Ruth Wilson turned her back on her successful and conventional life when she turned seventy years of age. She left her traditional husband and moved to the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.
With the help of an unexpected inheritance, she had previously bought a cottage. She painted it bright yellow, and called it ‘Lantern Hill,’ after the novel Jane of Lantern Hill by LM Montgomery. She lived there for ten years, alone but not lonely, supported by her daughters and the local community.
Her memoir, The Jane Austen Remedy, resulted from her re-reading of all of Jane Austen’s novels. They became the topic of her PhD thesis which she completed when she turned eighty-eight. The book was published earlier this year, just before she turned ninety.
Ruth’s need for change
In the introduction to The Jane Austen Remedy, the author explains how tired she had become of living ‘in the shadows of other people’s expectations’. Ruth Wilson was no longer sure of what she wanted for herself, although she knew she wanted something to change. She writes,
I longed to make decisions without being challenged, to be the one who sometimes had the last word, especially in matters that were chiefly my personal concern.
She felt as if she had lost her voice, and she wanted it back.
A reader all her life, she used her time to recapture her love of reading fiction. In particular, she revisited the six novels of Jane Austen, whose work had always been important to her. She re-examined her own life in the context of her reading. At the same time, she kept her mind open to other possibilities for herself.
Ruth Wilson reads Jane Austen
This highly entertaining memoir is structured around Ruth Wilson’s understanding of Jane Austen. Using themes from Austen’s novels, she examines aspects of her own personal and academic life as a woman born in 1932 in a patriarchal society.
Her wide-ranging exploration includes stories about the life of Jane Austen and others. She references many different authors, mostly feminists, to create a rich, literary story. As well, she writes about marriage, friendships, family, travel and academic life.
Returns to Sydney
Ruth Wilson and her husband renewed their friendship before their first great-grandchild was born. Tentative at first, Ruth eventually moved back to Sydney, where she opted to continue to live independently of her husband. They chose to become ‘people who live apart together,’ in the same apartment block with views of Sydney Harbour Bridge.
At the age of eighty-four she applied and was accepted as a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. She elected to write her disseertation on Jane Austen and empathy.
(I thought my application to begin a PhD at sixty-five – completed less than three years later – was daring! She began hers when twenty years older than me.) My project also culminated in the publication of a memoir, Other People’s Country. My memoir explores some of the issues facing Aboriginal Australians and those who work with them. It describes the time I lived and worked as a nurse on a community in the desert in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia.)
The Jane Austen Remedy will delight those who already enjoy Jane Austen’s work. Ruth Wilson’s clever memoir adds a new layer of interest over the novels, as I discovered when I also began re-reading them.
Full of interesting stories and observations told from a feminist perspective, people interested in the role of women in society will find much of interest.
For bookclubs, it is a well-written, thought-provoking book, which will challenge members to think in new directions
I loved it. I hope you do, too.