Title: The Jane Austen Remedy
Author: Ruth Wilson
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 29th March 2022
Synopsis: An uplifting and delightfully bookish memoir about an 89-year-old woman who reclaims her life by re-reading each of Jane Austen’s novels.
As she approached the age of seventy, Ruth Wilson began to have recurring dreams about losing her voice. Unable to dismiss her feelings of unexplainable sadness, she made the radical decision to retreat from her conventional life with her husband to a sunshine-yellow cottage in the Southern Highlands where she lived alone for the next decade.
Ruth had fostered a lifelong love of reading, and from the moment she first encountered Pride and Prejudice in the 1940s she had looked to Jane Austen’s heroines as her models for the sort of woman she wanted to become.
As Ruth settled into her cottage, she resolved to re-read Austen’s six novels and rediscover the heroines who had inspired her; to read between the lines of both the novels and her own life. And as she read, she began to reclaim her voice.
The Jane Austen Remedy is a beautiful, life-affirming memoir of love, self-acceptance and the curative power of reading. Published the year Ruth turns ninety, it is an inspirational account of the lessons learned from Jane Austen over nearly eight decades, as well as a timely reminder that it’s never too late to seize a second chance.
As readers, the books we read throughout our lives have various impacts on us. From the book we learnt to read with, to the first book we ever read independently, to that first novel we read – which for me was The Secret Garden, and to those authors that we keep coming back to. The ones we read again and again, or those whose books we buy without question. For me, Jackie French, Kate Forsyth, and Sulari Gentill. For Ruth Wilson, it is Jane Austen that has made this impact on her and her life, and later in her life, she set out to re-read all six Austen novels:
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility
She reflected on the first time she had read them, and the subsequent times, and what each reading taught her and made her think about the stories and the characters. It covers the lessons Ruth has learnt from each book, leading up to her 90th year, and what they have meant to her, as well as the journey that led her through life, with and without Jane, and the events that shaped her beyond reading the books.
Each chapter is a different book – where Ruth reflects upon various aspects of her life, from childhood to adulthood and into her retirement and life at 90. Each has given Ruth something different at different stages of her life, and as a result, each lesson has given her something unique, and illustrates how reading can impact us, and even if we read the same book, we all get something different out of it. Ruth’s memoir came from her PhD thesis that she has recently completed, proving that you’re never too old to head into further education. I felt that she in some way distinguished between different types of reading – reading for pleasure and reading for educational purposes, and the different ways this impacts our reading and experiences of books.
As a reader who has read several of Jane Austen’s books, apart from one or two, I felt this book was very special, as it allows readers like me to gain an insight into what reading and reading Jane Austen meant to Ruth. It will mean something different to me than it does to her – but as Ruth reflects, that is what reading is, because I can read the exact same book as another person, and we will both get different things out of it, different understandings and different things will stand out to us depending on what we see between the lines and in the characters. Sometimes things are obvious, and it is possible that everyone will see these and understand them, but the power is in the subtle aspects and how I understand something compared to how somebody with different experiences understands it. Because our own experiences colour how we respond to reading and understand the world, which illustrates why reading is so powerful. And therefore, why books like Ruth’s are so interesting, especially as they give reading a life beyond the page.
Books like this show the love and passion many of us have for books, and the power that they have, the fact that they can teach us so much about the world and ourselves, and I think this is a really good book, not just for lovers of Jane Austen, but for book lovers too. We can apply the lessons that Ruth learnt from re-reading Jane Austen to our own reading lives, and I hope that those who pick it up enjoy reading it and get something powerful out of it.