22nd August 2017
Maxine Lennon met narrator, Elizabeth Klett, who has lent her voice to our editions of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Here, Elizabeth discusses her love for all things Austen, her background in acting, her academic career, and receiving critiques from her daughter during bedtime reading.
On reading and teaching Persuasion
When Catherine asked me to narrate Persuasion, I was delighted.
I’m an academic as well as an audiobook narrator. I teach a class on Jane Austen and was teaching Persuasion last semester, whilst I was narrating the audiobook. It was such a pleasure to be able to read it aloud.
I’d recorded it previously, a while ago, and although it was fine, it wasn’t awesome – I didn’t have very good sound equipment back then, and I wasn’t able to keep up the accent the entire way through, which I now can! Usually, before I start recording, I’ll read the text all the way through beforehand, but for Persuasion, that was a moot point as I’ve read it so many times. I didn’t feel like I had any questions about the characters, who they were, and what they should sound like; all the questions I usually as myself when I have a new book in front of me – pepping a classic like Persuasion or Northanger Abbey is easy-peasy for me because of my academic work!
So it was great revisiting Persuasion and bring my teaching experience to recording the novel as well. I love the book. I think often Anne Elliot doesn’t appeal to people as a heroine, especially not to my students – they’ve had a bit of a hard time liking her – but I love her; she’s steadfast. Even though she gets persuaded before the novel begins to give up her love, she believes at the time it was the right choice.
I teach college students so they’re a wide variety of ages. They can be as young as 18, but then I have some who are returning students in their 50s and 60s, so it’s a nice mix. It’s a commuter campus and they come from all over the Houston, TX area. In some ways students of different ages respond in different ways to Persuasion. I teach the books in chronological order, and Persuasion is the last one. I talk about it as representing a more mature perspective, not only because Anne is the oldest of the Austen heroines – she’s not old, she’s 27 – but it also represents a more mature, even a darker perspective. There’s a focus on mortality, mourning, and loss, and I do feel that my older students connect with that more.
I think students respond well to Austen. A lot of people come to Austen, and maybe other classics too, having seen media adaptations, and so I have a lot of students taking my class because they’ve watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice perhaps, or they’re a fan of the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility. Then they discover that there’s a lot more to the stories when they read the books. Having said that, I do bring in media when I teach almost any classic, because I feel it’s something students can relate to.
“It’s recognisably Austen, but it’s a different Austen.”
On Northanger Abbey
I’ve taught Northanger Abbey a bunch of times and my students love it because it’s usually totally new to them. It’s such a fun book! The pseudo-gothic environment that the main character, Catherine, is plunged into is fascinating. She’s so young and naïve that the students love to go with her on her journey. They tend not to know what to make of Henry, the love interest, because he’s different from a lot of the other Austen heroes. It’s a cool experience for the students because it’s recognisably Austen, but it’s a different Austen.
I’m very pro audiobooks, and very sceptical of the ‘Oh, it’s cheating, it’s not really reading a book’ viewpoint – there’s lots to suggest that cognitively people go through similar processes when they listen as when they read. The only thing to really consider is that when you listen to an audiobook, you’re getting an interpretation, you’re hearing a performance; it’s never unfiltered.
I listen to a variety of different kinds of audiobooks. They’re usually fiction, although I sometimes listen to memoirs if read by the person who wrote them. I’ve just listened to Steve Martin’s memoir about doing stand-up, and that was great. He plays the banjo and sings on it!
“I love creating voices…”
I guess I have a bias towards British narrators, as I tend to listen to a lot of stories set in Britain, perhaps subconsciously because I’m always trying to improve my own British accent, especially if they’re narrating in regional accents. I enjoy listening on one level, but on another level I’m always processing and taking notes about how I would narrate it!
I used to be an actor and I love creating voices – that’s one of the most fun things about audiobook narration for me. I read aloud to my daughter and she’s gone through a lot of different phases with whether she wants voices or not. Right now she’s in a no voices period, so when I’m reading to her, I have to really curb my instinct to give the character’s voices!
When I’m narrating, I try to make each character sound distinctive, you know, male female, older, younger… I’m listening to a book right now where the narrator does a much narrower range of vocal inflections and it’s great though – it’s really effective but it’s not what I do, I just enjoy narrating a variety of voices.
Self-direction was drilled into us as acting students. As an actor, you’re always making choices and you have to be decisive, ‘what’s my motivation?’, ‘what choice am I making in this moment?’, and the same applies to audiobook narration. I haven’t been on stage for a long time but audiobooks fill that desire to perform. I still remember all of the advice from my college teachers when I was studying acting, and having some voice training definitely helps.
Sometimes when I’m recording, my daughter knocks on the studio door and comes in. She’s almost eight and she’s already started recording! She read a teeny little part in a production of A Christmas Carol and soon got offered the part of Alice in Alice in Wonderland. I’m very proud of her but it’s so labour intensive.
It takes a lot of stamina to record a whole audiobook. I began volunteering, and got so much practice when I started, that the transition to the professional world was pretty seamless. It’s all about practice, practice, practice!
You can hear Elizabeth’s talented voicework in our fabulous edition of Persuasion, available at Audible now, and Northanger Abbey, coming soon.