15 minutes of Austen, Part 1 with Emma Clery
Emma is a Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature at the University of Southampton, with responsibilities for developing the link with Chawton House Library, a centre for the study of early women’s writing with a unique collection of rare books. She teaches undergraduate and MA courses based at Chawton and Southampton.
What first attracted you to studying Jane Austen?
Goodness, I don’t know! I think I need a bit of time to think about that actually. I teach a specialised MA module in Austen, but I don’t think I ever studied her in my first degree or in my MA. I read quite widely for myself.
I taught one or two of the novels at a previous university on a general Romanticism course. It wasn’t until I came here that I thought well, I’m in Southampton and she lived here for a time, she produced all of her famous works at Chawton which is so close by.
I just thought, we’ve got to have a course on Austen! So I’ve gradually made myself an expert. And now I’m hooked and I’ve begun to publish on her work. Coming to Southampton made me really assess Austen properly for the first time. I would like to write a book on Austen, there’s two I’ve got in mind at the moment!
How did Southampton feature in Jane’s life?
After leaving Steventon, where she’d grown up, she lived here and there but mainly in Bath which she didn’t really like. When I first came to the University here we organised an event called Jane Austen comes to Southampton, to mark the anniversary of her arrival to live in the city in 1807. We managed to make a case that Southampton was quite important for her.
We had a number of speakers, mainly biographers coming to talk about how Southampton figured in her thinking, her letters and the literature because there are a few references to Southampton in her writing. There was also her connection with the Navy.
Two of her brothers were naval officers and eventually became admirals. So she knew a lot about the Navy and Southampton was first and foremost associated with the sea, although Portsmouth was the real naval centre. So we had Deirdre Le Faye come in, possibly the world expert on Jane Austen’s life. She’s about to get an honorary degree as a Doctor of Literature from Southampton [University] this coming year.
That was her first visit to the University of Southampton, I think. She was quite sceptical about the Southampton connection, and was more interested in Portsmouth; she thought that was much more important and gave a lecture to that effect.
I gave a lecture on Jane Austen in Southampton in which I talked about what a relief it was for her coming to Southampton after Bath, why she didn’t like the fashionable artificial way of life in Bath, and why she seemed to prefer the more down-to-earth social milieu in Southampton.
For more information on Jane Austen and her links to the Navy, be sure to read Brian Southam’s book Jane Austen and the Navy which can be purchased on AMAZON.
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15 minutes of Austen, Part 2 with Emma Clery
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