The Jane Austen Society discussion questions

  1. What’s your experience with Jane Austen? Each character in this book has a strong, personal tie to Jane Austen’s works. What’s your experience with her novels? How many have you read, and what do they mean to you?  
  2. Don’t judge a book by its reader. Adam admits he thought Austen was “a bunch of books about girls looking for husbands.” (p. 5-6). Mary Anne says she’d never judge anyone for what they read (though she admits she just has). Have you ever judged anyone by what they read (or haven’t read)? Have you ever felt judged for what you like to read (or don’t like to read)?
  3. The outside world. Many characters saw books as a way to see into another world. The characters read the Brontës, Eliot, Hardy, Eliot, and Trollope, in addition to Austen. Adam especially says that “inside the pages of each and every book was a whole other world …. He had a feeling that, outside his rough farming family, people were existing on a very different plane, with their emotions and their desires telegraphed along lines never-ending, vibrating in as-yet-unknown ears, creating little frictions and little sparks. His own life was full of little friction, and even fewer sparks.” (p. 8) Adam sees his happy life as a good thing, but little friction creates few sparks. Which do you see as the happy life—experiencing things from another’s point of view or learning lessons for oneself? At what point does reading to ease grief, as the soldiers did during the wars (p. 45), become escaping life?
  4. Grief. Grief is a theme in The Jane Austen Society, and the characters make the argument that Austen herself writes about grief. Where do you see this theme at work in Jenner’s novel? Do you see grief as a theme in Austen’s works as well? 
  5. Austen, film, and the Hollywood starlet. One of the characters in this novel is not like the authors. Mimi is not from Chawton, but a Hollywood film star with a completely different background. This is especially interesting to the story because Jane Austen film adaptations have been a hotly contested topic of conversation for decades! What dynamic does Mimi bring to the story? (And what do YOU think of the various Jane Austen film adaptations?)
  6. Bravery.  Evie muses that “if only people could be brave enough to go after what they really wanted” (p. 209), it would prevent tragedy. Do you agree with this sentiment? In this novel, do we see characters displaying bravery by going after what they want?
  7. Start with Austen. Austen’s writing brings the characters together; each character has a favorite Jane Austen story and character. When Mary Anne and Adam meet, she suggests that he start with Pride & Prejudice, and then Emma. Why do you think readers return to Austen over and over even today? Where do you suggest someone who has never read Jane Austen should start?
  8. Austen allusions & parallels. There are a myriad of allusions to Austen’s stories and characters throughout the The Jane Austen Society: some obvious, some less so. Which parallels stood out to you? Did you find this to be an effective storytelling device?

Bonus questions that will be especially appreciated by our Classics Club participants who are reading Emma this month:

  1. Characters. The wide range of characters and their secrets mirror the wide range of characters in our unofficial flight pick Emma. Which of their stories did you most identify with in The Jane Austen Society? If you’ve read Emma, which of those characters do you most identify with?
  2. Selfishness. Adeline isn’t sure where selfishness ends and high spirits begin (p. 41). Dr. Gray argues that Emma is not selfish, but only self-interested. How do you view Emma?

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