ANTIPODES JANE by Barbara Ker Wilson


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Never mind that novelist Jane Austen's travels didn't take her much farther than rural Hampshire, Bath, and Southhampton, and certainly she never bucketed off to Australia in 1803. In spite of this fictional fling, inevitably irritating to Janites, this Australian novelist has produced an amusing and even illuminating view of Australia's colonial beginnings. Wilson has fortunately made little attempt to simulate 18th-century diction, but instead profiles her real personalities, and airs social, political and scientific contemporanea in an Austen framework of constant social interaction. Wilson's Jane Austen (an amalgam of Austen's cool, shrewd, pleasantly civil, commonsensical heroines) accompanies her uncle, James Leigh Perrot, and his wife, a handsome, formidable, dismayingly humorless lady, to the colony at New South Wales, after her aunt's humiliating and undeserved brush with the Law in London. Jane herself has suffered the bruising end of a courtship in Sidmouth with clergyman Elliot Fordwick, whose untimely death has been reported by a distant brother. So off to the Antipodes for 142 days at sea--transported convicted felons below decks; master, crew and privileged passengers above; and wherever, ""whiskered rat and lowly weevel."" At the ship's table new acquaintances, civil and military, churn up news and gossip. And Jane and her kin in Sidney will meet the Governor, as well as officials, adventurers, explorers, convicts and ex-convicts of low and high degree. There'll be marvellously scandalous case histories told, some alarming social ferment, exotic scenery and a bleak moment when an amateur lepidopterist sees a life's discovery flap out the window. But for Jane, there will be the devastating resurrection of Fordwick, shoddy with guilt and betrayal. ""I despise you, Sir!"" announces Jane. And that is that. All in all, this is an amusing and inventive weave of fact and fiction sketching makers and shakers and some pristine environs in Australia's past.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking