Amy Elizabeth Smith has an undergraduate degree in music and a masters and PhD in English. She teaches writing and literature (including a course on Jane Austen) at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. She loves travelling, dancing, classic cinema, and watching squirrel videos on YouTube.
With a suitcase full of Jane Austen novels in Spanish, Amy Elizabeth Smith set off on a yearlong Latin American adventure: a travelling book club with Jane. In six unique, unforgettable countries, she gathered book-loving new friends— taxi drivers and teachers, poets and politicians— to read Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice.
All Roads lead to Austen is an interesting account of those experiences and of how she met her “Seῆor Darcy”...
Leave your comment + your e-mail address, add the country you live in and you can have a chance to win this new interesting Austen-dedicated travel book. The giveaway is open worldwide and ends on June 16th.
Welcome to My Jane Austen Book Club, Amy, and thanks for visiting with us. Here's my first question for you. Jane Austen and the 21st century. She lives in book clubs, conversations, sequels and movie adaptations. Do you think she has travelled through the centuries unchanged?
Yes and no. Her messages still speak to people, but a big issue now is that people’s reading habits have changed a lot --- I think it’s hard these days for people to slow down and accept the elegant, reflective pace of Austen’s works. You can’t skim her books like you would a Facebook post. There’s a lot going on, even if there isn’t a lot of action. Her books are always rewarding, but they take some concentration.
She’s loved and appreciated all over the world. Can different cultures find different messages in her work or is she actually so universal?
This is another “yes and no” for me. Friendship, family, love --- these things are universal, even if the details change from country to country --- so I think people everywhere can find something familiar in Austen. But even those of us who read Austen in English often take away very different messages: some love her for the “old-fashioned” values while others see her as a clever, subversive woman shaking things up. So with people reading her in translation, maybe knowing nothing about early 19th-century England, you’re going to get even more varied responses. In conservative, communal cultures, for instance, people might see Lizzy Bennet as unforgivably selfish for turning down Mr. Collins’ marriage proposal, since it would have really helped her family out.
You teach English Literature to young people at university while I am a teacher of English Literature to teenage students in state schools. So I’d like to ask you for tips. Have you got any special advice for me to introduce them Jane Austen and her world?
Well first of all, my hat’s off to you --- teaching pre-college is so important! And reading Austen with teenagers must be a huge challenge. To be honest, I think most aren’t ready for her yet. Like I said earlier, you can’t read Austen for the plot --- you’ve got to read her for the voice, the subtle social commentary, the way the relationships play out. Most high school students will think that’s boring. And unfortunately, if somebody has a bad experience with a classic author early on, they may never give that writer another chance. On the other hand, students are drawn to things they’re told to stay away from. So, maybe the trick to getting younger students to like Austen is to insist they absolutely cannot, no way, read her until they’re older! If that doesn’t work, you might use really good modern YA adaptations, which can lead them to the real thing later. Jennifer Ziegler’s Sass and Serendipity is one I enjoyed recently (and it’s got a Latino element, too). Alyssa Goodnight’s Austentatious is on my “to read” self right now --- I’ve heard that’s good.
Now let’s talk about the experience you describe in your new book, All Roads Lead to Austen. Can you tell us briefly what it was like to travel in six different Latin American countries reading Jane Austen in Spanish?
In a word, fabulous. Just think --- it was my job to sit down and discuss Austen novels with smart, interesting readers in fascinating places! Plus, people in the United States (myself included, when I first set out) often think all Latin American countries are basically the same, but they’re not. It was wonderful to be in each of these six exciting countries --- Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina. I’ve got a bit more detail about the travels on my website, along with photos, if readers are interested (http://allroadsleadtoausten.com/).
Latin American people – like Italians – are “calientes”, meaning passionate, impulsive, creative. Can they really appreciate Jane Austen and the Regency good manners and self-control she describes in her novels?
This issue came up in a big way in Mexico, so I don’t want to give away too much from the book --- but I will say that the reading discussions themselves got a little “caliente” in some places. Emma is good for starting arguments, even among us supposedly “cool-headed” northerners. There were some readers who were surprised by how restrained and distant some of Austen’s characters seem to be, it’s true --- but others definitely appreciated characters, like Elinor Dashwood, who were always respectful of others.
What is a “Seῆor Darcy” like?
I know what mine is like --- we met while I was doing this Austen project! He’s proud, intelligent, well-read, opinionated, and very, very loyal. And handsome. I’m definitely a fan of dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes.
What kind of people took part in your meetings all over Latin America?
A huge range, all of them warm and wonderful, all of them with something to teach me about Austen. I read Austen with teachers in Guatemala, taxi-drivers, homemakers, and other workers in Mexico, some pretty well-off people in Ecuador and Paraguay, a group of poets in Chile, and a lot of book nerds like myself in Argentina. What a great bunch of people I got to meet!
All Roads Lead to Austen is non-fiction. Have you ever thought of writing a sequel/spin off story for any of the major six?
To be honest, no. There are already a lot of really good writers out there doing this (and some pretty bad ones, too . . .) --- so I like to sit back and enjoy their work. But if I had to, I’d pick up with Northanger Abbey.
What would you especially miss and what would you be extremely happy with if you could go back and live in Jane Austen’s era?
I wouldn’t do well in Austen’s era --- as a woman, being a second-class citizen with limited legal rights and access to education wouldn’t sit well with me. And I’m such a movie junkie, I’d really suffer without my DVD player. Life without a Kindle or a Nook would also be rough (and access to chocolate ice cream, god forbid, would have been limited, too). That said, I’m sure the natural beauty of the landscape would make up for a lot --- no noisy highways, no advertising on every corner, no power lines or cell towers everywhere. It would have been lovely.
What are your Austen projects for the future?
Still thinking about this. I never did readings of Persuasion, Mansfield Park, or Northanger Abbey in Latin America, so maybe I’ll pick up my travels elsewhere (Europe? Asia? Who knows?) and give those a try.
Thanks so much for having me stop by and visit the “club”!
Thank you very much indeed for visiting, Amy. Great success to your book and good luck to our readers in the giveaway contest!