Good Reading : April 2007
24 goodreading ı APRIL 2007 In 1927 a Rudyard Kipling Society was for med in England. Kipling, still alive and well, was horrified when he heard of it. ‘How would you like to be turned into an anatomical specimen before you were dead?’ he asked. ‘It makes one feel naked as well as ridiculous.’ Here in Australia we have had more tact and have waited 80 years to for m a society in his name. The Kipling Society joins a very respectable list of flourishing literary societies in Australia that honour dead British writers. Why do Australians join such societies and what do they get out of them? The reasons are as varied and interesting as the authors themselves. Literary societies are actually sophis- ticated and well-organised book clubs. Keen readers, rather than meeting to talk over a variety of novels, instead get together to discuss the works, life and times of a favourite writer.They then have the pleasure of knowing that others present will be familiar with Jane Austen’s six novels, or with the creatures and fauna of Middle Earth, or with every windswept event that occurred on the Brontës’ moors. Fans find, in literary societies, a forum for animated discussion, heated argument over the merits or faults of the latest filmed version of one of ‘their’ author’s novels, and companion- ship with like-minded people. Just as gardeners join a rose or an iris society and patchworkers a quilting group, so readers join a literary society. Societies also provide the chance to learn. They hold regular meetings, regular or occasional conferences and publish newsletters or jour nals. I joined the Dylan Thomas Society of Australia after being totally seduced by hearing his poetry read aloud by the Welsh president of the society. I knew little of Thomas’s works or life, but have had a wonderful time learning about both ever since. Not all members of the Kipling Society have read every novel, poem, short story, essay or tale for children that Kipling wrote, but they come along to be encouraged to read more, discuss what they have read and to lear n about the places, philoso- phies, people and events that influenced his writing. Some societies run programs, talks or websites for school students. Literary societies are also great fun! Celebrations are often held to honour the birthday of the writer (200 people met in Sydney in December 2006 to celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday and drink a toast to her), there are picnics, outings, dinners, poetry readings, expedi- tions and theatrical experiences. Events vary enor mously according to the writer involved. Sherlockians hunt out mysteri- ous hounds on lonely moors a laThe Hound of the Baskervilles, Dylan Thomas fans appropriately recite poetry in pubs (Dylan spent too many hours in bars and died after drinking 18 whiskies in New York), Byronists discuss the poet’s tumul- tuous life and verse in Greek restaurants (Byron gave his life for the cause of Greek independence) and Janeites enjoy delicious afternoon teas as they lear n about the elegance or the crimes of the Regency world. Some societies are in the fortunate position of having had ‘their’ author visit Australia. DH Lawrence lived briefly in Thir roul, NSW, and wrote Kangaroo as a result of his visit. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came on a lecture tour – he wanted to talk about Spiritualism, to which he had been converted, but fans only wanted to hear about Sherlock Holmes. Kipling also came, and Dickens Australians embrace dead British writers in a big way, supporting literary societies across the land dedicated to the likes of Kipling, Austen, Dickens and Byron. SUSANNAH FULLERTON tells us what’s happening in the world of the literary society. reading life dead white males (and females) This delightful depiction of Dr Johnson imitating a kangaroo, in a cartoon by John Spooner, is the logo of the Johnson Society of Australia. The Brontës. Sketch above: Branwell. Above: Charlotte. Right: Anne. Far right: Emily. Left to right: Dylan Thomas, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, DH Lawrence, GK Chesterton. Below and left, left to right: Elizabeth Gaskell, Byron, Conan Doyle.