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Fiona Pickles (real_world_recs)
Live Journal, November 2009

I am the kind of person who has never been able to sit still long enough to cope with Jane Austen on the printed page and, having also in latter years suffered badly from eyestrain, I came to the conclusion that the only way I was ever going to be able to ‘read’ Austen properly was with my ears. This turned out to be a lucky decision, as it led me to the world of Naxos Audio Books and more precisely to the unabridged Austen readings given by Juliet Stevenson. And ‘precisely’ is here the perfect description; Ms Stevenson reads with a wonderful polished clarity and the kind of unhurried diction of which Austen herself would certainly have approved. Her pace is steady and thoughtful, every word enunciated beautifully—and her characterisations, although suggested rather than impersonated, are strong enough to give the different speakers more than enough individuality to avoid confusion.

In Sense and Sensibility, we get a very clear idea of Ms Stevenson’s range. She is least convincing with lower-class or servant characters but mercifully there are few of those; however her dashing, thoughtless Willoughby, her hesitant Edward and especially her tongue-tied but immensely earnest Brandon are triumphant, and her sly Lucy Steele, impetuous Marianne, bustling Mrs Jennings and soberly reflective Elinor are all even a purist could wish for.

The story, for anyone not familiar with it, centres on the Dashwood family—Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, and their widowed mother, all living in reduced circumstances in the country, plus half-brother John, his social-climbing wife Fanny and her two brothers. It is with the two elder girls’ romantic lives that the narrative is concerned; the course of Elinor’s attachment to Fanny’s brother Edward is pitted with obstacles, whilst that of Marianne’s to their handsome neighbour John Willoughby takes an even more disastrous turn. By degrees, however, both girls come to learn the same lesson—that neither ‘sense’ nor ‘sensibility’ is enough on its own to ensure happiness, and that both must be exercised in moderation.

Slipping into one of Juliet Stevenson’s Austen readings is like slipping into a warm bath at the end of a harsh day. It is a gentle, comforting experience, the perfect way to patch up tattered nerves and soothe aggravated spirits. One of her Naxos Audio Books would be an ideal companion for a long journey—Sense and Sensibility, for example, would occupy just under 13 hours in perfect tranquillity—or help to while away the hours whilst working on some tedious task. To some people this probably sounds boring, but to me it’s peace and calm and quiet all wrapped up in a box—and what more could one possibly ask for than that?

Jane Austen Today, April 2009

Juliet Stevenson: Jane Austen Reader

Of seven Naxos audio books in my possession, five are read by Juliet Stevenson, the actress who so brilliantly portrayed Mrs. Elton in 1996’s Emma and whose comical performance as Keira Knightley’s cleavage loving mother in Bend it Like Beckham is my favorite character in the film.

Juliet’s vocal readings of Emma, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility are outstanding. You can hear an 8-minute interview with her about the process at this link:

In the interview, she mentions that her favorite Jane Austen novel is Sense and Sensibility and her least favorite is Pride and Prejudice (read by Emilia Fox, the actress who played Georgianna Darcy in the 1995 film adaptation of P&P). Juliet also enjoyed reading Emma, which she describes as delicious. “The structure is miraculous,” she adds. “[Emma’s] snobbery is completely unforgivable, but miraculously you are on her side.”

Narrating lengthy text requires excellent story telling ability. Juliet Stevenson has it…In her interview Juliet reveals why she likes reading for audio book: “You can play anything—an old man, a girl of seventeen. It is really liberating but it is also difficult.” Being able to take liberties with characterizations also attracts her to the medium. In order to be an effective reader she must know the heart and soul of the book, an experience Juliet found enriching.

Jane Austen Today, February 2009

Need your Jane Austen fix? Too busy driving the kids to their functions, or taking long commutes back and forth to work to read Pride and Prejudice? Too exhausted at night to tackle anything more than light reading? Have no fear. Naxos Audio Books provides a solution. You can purchase Jane's books two ways: in digital format or as an audio CD. Beautifully packaged and read by the incomparable Juliet Stevenson and Emilia Fox, you will receive hours of listening pleasure. I've discovered that Jane's novels translate beautifully into the spoken word. For those who have difficulty with her writing style, you might prefer to "read" her books in this manner.

NAX20212 The Jane Austen Collection Vol 1 (abridged)
NAX39412 AUSTEN: Emma (Unabridged)
NA309512 AUSTEN: Emma (Abridged)
NA222812 AUSTEN: Lady Susan (Unabridged)
NAX46712 AUSTEN: Mansfield Park (Unabridged)
NA306712 AUSTEN: Mansfield Park (Abridged)
NA742712 AUSTEN: Northanger Abbey (Unabridged)
NA207612 AUSTEN: Northanger Abbey (Abridged)
NA743612 AUSTEN: Persuasion (Unabridged)
NA310712 AUSTEN: Persuasion (Abridged)
NAX35612 AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice (Unabridged)
NA310412 AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice (Abridged)
NAX36112 AUSTEN: Sense and Sensibility (Unabridged)

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