AUSTEN-LEIGH, Joan




Author Tags: Fiction, Theatre

Her claim to fame was her status as the great-great-great niece of Jane Austen. She was the great-granddaughter of Jane Austen's nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, who wrote a memoir about his famous aunt. For much of her fiction and her two coming-of-age novels, she maintained her maiden name, Joan Austen-Leigh, but she also wrote approximately 30 plays as Joan Mason Hurley. She married Denis Mason Hurley in 1940. She was the daughter of a British-born land surveyor who came to Victoria when it was an 'outpost of Empire.' Born in Victoria, she was sent to attend a boarding school in the East Anglia town of Aldeburgh. She and her husband managed the Shawnigan Beach Hotel at Shawnigan Lake for more than 25 years. She earned a B.A. at UVic in the 1970s, then studied playwriting at UBC. She was most prolific as a playright between 1967 and 1983. She self-published her first novel, Stephanie (1979) when she was 59. She called her publishing enterprise A Room Of One's Own Press, a name that was easily confused with the Vancouver feminist periodical called Room of One's Own. Her sequel was called Stephanie at War (1987). That same year she started the Jane Austen Society of North America.

"I have for fifteen years been publishing my own books," she wrote in 1995, "but I have never had a novel published by a 'real' publisher. But finally, having reached 70 years old, St. Martin's Press, New York is bringing out in March, my Mrs. Goddard, Mistress of a School: Another View of Emma, which I published in 1993." The novel revisits the plot and characters of Jane Austen's Emma as seen through the eyes of a peripheral character, Mrs. Goddard, the local schoolmistress, who writes a series of letters to her sister, thereby providing a running commentary on the social life of Highbury. "I just sent it to them 'over the transom' and in a week they were on the phone to me. It's going in reverse, from paper to hardback, and they have changed the title to A Visit to Highbury." A year later St. Martin’s Press published a sequel called Later Days at Highbury.

In 2001, Goucher College in Baltimore, an important repository for Jane Austen artifacts, conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Her final novel, Invitation to the Party (2001) was mainly written aboard her boat called Elizabeth Bennett, named for one of Jane Austen's most memorable heroines. She was an avid fairweather sailor who ceased sailing in 2001 but continued to reside aboard when the Elizabeth Bennett was moored at Brentwood Bay. Joan Austen-Leigh died October 12, 2001.

SELECTED PUBLICATIONS:

Stephanie (Self-Published, 1988)
Stephanie at War (Self-Published, 1988)
A Visit To Highbury (St. Martin’s Press, 1995)
Later Days at Highbury (St. Martin’s Press, 1996)
Invitation To The Party (Self-Published, 2001)

ALSO: (Joan Mason Hurley)

Four Canadian One-act Plays (A Room Of One's Own Press, 1990)
Canadian One Act Plays For Women
Women & Love (two one act plays)
Our Own Particular Jane (play about Jane Austen)
Women's Work (play)

[BCBW 2003] "Theatre" "Fiction"

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Stephanie

Invitation to the Party
Info



A Room of One’s Own Press in Victoria has released Joan Austen-Leigh’s fifth novel, Invitation to the Party, a light-hearted, self-published tale of life and love in a contemporary wine-growing Okanagan town. Austen-Leigh, who has written five novels and 30 plays, has just received an Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters from Goucher College in Baltimore to recognize her role as the founder of the Jane Austen Society of North America with its 4000 members. At 80, she lives in Victoria.

[BCBW SUMMER 2001]