Hello dear readers! Are you ready for a new, lovely, all-about- Austen interview? Our guest today is Zoe Wheddon, author of Jane Austen's Best Friend. Enjoy our chat and, please, join us leaving your contribution to the discussion in the comment section. Austen love to you all. MG
Your new book, Jane Austen’s Best Friend, is about friendship. What is friendship to you? What qualities must a true friend have?
I think friendship is so important and comes in many guises. I think we need all sorts of friends for different situations and at different times in our lives. I think that common interests and hobbies are such a great way to feel connected, I have really enjoyed getting to know Jane Austen fans on the internet during the pandemic, I have not met them in person, but I feel so close to them. Then again there are those friends we have had for many, many years and it is such fun not to have to explain our whole life story – because they know it, and they know us and that is just such a welcome relief. I think for me a true friend is loyal but also honest, encouraging, and challenging, and most of all, I truly value a sense of humour and a hug.
How did you come to write a book about friendship in Jane Austen’s life?
I had just finished a Book Bench Art Trail in my hometown, that was designed to commemorate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death and took us on a journey around her Hampshire home. I was reading a lot about Jane Austen – as many biographies as I could find, and I was always so so sad when she died. I started volunteering at Jane Austen’s House and Chawton House in the village where she lived. I kept seeing little snippets and referrals to someone called Martha Lloyd. I was intrigued that she even had a room along the landing from Jane’s. I started to research her and I was just amazed to know that she had been Jane’s special friend and for so many years. I had to get to know her more.
Janeites all over the world consider Jane Austen as a dear friend, someone they feel understood by as if her stories were written especially to entertain and console each of them. What makes that possible?
Isn’t that amazing, and yes, it is so so true. We all feel that Jane knows us so well and wrote her novels just for us. I think that Jane would love to know all our reactions. She kept a list of the comments that her family, friends, acquaintances, and neighbours made about her characters and her novels and they really made her chuckle. I think having Martha and her siblings listening to her early versions of her novels made her realise how much her stories could mean to others and I think that she felt that same link with them all too.
Martha Lloyd is the best friend your book is about. She was not only a friend but a 'second sister' to Jane. Martha lived with Jane, Cassandra and Mrs Austen. She and Jane had become friends when Jane was yet a girl. Can you tell us something special you’ve discovered researching about Martha for your book?
I think finding the remains of the church where Martha married Jane’s
brother Francis in later life was the most amazing moment. There is literally
just the door and the tower connected to it left – touching the walls I felt
such a connection – it was truly amazing to think that I could stand somewhere
she stood on her very special wedding day. I had a similar feeling when I sat
next to her grave – it was a poignant moment and to be told that Francis was
buried with her in the same grave was very moving.
Do you think Jane and Martha’s friendship has inspired any of the friendships we find in Jane’s novels?
I love to read and re-read Jane’s novels and watch and re-watch the films that have been made about them. I often think that I spot elements of Jane and Martha’s friendship reflected and refracted back to us. However, I see more of their friendship in the relationships with sisters such as Lizzy and Jane and Elinor and Marianne. Friendships per se are not always treated that favorably in her novels but sisters are often where kindred spirits are to be found.
How important was Martha’s friendship for Jane as a woman and as a writer?
I think that Martha’s friendship was both fundamental and formative for Jane. They met when Jane was about 13 and Martha 23. They grew up and on in life together and shared very happy and very sad and life-changing moments. I think Martha was a real rock for Jane, I think like all best friends she gave Jane confidence when she needed it and could equally absorb any of her stresses. Jane was very shy, and Martha was very modest and sensible so they created a safe place for each other. They both shared a wicked sense of humour too which sealed the deal.
Did the two friends share any interest or pastime you know of?
They had so much in common and a couple of different interests too, which is the healthiest type of friendship, I think. They loved walking and they loved reading and of course they both adored dancing. There is a scene in Autumn De Wilde’s 2020 film adaptation of Emma where Harriet and Emma are practicing their dancing in Emma’s bedroom in readiness for the ball and I nearly cry when I see it as I can just imagine Jane and Martha doing this.
In Jane Austen’s novels the heroine’s happiness is sometimes at risk due to a woman who is apparently very friendly but is actually scheming and false. Mary Crawford or Isabella Thorpe come to my mind. What message do you think Jane Austen wants to convey through those false friends?
Jane was shy and when she was a child, she did not enjoy being at
school nor the banter of the school girls. As an adult she did not like
spending any amount of time with women who just talked and talked without
substance or purpose, (we all know the type who just whitter on) and I think it
was the same with friendship. Jane could see through people when they were not
being sincere, she really didn’t like it. Jane kept her circle of friends
deliberately small, and I think she reflects some of her mistrust in her
As a teacher of English to Italian teenagers, I love introducing Jane Austen and her world to my students. What is Jane Austen’s greatest lesson in your opinion?
Oh, that is such a hard question. I think that Jane Austen was a
radical – and so so clever. I think that she used the novel to shine a light on
her world – to hold up a mirror to it. She credited her readers with
intelligence, and I believe that she was weaving within her novels social
commentary about what life was like for women in her circle in her time. I
think behind the drawing room stories of love and romance lay some quite bold
statements about a woman’s lot.
Who would you suggest to read your book? Is it especially thought for Janeite readers?
I think the book is being read by a broad range of age groups and for a wide range of reasons. Many people are interested in Jane’s day to day experiences and are enjoying reading about friendship in her life, especially as friendship is not always shown in a good light in her novels. Also, people are enjoying learning about Martha as she was so close to Jane and yet we know so little about her. People who are very knowledgeable about Jane are reading the book for this reason and others who have watched one of the Jane Austen films are reading it to find out more about Jane herself. Also, that cover is so beautiful – I think it draws people to Jane and Martha, we can imagine it is Jane and us.
What’s next for Zoe Wheddon as a writer?
I am hooked on the bug of writing and especially of writing about Jane Austen. So, I have started reading and researching my next book– watch this space!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A native of Jane Austen's beloved county of Hampshire, Zoe lives in a North Hampshire village, on the outskirts of the town that she and her husband Matt both grew up in, with their 3 grown up children and their cat Leia. When she is not researching or writing, Zoe can be found in the classroom teaching Spanish and French or singing ABBA songs loudly in her kitchen. People can get to know her better at www.zoewheddon.co.uk
Instagram – Zoe_Wheddon
Website – www.zoewheddon.co.uk
Twitter – @ZoeWheddon
Facebook – @authorzoewheddon
ABOUT THE BOOK
Through an examination of the defining moments of their shared lives together, the book gives readers an insight into the inner circle of the famously enigmatic and private authoress and the life changing force of their friendship.
All fans for Jane Austen everywhere believe themselves to be best friends with the beloved author and this book shines a light on what it meant to be exactly that. JANE AUSTEN’S BEST FRIEND: THE LIFE AND INFLUENCE OF MARTHA LLOYD offers a unique insight into Jane’s private inner circle. Each chapter details fascinating facts and friendship forming qualities that tied Jane and Martha together. This book offers a behind the scenes tour of the shared lives of a fascinating pair and the chance to deepen our own bonds in ‘love and friendship’ with them both.
PURCHASE LINKS UK
Pen and Sword Amazon.co.uk Waterstones
PURCHASE LINKS USA
Sounds like a wonderful book.
What a great book this prommisses to be, looking forward to reading it :D
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