Austen at Large: Bringing Jane Austen to Schools

Virginia Claire speaking to students about Jane Austen (2009)

Since returning home from my Internship at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath and my travels in England, I have been very fortunate to be invited by my old high school, Saint Mary’s School and another high school called St. David’s to speak about my Austen travels and Pride and Prejudice to several classes. I have given at least half a dozen of these talks this year and have really enjoyed doing it. I have really wanted to do these talks because though my love of Jane Austen started from a young age, it was fostered and nourished by my high school teachers.

Virginia Claire with her former teacher Dr. Belknap of St. Mary's High School (2009)

I hope the students learned something new about Austen or that I have brought up topics that they have not considered before. I start my presentation giving a brief Austen biography, the family history and so on, and then move into her writing and life in Bath. 

Virginia Claire and two Regency Bucks, the Jane Austen Festival (2008)Most of the kids enjoy all of my pictures from the Jane Austen festival when I am dressed up in Regency style and they get a good reaction. I go through the different places she lived in Bath since I have pictures of many of them. Explaining why Bath was important, difficult and influential to Austen. 

Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen's last residenceI then move to Chawton which I think intrigues the students the most since that is where she lived and where Austen wrote or re-wrote her novels. When talking about Chawton I discuss the influence of her sister Cassandra, the publishing of her novels, and then her decline of health. I also show pictures of the house in Winchester where she died and her grave stone. One of the questions I always propose to the students is; what is missing from her description on her grave? Which reads,

In Memory of
JANE AUSTEN,
youngest daughter of the late
Revd GEORGE AUSTEN,
formerly Rector of Steventon in this County She departed this Life on the 18th of July1817, aged 41, after a long illness supported with the patience and hopes of a Christian.
The benevolence of her heart, the sweetness of her temper, and
the extraordinary endowments of her mind obtained the regard of all who knew her and the warmest love of her intimate connections. Their grief is in proportion to their affection they know their loss to be irreparable, but in their deepest affliction they are consoled by a firm though humble hope that her charity, devotion, faith and purity have rendered her soul acceptable in the sight of her REDEEMER.

I always point out to them that it does not mention her writing. This shocks many of the students because they are unaware that her novels were published “by a lady” rather than publishing under her own name.

Jane Austen's grave stone, Winchester Cathedral

After giving a little bio I then like to talk to the students about Jane Austen’s legacy. Several students, but never as many as I expected, have read Austen novels, or seen the movies before. Perhaps I only think this because I was introduced to Austen at a young age but I always felt like many people in my classes had read Pride and Prejudice before or at least seen the movies. Austen’s legacy is one of the most important aspects of teaching about her because her popularity has been growing so much over the last years and it is interesting to ask the students why. I try to explain to the students that Austen is so much more than a romantic comedy writer. Her novels are full of issues that are still important today, many are still funny today but they still bring to light issues that though might have changed over the years are still there. One point I also try to hit home with students is about the movies and not to take them literally as the novel, but as someone else’s interpretation. I encourage them to question them and interpret it their own way. I also try to emphasize the over romanticizing of Austen in many movies and what that does to the story. Later in the semester I will be going back to one class to talk with them about adaptations and what they change and show about Austen. It should be a very interesting discussion.

Pride and Prejudice (1980) DVD cover      Pride and Prejudice (1995) DVD cover

In doing these talks this semester I have learned so much about teaching Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. It has been an amazing experience to try and really introduce students to Jane Austen and try to bring my passion to them. I think that is one thing that most of the students get – my passion for Jane Austen. When I speak at these classes, I really love what I am talking about and it makes me think that I want to do this professionally. I would love to be able to teach literature and spread my love of not only Jane Austen but of reading and literature in general. We will see what I end up doing after college and where this world will take me, but in the end, I would just love to spread my love of Jane Austen, wither it be to the world or to a group of students.

Until next week,

Virginia Claire

Virginia Claire, our Austen at Large roving reporter is a college student studying English literature and history who just returned from her time studying abroad in Bath England and working as an intern at the Jane Austen Centre. She is the Regional Coordinator of JASNA North Carolina and a lifelong Janeite. She will be sharing her thoughts on all things Austen this semester and remembering her travels in Austenland.

7 thoughts on “Austen at Large: Bringing Jane Austen to Schools

  1. You should definetly teach literature!
    I wish i could have that kind of visitors in my school.
    But next year probably I will be able to tell about Jane Austen to my classmates when my literature classes start.

    Great post, I really enjoyed reading it. :)

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  2. I really can understand what you mean since I teach English literature as my profession and I love what I teach, not only Jane Austen – though she’s been my favourite since I was 14. This year I’ve read pages from her books and compared them to the scenes of the adaptations in my November lessons and my students liked it. Well, actually, it is usually girls who like this kind of novels more, with boys it is not always that simple…I’ve also created a blog for them and my November posts are full of Austen .
    Your report is interesting, anyway. If you’ve got any other good suggestion …
    MG

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