The Sotonettes and Jane Austen

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mansfield Park being published, we chose Jane Austen to read and discuss this month at the Sotonettes Book Club. The main book was Northanger Abbey, but any book was up for discussion, and we did talk about them all – Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and of course, the very famous Pride and Prejudice.

Northanger Abbey, Austen’s pastiche of the Gothic novel, which was very popular at the time, was generally decided to be the least exciting of her books that we had read, as the plot is a lot slower and the mocking, witty tone is more overt. Although it was enjoyed by most of us, we thought that Pride and Prejudice was more plot-driven and interesting to read, and a lot more accessible to the modern reader.

Further reading suggestions were Longbourne, by Jo Baker, a take on the Pride and Prejudice story from the perspective of the household staff. Also a reimagining of Northanger Abbey, by crime writer Val McDermid, released this year to celebrate the anniversary. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, a mixture of a sequel and crime story, based again on Pride and Prejudice, was recommended. Also there was an excellent BBC adaptation of this, shown at Christmas. Also mentioned was The Forgotten Sister by Jennifer Paynter, which is about Mary in Pride and Prejudice, telling her story as the neglected sister.

The book that Catherine and Isabella in Northanger Abbey adore so much, The Castle of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, could also be interesting as further reading, and give an insight into the literary tastes of the characters and society at the time. The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis is another Gothic novel mentioned by the characters, and was published in 1796.

A spin-off of Austen books, The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler, was also recommended, and the TV show Lost in Austen, for a more modern take on the novels. Of course there are numerous adaptations of all of Austen’s novels, and there was a little debate between us about which version of Pride and Prejudice was superior! Also there was the biopic of Jane Austen, Becoming Jane, based on the book by Jon Hunter Spence,which was released in 2007.

We also discussed Chawton House in Hampshire, which has letters, costumes and other items from the time when Jane lived there, and how events like balls happen from time to time where you can dress up in Regency costume – some of us were very keen on this idea!

I hope all these further reading suggestions are inspiring! Do let us know if you read any (and what you think)!

As always, we’ve scored Northanger Abbey to help us compare it against our other books…

Plot – 5
Portrayal of women – 9
Writing style – 7
Enjoyment – 7.5
Discussion – 9
Sotonettes Rating – 7.5/10