Celebrating the Genius of Jane Austen 200 years after her death

Australian politics is full of well known figures that resemble characters from Jane Austen novels, notes Paul Brunton, emeritus curator of the State Library of NSW.

Be they the “pompous, the stupid, the self-serving, the snobbish, the superficial and less often the sensible and altruistic”.

It is Austen’s ability to create characters recognisable in contemporary society – to “dissect human nature with the skill of a surgeon” – that marks her genius, says Brunton, and one reason among many to observe the 200th anniversary of the author’s death this Tuesday.

While the cause of Austen’s untimely death in Winchester, July 18, 1817, is disputed, a series of public events have been planned to celebrate the life and works of the novelist who wrote three classics of English literature before the age of 25. Read on…

Jane Austen and the State of the Nation

A review of Jane Austen and the State of the Nation by Laura Boyle

Jane Austen is universally acknowledged as an excellent writer with a fine grasp of the human condition. Her ever increasing number of fans, her inclusion in nearly every list of worthy writers and English Literature syllabi, her marketability and timeless appeal have created what might be called an international mania. Many would attribute her success to her wit and way with words, others to the age old stories of love and romance that she tells. It seems, however, as if there was more, much more, just beneath the surface: undertones and even overt messages that Jane Austen’s readers would have seen, but which are, for the most part, lost to today’s readers. After all, as Jane herself (in the guise of omniscient narrator) explains in Northanger Abbey:

“Oh! It is only a novel!…It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.”

I have, over the past few months, had the great privilege of first hearing and then reading the works of celebrated Austen scholar and international speaker, Dr. Sheryl Craig. The talk she addressed to our JASNA gathering in November, entitled “So Ended a Marriage”, looked at Mansfield Park in light of the divorce and custody laws current during Jane Austen’s day. Drawing from actual divorce transcripts, she carefully laid out a plausible defense for Austen’s use of the novel as political statement about the rights of women and their treatment as property. An abridged version of this talk can be found on Sarah Emsley’s Mansfield Park site, and the entirety has been printed in JASNA’s Persuasions #36. Read on…


Edmund Burke Society meeting

Last Friday  evening (22 June) I attended the June seminar/meeting of the Edmund Burke Society at restaurant Pure South Dining – south because it selects its produce from Tasmania. Vigorous discussion about Burke’s crucial notion of ‘natural feeling’ in moral judgement compared with aspects of Marx’s dialect. Most enjoyable evening. Photos from my mobile phone. Quality not terrific. (See Edmund Burke Society website.)


Visit to Long Jetty

I recently visited Long Jetty at Tuggerah Lakes on the Central Coast of New South Wales. Tuggerah Lakes was a popular family picnic and holiday area in the 1940s and 1950s. Mum and Dad took us kids there regularly in the early 1950s. Unfortunately the place where everyone used to picnic and swim is now overgrown with a green weedy fungus. Our stay at Long Jetty all those years ago will feature in my third book on the family history. Here are some comparative photos (now and then) of Long Jetty. It was a terrific place for kids. The water was shallow up to a hundred yards from the shore. I’m the youngest of the three children, The others are of course my older brother and sister.

First draft of my Abbott book is being reviewed

I finished the first draft of Tony Abbott and the Times of Revolution two weeks ago. It is now out for a preliminary opinion on its shape and content by someone familiar with the period (1960s and 1970s). I will undertake an intensive revision of the text as soon as the manuscript (plus comments) is returned. It will be a couple of months, at least, before the book is in publishable form. 

The Witch Hunters re-listed

I had temporarily withdrawn The Witch Hunters from sale because a reader had suggested there may be legal difficulties with some aspects of the story (I’m intentionally vague). On reflection, and considering recent events, I have decided the view was  groundless, driven by  scruples.

All satires draw from events in society and focus on the behaviour of people, people often in responsible positions. But drawing on people and events is not necessarily to focus on particular people and events, unless the writer makes it explicit. The Witch Hunters targets social and political trends and attitudes.

If anyone thinks they are represented in my story, they have a guilty conscience, or their imagination is working overtime, or they have feelings of self-importance, or all three.

Update on progress

Tony Abbott and the Times of Revolution

The end is in sight. Another 4 weeks or so and I should finish the first draft. I am at 132,000 words – too long. I will have to trim and cut some the material on the 1960S. I am happy with the shape the book is taking. Shortly I will post a description on the book page.

Update on my Abbott book

Alas, I have not met the end of March deadline for finishing the first draft of Tony Abbott and the Times of Revolution. I have, however, made good progress these last two months. I am at 115,000 words, and will probably go to around 140,000. Another 4-6 weeks should see me finish the first draft.

It was time to refresh my website

I have just attended to a long overdue clean-up of my website. I was embarrassed by the state my books page was in. Some of the information about the books and their publishing dates was out of date. The description of the titles in preparation was a bit sloppy – particularly that for my half-written novel Editing Constancy. I have a tendency to rush things which means I have to return continually to tidy things up. Its a character trait that I have never been able to correct. 

My books page illustrates that other fault of organisation I owned up to in my bio page. I have no trouble sitting down to write. But I have trouble staying with the one project. I have at least four books in various stages of writing. One thing is sure, though. My book on Tony Abbott will be finished pretty much as scheduled – at least the first draft.

Where I’m up to with my book about Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott and the Times of Revolution

When I decided to write a book about the fall of the Abbott Government, I feared I might have bitten off more than I could chew.

My specialty – to the extent I have one – is philosophy,  specifically political philosophy.  My Master’s thesis was on Edmund Burke. Although I follow politics fairly closely, I am more interested in the ideological motivations and clashes than the day to day political activity. My mind concentrates on the logic and consistency of a politician’s ideas and the implementation of those ideas in the concrete circumstances.

What always appealed to me about Tony Abbott was the philosophical depth and consistency of his thought, qualities few people appreciate. The caricature manufactured by the leftist media has dominated the political discourse. I wanted to show that his demise was due more to the unrelenting attacks by his ideological enemies (including those in his party undermining him) than to his record and the policy program he was pursuing. His program was a solid conservative program, economically and socially. The appalling ideological pig-ignorance of the President of the AMA was just one illustration of what he had to deal with. 

The problem I thought might be my lack of knowledge of the detail necessary to my analysis. Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead to see how far I could get.

As I proceeded with my preparation, I saw that I had underestimated the reading necessary for the background I had planned to sketch. The prelude to Abbott’s political career was the 1960s and his time as a student politician in the second half of the 1970s. After much reading and making pages of notes, I sat down to write. 

I discovered as I wrote I had to do still more reading if I was to succeed in establishing those critical influences that made Abbott what he is as a political player. I had reached around 25,000 words when it occurred to me that Abbott’s time as a student politician was a story in itself – a fascinating story. I split the project into two books. Back to my reading and research.

Months passed while I amassed more than 300 pages of notes.  When I went back to my writing, I made good progress. I have a clear schedule now, the result of a strict ordering of the notes. I hoped I could catch up on the deadline I had set myself which was March this year for the first draft. 

I’m happy to say that I am steaming ahead, reaching 95,000 words as of today (3 Feb). I probably won’t achieve the end of March deadline, but it won’t be much beyond that. Stay tuned. I am sure many will find Tony Abbott the student politician as fascinating as I have. 

Writer … and still in the fifties