Maria Grazia has had a lifelong passion for the 18th Century novels of the English writer Jane Austen, famous for her wit and talent for social commentary. Maria lives in a small town not far from Rome, Italy, where she teaches English literature. And where it’s difficult — if not impossible — to meet fellow Janeites. Since she started blogging and publishing The Everything Austen Daily on Paper.li she has connected with JA-lovers and new friends around the world.
For anyone who hasn’t discovered Jane Austen yet, who is she?
JA is one of the most popular British writers of all time, second only to Shakespeare. She was one of the many children of an impoverished country-gentry clergyman living in Hampshire at the end of the 18th Century. Jane was a woman in a male-orientated world who dreamed of becoming a published author at a time when that was considered improper. She made it: she published four novels in her short — and almost uneventful — life: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Mansfield Park. Now she is studied and revered in the academic world and “Jane Austen” has become a very successful commercial brand.
Your avatar is rather Austenesque — are you in any way similar to Jane?
Isn’t my avatar lovely? It’s a portrait of Kitty Packe by Sir William Beechey, a British artist, from the same period. She’s just as beautiful and sweet as I’ve always wanted to be — but the only trait or characteristic I see from myself in her is that she’s reading a book.
I’ve never dreamed of comparing myself to Jane Austen. She’s one of my idols — a genius of wit and a mistress of irony. She was also a very brave woman. I’m none of those things. I’m much luckier than her. I couldn’t have borne what she had to as a woman living in her era. However, thinking twice, there is something we share: a sharp tongue.
Would Jane have enjoyed publishing on Paper.li, tweeting or blogging — or all three?
Well, from the little we know of her, we can be sure that she loved writing very much. She’d been writing since she was 12; she loved being read to, and reading to others. She was fond of penning letters, and she wrote about everything. So I’m sure that if she was alive now, she’d be keen on all of them. They would have offered her infinite opportunities to share her wit with the widest possible public.
You also enjoy writing! Tell us about your blogs and why you started them.
I don’t actually “write”. I’d rather say I “scribble”. I started out to support my students. My first blog was Learnonline (2008) which is going to end now because the host, splinder.com, is closing. But I’ve just started a new Learnonline on blogspot.com (work in progress!) When I started blogging, I enjoyed the experience so much that I wanted to have a more personal corner in the blogosphere. So first came Fly High! (2009), followed, after a while, by My Jane Austen Book Club (2010).
I’m very proud of them. Blogging has become terribly time-consuming but also so rewarding. I’ve finally met the people I’ve always dreamed of meeting: people who love what I love, who read what I have to say and who contribute their opinions. And I’ve improved my skills and knowledge, widened my horizons, read more, watched more, travelled more, enjoyed life so much more.
Who do you meet in your community?
Wonderful, enthusiastic people living all over the world, from South Africa and Australia, to Brazil and Canada, the Netherlands, UK and Italy (of course, as I am Italian).
The majority of my readers live in the US, though. They share my fondness for books, literature, Mrs Gaskell, Richard III, period movies and series, art, theatre, Shakespeare and British actor Richard Armitage on Fly High. Lots of Janeites from all over the world meet virtually at My Jane Austen Book Club, a friendly place to discuss everything Austen.
Blogging is such an enriching hobby. It has radically changed my life. I never thought I could have so many friends and mates all over the world and make the acquaintance of such interesting, talented people: writers, actors, teachers, and musicians, for example. And I’ve learnt so much from all of them. Blogging stimulates me to do more and know more.
How has The Everything Austen Daily helped you to connect with Janeites?
It brings me into direct contact with an enormous international community. You can’t imagine how many people tweet about #Austen #JaneAusten #Austenesque every day! It’s a boundless community indeed! Having lived in the same small town — not far from Rome — all my life, I’ve often felt sad that nobody seemed to know or appreciate JA’s incredible achievements, except for colleagues who studied her at university like I did.
Although you’re Italian, you seem to have a fascination with not just JA but all things English…
I’ve had a real passion for English as a language and everything British since I was 12 and a bizarre, extravagant, enthusiastic teacher of English crossed my path. She was young, beautiful, with very short black hair, and used to wear miniskirts and a yellow raincoat: it was long ago, but I still remember her. She was…contagious!
I’ve been teaching for more than 20 years, and not just grammar and language to kids (which I did until 2000). I teach English literature to older students, which I absolutely love. My dream job is to teach to people who really want to learn. Teenagers are not exactly like that nowadays, especially if you ask them to spend time studying or reading! However, I can’t complain: I’m one of those lucky people who has a job they love.
I always say to my students that I was born in Italy by mistake. The stork that was carrying baby me to my mother got lost on its way to Britain and… here I am, feeling rather a foreigner in my own country.
What made you think of starting The Everything Austen Daily?
I had seen other Paper.lis publicised on Twitter. Such a great idea, I thought! I wanted to publish one of my own, but I had to find the right motive and topic.
Could you share your top tips for starting a daily paper?
- Choose a topic/character/issue which is quite popular on Twitter and which interests you
- Sign-up for Google Alerts about that topic/character/issue
- Surf the net and find interesting articles/blog posts about your topic/character/issue
- Choose the links to the stuff you find most interesting
- Set up the editing details with care – use the most authentic and credible Twitter or RSS feeds as a base, then add content from anywhere on the web using the Paper.li Publish.it bookmarklet.
- Then use the Paper.li Nomad to embed your paper on your blog. I like this a lot – all the recent news from the Austen fandom is there, updated every 24 hours. It’s brilliant for when I don’t succeed in posting something once a day.
When you’re not publishing, blogging or teaching, what are you doing?
The housework, the cooking, the ironing, the shopping, driving sons somewhere, talking on the phone, writing mails, correcting tests and papers, reading books, watching DVDs, listening to music. I sleep very little, I must be honest.
Finally, can you share a favourite Jane Austen moment?
Yes, of course! Here’s one of my favourite moments from the BBC’s Emma in 2009. It’s from my YouTube channel.
Photo credit for Portrait of Kitty Packe (née Hart), ca. 1818-1821: Sir William Beechey (British, 1753-1839) Oil on canvas, 55 x 42 in. (139.7 x 106.68 cm), Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Purchased with funds provided by Angie Hester, 2001.007.