This is available online at his website Word and Image of Vermont]  You will also find there a lovely tribute to Austen and her works (see under Archives – Fiction), and with John’s permission I quote that for you here:

 A friend recently began to read Pride and Prejudice for the first time. He had heard it was one of the greatest novels in English but as he got into it he was disappointed. It was all about shallow, frivolous people, he said. I’ve heard others make the same criticism. How can one care about the affairs of people who are so caught up in their own petty affairs they think about nothing else? It’s a question I’ve heard repeatedly. It strikes me that people don’t know what they’re asking when they put the issue that way. Truth is, if you can’t take an interest in people who are immersed in their own petty affairs, then you can’t take an interest in people, period. Jane Austen’s novels are about how one can deal with people in their ordinary modes and still retain sanity. And no larger question has ever been raised in the history of the world. Compared to it, the conundrums of philosophy and religion are trivia. I have often said, if you wish to know how to treat other people, go first to Jane Austen. If you find yourself doing things you know she would disapprove, then think long and hard about continuing them. I have never found more edifying books than her novels, and that alone makes them magnificent. But edification is only the beginning of their glories.

…the perfect response to those that say that “nothing ever happens in Jane Austen”….!

“Austen’s England” ~ A Fine Afternoon!

We append a guest post from Janeite Marcia who so graciously comments on our Sunday gathering on “Austen’s England”.  With over sixty people in attendance at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Chapel (and with many thanks to the College for the use of this lovely space!), it was a fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and we heartily thank John Turner for his delightful and insightful talk.


Even though it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon after many dreary ones, the College Hall Chapel at Vermont College in Montpelier was filled with Janeites eager to learn more about our favorite author at the fall quarterly meeting of the Vermont Chapter of JASNA.  We were a group of men and women of all ages, clearly enjoying the companionship of those who shared our interest in Jane Austen.  The Chapel Room is exquisitely decorated and I kept looking for Jane herself to walk into the almost 19th century setting. 



The afternoon opened with Deb welcoming the attendees, outlining the afternoon’s activities, and providing updates on future Chapter activities as well as other related and interesting news.  See this website for the upcoming events.  So much to do, see and read; so little time.  Alas, I suspect we all feel that way. 


After Kelly reminded us that the Vermont Chapter had its origin in the very city we were in, nearly one year ago (November 2007 at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library), she introduced John Turner to speak about “Austen’s England.”  John began by stating that we were not to have a travelogue.  I guess I didn’t expect one, but I did rather expect details on English life of the time.  Indeed, those details were what John talked about, but it was English life as Jane Austen lived it, an entirely different focus than I expected.  And, it was wonderful. 


John’s early statement that Jane Austen’s writings revealed England more truly than many scholarly sources was accurate indeed.  With quotes from Jane Austen’s books and letters, and his skillful interpretations of their meanings, we were transported to her time and how she must have lived.  John Turner’s presentation was filled with fascinating information and interpretations, and delivered with his ready wit and humor.  For those of us who were able to be there, we were fortunate indeed.  If you couldn’t attend, John Turner has posted his presentation on his website:  Whether for the first time or to refresh your memory of the afternoon, it is wonderful reading.  I, for one, will always remember the joy of fully understanding the line from Emma that begins “A mind lively and at ease…” 


When his formal talk was finished, John graciously answered questions to the pleasure of all.  Thank you, John Turner!


A refreshment break included a delicious variety of cookies and cakes, donated by many of the Chapter’s members.  From the crumbs, and only crumbs, left on the platters, I think everyone enjoyed them. 


The second part of the day was a delightful presentation of pictures of Jane Austen related sites taken by Deb during trips to England.  For some it was a refresher of places they had already seen; for others, it was a glimpse of places to see in the future.  But as I looked around the room during Deb’s commentary on the pictures, everyone’s eyes were focused on the screen and smiling as they “traveled” in Jane’s footsteps, as I was. 















While I’m sure I should close with an appropriate quote from Jane Austen, I can only say the afternoon was delightful and fascinating, not the least of which was being with so many others who felt similarly.

Thank you Marcia for posting this for us!