Seeking Austen on Audio: A New Appreciation
by Jorie @ Jorie Loves A Story
(jorielovesastory.com | @joriestory)
My pursuit of Austen has been a lifelong journey – as originally outlined during a previous year of Austen in August, hosted by Adam @ Roof Beam Reader. However, that particular journey has expanded and become quite more inclusive of her after canon stories as writ by writers who are undertaking bridging us back into Austen’s settings, world and characters’ lives as only they can write them. My joy of listening to audiobooks is also a fairly recent pursuit, if you consider, until 2016 I was still a traditional reader who only read books in print – the switch to off-setting my readings in print into audio was an intuitive choice on my behalf as I had a premonition my migraines might become more debilitating in future years. (2018-19 were the worst by far!)
Listening to stories in audio was a bit of a hit/miss with me at first as I had to sort out a passageway for me to both listen to the narrator and to find a way to see the world within their narration come alive for me visually through my imagination. It was a slight disconnect whenever I would listen to a story without doing something else – what worked best through that experimental process were three things: a) whenever I coloured as I listened, I gained a very intimate experience of the story and the narration as if I had lived those lives; b) if I played solitaire online I could trick my mind into hearing the story without wandering afield; and c) if I knitted, I found the same Zen I had listening to audiobooks as I had with colouring; though of the three, colouring is my top favourite choice!
When it comes to my appreciation for Jane Austen’s canon and her after canon selections, I am a bit of a purist as I like to find writers who are honing in on her legacy and her essence but still finding new ways to tell those stories with originality. I’ve also started to entertain a few writers who are re-writing how to genre bend their after canons with a likeness of Austen or with a sentimentality of Austen’s flavour for the craft as well. In other words, these years on – I am finding myself more ‘open’ to exploring new territory of how an Austenesque stories can be explored in different points of entrance.
This was quite true when I listened to the first three novels of the Jane Austen’s Dragons series by Maria Grace. The first titled as “Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon” (see also Review) and quite cleverly eludes to the kind of world your going to pursue inside this series which beautifully re-alights us into a world we fell in love with within the pages of Pride and Prejudice but respins it into a fantastical world full of dragons! Yes, dragons and I was the hardest one to sell on that idea initially as – how daresay would that work out? Yes, indeed! And, I was the one who was pleasantly surprised as I followed Ms Grace down that rabbit hole as she truly held me captive as a reader and listener – though I credit this a heap to Mr Fife’s narration.
If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice in a long while this is a wonderful re-visitation of the story – as Maria Grace aligns you so wholly true to where Jane Austen took us into her novel. The added benefit is the secondary arc wherein the dragons reign alongside the ton and country society the Bennett’s have become renown. As you take this journey each new corridor of the original story is re-explored and re-heightened by the presence of Grace’s dragons. It is hard not to spoilt what you will find within this new series because of how readily true she has written her world into Austen’s and vice versa. You almost question which of the world’s came first – even knowing the answer and that is a mark of a wicked good storycrafter who has given those of us who love Austen a new experience of her stories!
You can follow my adventures and impressions into this world through my next two reviews: “Longbourn: Dragon Entail” (see also Review) and “Netherfield: Rogue Dragon” (see also Review).
This year, during the last weekend of Austen in August, I happily stumbled across a new series of Regency inspired stories set within a dragon world by Stephanie Burgis – titled: “Scales and Sensibility” of which I’ll be discussing during my Saturday book chat (@SatBookChat) on Twitter, on the 6th of November! I was quite gobsmacked to learn another author took a chance on re-exploring how dragons & Austen inspired stories can walk hand in hand! I have not read this story (as it is not yet released) but I have very high hopes for it hence why I jumped at the chance to interview the author & discuss both the story and the forthcoming series it is attached too! All are welcome to join us.
And, yet, I have a classical approach to seeking stories of Austen in audiobook despite the appearance of being contrary to that long held passion I have for Austen’s canon. I might be under-read in her canon but her after canons have tucked themselves into my life bit by bit and this was the first year, I re-attempted to read “Persuasion” which has grown to be far more challenging than I originally predicted it would become! (see my tweets from the weekend to see my bit of angst with the beginning chapters) despite the fact I am in love with Mike Read’s style of narration! This was an audiobook I first discovered on NetGalley (as I only joined the site last year when audiobooks were first introduced as I do not read ebooks due to my chronic migraines) and have continued to listen to it via Scribd. Read has a way of illuminating this text for me in a way that both breaks it down into more palatable layers and in entertaining me with the notion that surely the whole story cannot be as droll and slow moving as it first appears!? Or perhaps I have a singular ill reaction to Persuasion?
And, yet, whenever I picked up a listen from The Quill Collective – as my first experience of their novella and short story collections on behalf of Austen was through the release “Rational Creatures” (see also Review) turnt the tables on how I believe Austen’s collective works can be re-seen through a new generation of writers. They gave my Janeite soul a renewal of joy in seeing how those stories can become alive again and how you can pick up new threads of insight through the stories their crafting together for us to find. Even in the stories you know dearly well become anew through their vision of them.
These writers (of whom I was blessed to interview and converse with during a 2020 @SatBookChat conversation) write authentically truthful canonical re-visitations of Austen’s characters & settings in such a way, it re-aligns you rather directly back into where Austen left off with her own stories. And, I love them for it!
The best bit about this opening section of the collection is how much all of us have in common when it comes to reading Jane Austen – either her original canon of stories, the letters she’s left behind or the happy niche of stories inclusive to the realms of the ‘after canon’; each of us who self-identifies as a #Janeite or an #Austenite can attest to a mutuality of interest in seeking out the stories which honour the writer we all are passionately celebrating, championing and continuing to read these many centuries after she lived and published her originals.
I had to concur with the observation that Ms Austen would appreciate this collection – as it was written as a ‘fan fictional’ account of her characters, a part of me felt she would embrace the collection as she wasn’t a high brow reader. Meaning, she did not shun different literary genres and points of interest as she was very well read and also read for the strict pleasure of the hobby rather than always astutely seeking knowledge or a higher level of literary agency. She liked to read the fluffier bits you see and also have a bit of cheeky fun with the stories she picked up to taste and see what the fuss was about over them. In many regards, she would have understood book bloggers (today) and after canon story-tellers because she truly celebrated book world in all its lovely tangents of following a story one is passionate about seeing published.
I wrote this about the Introduction within “Rational Creatures” – as I felt the piece offered the best entrance into the collection itself. The narration of Ms Riley truly captured my attention as well – as I had this to say about her style:
My goodness – such a treat for the ears and the listener alike to hear Victoria Riley narrate this anthology! She has one of those kinds of voices you could simply listen to for hours on end and never feel that you’ve heard enough of her narration! I am half of mind to see if she has narrated other Jane Austen stories – either in the classical sense or in the after canon niche market? I believe she is fast becoming one of my favourites for these kinds of stories – which is a wickedly delightful discovery for me.
How we attach to a narrator’s voice and narration style is subjective to each of us who listen’s to an audiobook. Some voices feel cosy comforting to us and that is a natural progression as we seek out more audiobooks. For me, narrators who have accents and are either from the UK or Australia tend to be my favourites as there is something about their intonation and diction which strikes my fancy as I listen to the stories their narrating. This isn’t to say I don’t listen to American narrators but overall, most of my top favourites on both my shortlist and long list of narrators are from overseas! You might be surprised by which ‘voice’ relates to you as well.
On that note – as soon as I heard Elizabeth Grace narrating another anthologist collection of Austen’s stories by the Quill Collective, I was beyond charmed with her immediate connection to those stories and to how they were waiting to be heard. The collection is entitled: “Elizabeth: Obstinate Headstrong Girl” (see also Review).
Her articulation of the words is top notch and her ability to recite monologue is amongst my favourites out of all the ones I’ve heard save Jake Urry and Kim Bretton who are her equals. Whilst it is how she can shift voices and accents – between characters and give you this representation of a wider world beyond the scope of how each story is rooted in step with Elizabeth Bennett. She gives you the impression this is an ensemble cast not a one woman performance and that in of itself is also a benefit of her experience as both an actress and as a narrator; as not everyone can pull this off at this caliber of a deliverance.
The ways in which she punctuates the characters voices gives you full merit of having the whole cast playing in your mind’s eye and of seeing them not just ‘hearing’ them as they go through their entrances and exits in the stories themselves. I cannot speak higher on behalf of her performance!
Except to say, this Elizabeth was bourne to bring Elizabeth Bennett to life!
As you can see – I’ve found a hidden niche of love for pursuing Austen in Audio whilst appreciating the journey I’ve taken thus far along. I have more to seek out and more to listen too. For those of us who love Austen as much as we all do as a community of Austenites and Janeites, I do not believe we can be satisfied until we exhaust all avenues to find her and find remnants of her style being re-explored by today’s writers.
If you are finding my new appreciation for finding Austen in audiobooks intriguingly curious – I hope you’ll visit with me on my blog under these reviews and showcases to let me know which one you felt was a wicked good listen for you, too! If you’ve regularly have sought out Austen on audiobook – either of her original canon or the after canons, kindly leave me notes on this post on Adam’s blog as I’d delight in the joy of finding new narrators and stories to give a listen too!
Whilst it should be said, all the audiobooks I’ve spoken about today were given to me courtesy of either the publisher, author or narrator attached to them in exchange for an honest review as I was hosting their stories either on a blog tour or a non-blog tour review. Without being a book blogger, I know I would not have been able to expand my horizons into such wicked wonderful directions and I am truly blessed for the journey I’ve taken these past eight years whilst curating my own literary route of bookish and readerly joy on Jorie Loves A Story.
Now, I turn the conversation to you – what kinds of Austen stories would you seek out on audiobook? And, which kinds of after canon stories tickle your fancy to read or listen too as well? Are audiobooks your jam as much as they are mine or do you find them a bit daunting or off-putting? I respect that if its the case as not everyone finds them agreeable but trust me, even I find narrators who just aren’t cutting it for me and I realise that sometimes like in traditional reading, you’ll find what you love and what you dislike. Give audiobooks a chance if you’ve not yet found the narrator whose voice bewitches you with intrigue!
See Jorie’s previous guest post on Austen for Roof Beam Reader’s 2017 Austen in August event.
Hallo, Hallo Adam!
Ooh! It looks so lovely on your blog! Thank you for giving me the chance to share a bit of insight into my pursuit of Austen on Audio and I am hopeful it might inspire others to seek out her stories and after canons in audiobook! This became the best part of the event for me this year,… I had a very hard August and in the end, the stories I was reading are still being read now that September has arrived. However, you gave me the nudge to dive back into Persuasion, which I am still on the fence about reading but evenso, at least the narrator is a delight in my ears. I am blessed I could offer a guest post for you and was grateful it made it in before the close of the month. Top cheers, to you!
“ She gives you the impression this is an ensemble cast not a one woman performance and that in of itself is also a benefit of her experience as both an actress and as a narrator; as not everyone can pull this off at this caliber ” I love that!
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