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Panel Preview: A Q&A with Austen Scholar and Illustrator Juliet McMaster

As the founder of the Juvenilia Press, Juliet McMaster has worked extensively with Austen’s literature in various ways. We spoke with McMaster about the highlights of her career, her interest in Austen, and what we can expect to learn from her talk this summer.

Juliet McMaster. Photo courtesy of the Jane Austen Society of North America

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what your academic research focus is?

I was born in Kenya to British parents, and attended the Kenya Girls’ High School in Nairobi, before heading to an honors BA in English at Oxford. Retired now, I spent my teaching years as an English Professor at the University of Alberta in Canada, where I also completed my MA (thesis on Renaissance drama) and Ph.D. (dissertation on Thackeray). I taught mainly the English novel, from Defoe to Woolf; and (once I had kids of my own) I added the undergraduate course in children’s literature. My research has been in the novel too: I published books on Thackeray, Trollope, Dickens, and the eighteenth-century novel; Jane Austen on Love and Jane Austen the Novelist; and I also co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. After I retired from teaching, Peter Sabor, the editor of the Cambridge edition of Austen’s Juvenilia, encouraged me to write a book devoted to them and offered to write a Preface for it. Hence I published Jane Austen, Young Author.

2. How did you get interested in Jane Austen’s Juvenilia and what interested you most about it?

I have been interested in youthful writing for a long time, maybe (initially) because I wrote up a storm in my own youth. I always included the juvenilia when I taught specialized courses on Jane Austen. But the JASNA AGM of 1987 on “The juvenilia and Lady Susan,” organized by the co-founder, Jack Grey, got me hooked. At that gathering, I fell in love with young Jane’s cheeky little story, “The Beautifull Cassandra,” probably written at twelve. I decided it needed to be a picture book for kids, with pictures by me! (I have been a closet illustrator.) Working on that project taught me that thinking long and hard about a youthful work provides a window into that author’s development. What most interested me about her juvenilia? Well, first: the content, so wildly unlike that of the restrained and understated six novels: we get violent action, outrageous behavior, and over-the-top humor; but also I delight in their wonderful verbal precision and inventiveness: for instance, from Jack and Alice, “Oh! Cruel Charles to wound the hearts & legs of all he fair!”

Some of the books McMaster has illustrated for the Juvenilia Press.

3. For the upcoming JASP 2023, what are you thinking of presenting in your lectures? What do you want the participants to take away from your talk?

At this stage, I'm somewhat inclined to opt for half-and-half. (Nothing like compromise!) That is, I could discuss one set of illustrations (probably Beautifull Cassandra), and then go more "criticism" with Three Sisters and Lesley Castle. There has been much said – by me as well as others – about Austen’s juvenilia as completely different from the mature novels. This time I plan to explore some continuities. Although I want to feel free to range among the many items of her juvenilia, I will concentrate on two of what we might call the “middle period” of her youthful writings: The Three Sisters and Lesley Castle. Both are epistolary; both are unfinished; and they seem to have been composed roughly within a year of each other. Even between these two closely-related pieces, we can already see development, in structure and characterization, as well as in the assured handling of the epistolary mode. What would I like people to take away from my talk? An increased sense of the artistry of this young author.


Don't miss your chance to hear Juliet McMaster in person!

Register now for JASP 2023, June 15-18.


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