Jane Austen, a Woman for Our Times
Julia Golding is a multi-award-winning children’s author and the creator of the podcast What Would Jane Do? Her latest detective series Jane Austen Investigates launches this month. We caught up with her over Zoom at her home in Oxford to find out why this Regency novelist is still a woman of our times.
ECT: You are an avid Jane Austen fan. When did you first discover her?
JG: Like many people, I first came across Jane Austen as a teenage reader, but I am also a bit of a scholar. I have a doctorate in the Romantic era, which includes Jane Austen, so I had plenty of time to study her.
ECT: And how did she become the inspiration for characters in your books?
JG: When I became a writer, I was looking for a voice for the main character in what became the first historical book I did for kids, The Diamond of Drury Lane. I knew Jane Austen’s juvenile work was very anarchic and funny and I thought that voice – which is close to that very wicked (in the nicest possible way!) voice of her letters – had a lively, contemporary feel to it so I imagined what that voice might be like if it belonged to a character from a lower social class living in London. That character became Cat Royal.
ECT: Jane appears as herself in your latest series – albeit as a young detective rather than a novelist…
JG: Yes. When I came to thinking about doing a new series for kids with the publisher Lion Hudson, it suddenly struck me that she would make a brilliant detective.
JG: Jane Austen has that ability to sum people up. Writers are observers and puzzle-solvers and they are curious about the behaviour of people. There’s also an element of unmasking villains in her novels that has a very detective air to it. Think of Wycombe in Pride and Prejudice and Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility. Then, in the actual world, there’s this whole network of letter exchange, like a super-spy network, between Jane and her friends about who’s doing this and what’s going on here.
ECT: You also have a podcast, 'What Would Jane Do?'
JG: Yes. It started a couple of years ago as a way of combining fact and history with a look at how Jane would have responded to contemporary things. In the first series, for example, I did Jane Austen and Game of Thrones as a way of looking at Jane and the Gothic. For the second series, I’ve teamed up with Zoe Wheddon, author of Jane Austen's Best Friend: the Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd. We’ve done the pandemic, Christmas, and Sex and Bridgerton - in that one we looked at Jane’s novels and the sexual ambition of her characters, and also at what Georgian women would have known. And each week we award the Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins of the week (or Lizzie and Lady Catherine if we're doing a female version). That always prompts some interesting conversations.
ECT: Why do you think Jane is still such a contemporary heroine?
JA: Don’t you think she’s just the best kind of friend? She has an approachable-ness and real humanity. But as well as that, there's her wit. There is a misunderstanding that Jane Austen is a romantic, but she’s not really. She is very clear-sighted about people’s relationships, in fact, and she has this ability to characterise people just through the way they talk.
ECT: Do you hope that the young readers of the Jane Austen Mysteries will go on to read Austen’s novels?
JG: I have no designs upon my reader at all! I’m not coming in with a mission, but for some of them, my books will be their first encounter with Jane Austen and I would like it if they think, ‘oh that book was fun, I wonder what the real Jane Austen did?’
The Abbey Mysteries is out this month. The second in the series, The Burglar’s Ball, will follow in October.