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August 09 Edition Cover

Meet Jane Austen

29 Jun 2017

Meet Jane Austen Image

By Sunny Liu

“By A Lady: The World of Jane Austen”, an exhibition and a series of events featuring one of the world’s most influential authors, is making Library at The Dock an even more popular destination.

The innovative multi-media and large collection of vintage Jane Austen books transport visitors back in time to the culture, geography and lifestyle of the world that Jane Austen lived in.

Alongside the glass cases that display hard-copy books are virtual reality headsets, interactive touch screens and computer programs curated by a group of Monash University multi-media students.

Jane Austen’s fifth-great-niece, Caroline Jane Knight, opened the exhibition at the library on June 5.

Ms Knight said she was delighted to see Melbourne and Australia’s love for Jane Austen shown through the high-quality exhibition.

“Having grown up in the same home as Jane Austen, it is extraordinary for me to see this quality of exhibition on the other side of the world. The collection of books we have here is just an absolutely fabulous collection of some of the prettiest Jane Austen editions,” she said.

“I think seeing them this way, layered through the ages, really helps people understand how long Jane Austen has actually been around.”

Ms Knight also said the creative combination of immersive multi-media technology and hard-copy book was the highlight.

“You do have to make it accessible for people today, who can interact with the multi-media technology. This exhibition presents Jane Austen’s work and life in a way that is compatible with how young people consume stuff now,” she said.

Now a businesswoman based in Melbourne, Ms Knight is also the president of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation. She left the family estate, Chawton House, as a 17-year-old when her family had to sell it for financial reasons.

Though Jane was never physically present, Ms Knight felt the connection to the renowned author through growing up in the same place where Jane’s most famous books were written.

Ms Knight said she thought the collaboration of traditional and innovative media at Library at The Dock’s exhibition reflected Jane’s personality.

“I think Jane was that combination herself. There were ways that she was very traditional and conformed to the expectations of society but there were other ways that she did not at all,” she said.

Ms Knight will launch her own book Jane and Me: My Austen Heritage, which portrays her interlacing connections to her ancestor, in July.

Melbourne book collector Prof Chris Browne contributed his personal Jane Austen collection to the exhibition, from some of the hundred-year-old first editions to recent Penguin editions.

Prof Browne said Jane Austen’s words still resonated with people today.

“It is a literature that speaks with affection, humour and irony of large personal issues portrayed on a small stage,” he said.

“We are trying to give the potential Jane Austen reader more background and insight into her world and life to increase both the understanding and the enjoyments in her writings.”

By A Lady: The World of Jane Austen will run at Library at The Dock until July 23. The events include:

  • Readings from Jane Austen – July 1, 2.30-3.30pm;
  • The life and writings of Jane Austen – July 2, 11am-12pm;
  • Collecting Jane Austen: 200 years of Jane Austen – July 2, 12.30-1.30pm; and
  • Curator’s Guided Tour – July 4, 5.30-6.30pm
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