From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
Happy Friday Dear Readers,
Are you ready to be inspired? If so, I am happy to introduce you to moving story of a life-long Jane Austen fan who began her journey in the 1940s, earned her PhD in teaching and reading Jane Austen at the age of 88, and published her first book at 90. The Jane Austen Remedy traverses nine decades of “living, loving, and learning” by unravelling memories of relationships and life experiences. It is the “moving account of the reassessment of a full life through the prism of Jane Austen’s beloved works.” Enjoy!
An empowering memoir of a life reclaimed through reading
Ruth Wilson first encountered Pride and Prejudice in the 1940s. She has returned many time to Jane Austen’s novels and heroines during a long life in which reading has been both a love and a priority. After her sixtieth birthday she took the radical decision to retreat from her conventional married life and live alone while confronting perplexing feelings of loss, loneliness, regret and unhappiness. In a small rural cottage, painted the colour of yellow sunshine, Ruth embarked on a re-reading of Jane Austen’s six major novels. As she read between the lines of both the novels and her own life she felt herself reclaiming her voice and her sense of self.
An uplifting memoir of love, self-acceptance and the curative power of reading, The Jane Austen Remedy raises big questions about truth and memory, personal loyalty and betrayal, prudence and risk, reason and passion. It is an inspirational account of recovery and self-discovery. Ruth travels through nine decades of living, loving and learning, unravelling memories of relationships and lived experiences, looking for small truths that help explain the arc of a life that has been both ordinary and extraordinary.
Pride and Prejudice: In Sunshine and in Shadows . . .
Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first?
JANE AUSTEN, LETTER TO CASSANDRA, 15 JUNE 1808
When my brother turned five, he was given a birthday party. Because entertaining made my mother extremely nervous, this was a most unlikely event. But our parents had only recently returned from an extended overseas study trip for my father, so perhaps this was a special reward for having spent six months without them. My brother was thrilled to be having a party; he could hardly contain his excitement, and having received a caravan team of camels, beautifully carved from olive wood, from our maternal grandparents in Jerusalem, he proudly set them out on the sideboard for all his friends to admire. The party turned out to be everything he could have hoped: games in the garden and party treats at a laden table on the veranda. At the end of the day, we discovered that the camels had disappeared into the sunset along with the guests, and a shadow fell over the memory of the brilliant day.
No fiction writer understood this contrast better than Jane Austen. She weaves together the light and shade of human experience as seamlessly as life itself. This was a realisation that took shape in my mind over time, and with it came the understanding of how reading helped me to accept and to adapt to light and shade in my own life. Pride and Prejudice is in one way the sunniest of Austen’s novels, although Northanger Abbey, when I discovered the charm of its heroine’s useful optimism, made a similar claim on my affection.
Re-reading Pride and Prejudice, with its ebullient marriage plot, in the light and shade of my own house and garden allowed me a second chance to let my thoughts wander at will around people and events as they floated into my mind. I grasped then that the getting of Elizabeth’s wisdom and the getting of Elizabeth’s man are elements of the same story. I experienced Austen’s extraordinary powers of observation as a reimagining of the conventional love story, giving it a novelistic sparkle without filtering out the underlying shadows. Sun without shade is like day without night, I thought when I re-read the novel; it leaves us susceptible to a sort of psychic sunstroke in which we might lose our emotional bearings.
Take Karin, for example. She was a friend I made in my adult life who paid a high price for eliminating the shadows from memories of her childhood. I met her when our children attended a small Rudolf Steiner school on Sydney’s North Shore. She was extremely lovely to look at, petite and elegant. She became the sort of friend I had dreamed of when I was younger: someone who confided in me and a confidante to whom I could speak my secrets. We also talked about books, because when we met she was studying to become a literature teacher.
Karin had wanted to be a doctor early in life, then a musician, and she completed her secondary schooling at the Conservatorium of Music, specialising in the oboe. But on leaving school she also wanted to leave home, so she enrolled in a secretarial college. Again she excelled, and she soon found work as a secretary. Then she married and had a child. Not long after the birth of her daughter, she divorced her husband. In the years that I knew her, she involved herself in a succession of romantic relationships that invariably started with rapture and ended in disillusion.
When Karin enrolled at university as a mature student, we often discussed her assignments. I was struck by our differences when we debated the complex and puzzling passions and relationships of the women in D.H. Lawrence’s novel The Rainbow. Gudrun and Ursula were, I think, aligned with Karin’s temperament as Austen’s heroines were with mine. Falling in love, my friend told me, was an irresistible force that entitled the smitten one to pursue the object of desire, no matter the circumstances. Of course, both I and the fictional Fanny Price have been called priggish for not going along with that philosophy of love. But, as Fanny was able to negotiate her friendship with Mary Crawford without adopting her opinions, so Karin and I managed to avoid pitfalls that might have threatened our friendship.
Karin’s childhood, first in Europe and then Australia, had been complicated by her parents’ separation and the fact that her father, who was Jewish, had abducted her older sister and taken her to England, leaving the younger child to be raised in Germany. Her non-Jewish mother realised that under Nazi racial laws Karin was at risk. A brother in Australia arranged visas for them to emigrate. Omi, as she was called by Karin’s friends after the birth of her granddaughter, never stopped mourning the loss of her older daughter, who had become a celebrity on stage and screen. And Karin, I suspect, never stopped wondering whether her mother would have preferred her to have been the kidnapped child.
Just as my friend was climbing the ladder to professional success, her life started to fall apart. Anxiety, insecurity, panic attacks and a collapse of confidence led her to a psychiatrist. He asked her to recount her life to date. I can imagine her description of her childhood with Omi because I had heard it myself: games of the imagination, nature walks, concerts and art galleries. The psychiatrist’s response bewildered her. I felt her distress when she repeated to me his response. ‘You describe the sunshine in your life as a child,’ he said. ‘Where are the shadows?’
I was not as surprised as Karin. I had often asked my friend whether her father’s decision to take her sister had affected her. She always dismissed the question as irrelevant. She implied that she had never thought of his choice of her sister as abandonment; it had simply never bothered her.
This refusal to acknowledge the shadows in her life might have reduced Karin’s pain, but the price was high. She was reluctant to retrieve grief buried out of sight as she was growing up. She struggled for the rest of her life, resisting the experience of pain that is bound up in the human condition, but experiencing physical and emotional symptoms that inhibited her professional career. And although she dedicated herself to bringing sunshine into the lives of her friends, as she certainly did to mine, in the end her resistance to the interplay between light and shade in her own life influenced her judgement and left her depressed. Eventually she decided that her life was not worth living. Her story would have no place in a novel by Jane Austen, but it holds its place in my heart as a tragedy that might have been avoided if shadows had been acknowledged.
“Moving and inspiring, this is a book you want to start reading again, as soon as you have finished’.”— Susannah Fullerton, author and president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia
“Wilson’s memoir is essential reading for anyone who wants to experience and understand the unique comfort that Austen’s works universally provide.”— Natalie Jenner, bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society
“Ruth Wilson’s The Jane Austen Remedy isn’t just a beautiful and brilliant homage to the great novelist. It’s a tour de force memoir on the power of reading to light up a life at any age.”— Devoney Looser, author of The Making of Jane Austen
Ruth Wilson read her first Jane Austen novel in 1947 and in 2021 completed her PhD on reading and teaching Jane Austen. Previously, she taught English and worked on oral history projects including one with Holocaust survivors. She encourages her four children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren to read widely, wisely and well. She and her husband are a married couple who live apart together.
- The Jane Austen Remedy: It Is a Truth Universally Acknowledged That a Book Can Change a Life, by Ruth Wilson
- Allison & Busby (September 22, 2022)
- Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook
- ISBN: 978-0749026329
- Genre: Memoir
ADDITIONAL INFO | ADD TO GOODREADS
Cover image courtesy of Allison & Busby © 2022; text Laurel Ann Nattress, and Ruth Wilson © 2022. austenprose.com.
this sounds intriguing.
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Memoirs are always intriguing to me. This one has a special interest. I hope you enjoy it.
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What an inspiring person. Wow.
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I hope that I am as sharp and wise at 90!
She sounds like a fascinating gal and I love reading the excerpt and seeing her references back to Austen’s books.
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This is theme throughout the book. Insights and wisdom.