Jane Austen Society of North America, Southwest Region
The Santa Monica reading group meets monthly to bimonthly, generally on a Sunday at 5 p.m. The group frequently meets at the home of Diana Birchall but occasionally rotates to other members’ homes.
The Santa Monica Reading Group grew out of a previous reading group formed circa 1980 by Harriet Williams and Lucy Magruder. The group met at Harriet Williams’ home in Long Beach until the members living in Santa Monica formed their own group sometime around 1990.
A small but lively assembly, the Santa Monica group primarily reads the works of women authors of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the group’s most successful and enjoyable projects was reading all the works of Elizabeth Gaskell, which took more than a year. Most meetings of the group include a great deal of delicious food!
Reading List Archive
The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature by Elizabeth Hardwick
The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
Child of Light: Mary Shelley by Muriel Spark
Selected Letters of John Keats (based on the texts of Hyder Edward Rollins, Revised Edition)
The Poets’ Daughters, Dora Wordsworth and Sara Coleridge by Katie Waldegrave
Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley
The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh
The Fair Jilt by Aphra Behn
The Secret Life of Aphra Behn by Janet Todd
Matters of Fact in Jane Austen by Janine Barchas
English Eccentrics by Edith Sitwell
Members’ choice of book by one of the Mitford sisters (Nancy, Jessica or Deborah)
Blood Upon the Snow by Hilda Lawrence
The Princess de Cleves by Madame de La Fayette
The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters by Laura Thompson
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey
A Crisis of Brilliance by David Boyd Haycock
The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth
Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge
Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey
Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar
The Daisy Chain by Charlotte M. Yonge
In addition to reading all of the works of Mrs. Gaskell, the group has read widely of the following authors: Virginia Woolf (and peripheral Bloomsbury material), Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Margaret Oliphant, Fanny Burney, George Eliot, Maria Edgeworth, the Brontës, the Mitfords, Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Colette, E.M. Delafield, Ann Radcliffe, Madame de Stael, Vita Sackville-West, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Elizabeth Goudge, Angela Thirkell, Dorothy Whipple, Harriet Martineau, Vera Brittain, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Fanny Kemble and many, many more.
According to Diana Birchall, some of the group’s more enjoyable readings have been of books that might be described as social history, such as Parallel Lives, A Crisis of Brilliance, Eminent Victorians or A Sultry Month: Scenes of Literary Life in London, 1846, by Alethea Hayter. “Although we stray into other pastures, we always come back to Jane Austen and have read an extensive number of books about her life, letters and times, as well as literary criticism.”
The male authors read by the group have included Anthony Trollope, Lord Byron, Samuel Johnson, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott.
While Birchall reports that the group has greatly enjoyed the vast majority of chosen books, two recent selections were not as well-received: Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmur and The Fair Jilt by Aphra Behn.