Award-winning authoress Julie Klassen found her calling in the rich heritage of British literature. Classics read during childhood, such as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, revealed the magic of storytelling, but the works of Jane Austen helped her develop a voice for creative expression. “I continue to consult Austen’s novels and letters as language references when I write,” Julie explains. She often includes subtle nods to the foremost name in Regency fiction—a gesture that many fans appreciate.
Citing Austen as the impetus for setting her own best-selling books in the Regency era, Julie has made several sojourns from her home in Minnesota to England. Following in the footsteps of the beloved novelist while exploring distant shores and visiting historic sites has yielded a bounty of artistic inspiration.
The highlight of a previous research trip was attending the Jane Austen Festival, held each September in Bath. “I will never forget parading through the streets in period costume on a rainy morning with hundreds of others from all over the world,” Julie says, “while crowds of people lined the streets to watch or take photos.” This processional begins a ten-day celebration that includes more than seventy events, from readings and lectures to concerts and tours.
Although modern attire is appropriate for most of the schedule, dressing in eighteenth-century styles is optional for some gatherings and customary for the opening promenade and an elegant masked ball. To extend her wardrobe, Julie varied the look of a single gold underdress. For the parade, she also donned a blue velvet spencer jacket and bonnet created by Matti’s Millinery & Costumes. An overdress of dupioni silk complemented the modified court gown for a memorable afternoon of English country dancing. Both frocks were fashioned by her niece, Jennifer Shouse-Klassen, a professional seamstress with experience in theatrical design.
Becoming immersed in the legacy of this literary figure reminds Julie of the enduring and universal allure of a timeless tale. “For me,” she says, “the appeal lies in Jane Austen’s ability to write about things we can all relate to—family affection and strife, friendship, the longing to be loved for oneself—with insight and sparkling humor.”
Text Melissa Lester
Photography Jane Hope
Look for Julie Klassen’s twelfth book, The Ladies of Ivy Cottage, in December 2017. To learn more about the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath, read “Remembering Jane Austen” in the September 2017 issue of Victoria.