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Wednesday, April 29

Juliet Stevenson: Jane Austen Reader

Of seven Naxos audio books in my possession, five are read by Juliet Stevenson, the actress who so brilliantly portrayed Mrs. Elton in 1996’s Emma and whose comical performance as Keira Knightley’s cleavage loving mother in Bend it Like Beckham is my favorite character in the film.

Juliet’s vocal readings of Emma, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility are outstanding. You can hear an 8-minute interview with her about the process at this link:

or click here to download the interview to your cell phone:

In the interview, she mentions that her favorite Jane Austen novel is Sense and Sensibility and her least favorite is Pride and Prejudice (read by Emilia Fox, the actress who played Georgianna Darcy in the 1995 film adaptation of P&P). Juliet also enjoyed reading Emma, which she describes as delicious. “The structure is miraculous,” she adds. “[Emma’s] snobbery is completely unforgivable, but miraculously you are on her side.”

A Voice Crafter’s article describes the characteristics of a good audio book reader: A vocal talent suitable for reading a novel has to be able to hold people's attention for long periods of time—hours and hours if need be. They must be able to use their voices to create a certain ambience, to make narration sound different from dialogs, and slightly distinguish between characters without sounding silly, unless, of course, they need to sound silly. They have to have the sort of voice that is not grating, yet not so soothing that it puts people to sleep. They should be able to evoke feelings of warmth, or of anger, or fear. Whatever is appropriate in the course of the tale, or radio drama podcast.

Narrating lengthy text requires excellent story telling ability. Juliet Stevenson has it, as does David Rintoul, who played Mr. Darcy in the 1980 BBC film adaptation. Two of my favorite readers are Maria Burton, Richard Burton’s daughter from his first marriage, and Campbell Scott, the son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst. A voice talent must be able to perform a variety of roles and use contrasting voices or personality traits to make each character come to life. Reading audio books also requires vocal stamina. A good reader can read up to 10 pages per hour. While short books can be taped in only a few hours, a long book might take weeks to complete. A narrator might work for two to three hours at a time, taking a break every hour or so. Reading speed depends on the narrator, but an average is one and a half to two and a half minutes to record a page or about 40 pages every 90 minutes. A beginning reader might make $40 per finished hour and the best readers can make as much as $300 per hour. - There's Money Where Your Mouth Is, Elaine Clark, p 58

In her interview Juliet reveals why she likes reading for audio book: “You can play anything – an old man, a girl of seventeen. It is really liberating but it is also difficult.” Being able to take liberties with characterizations also attracts her to the medium. In order to be an effective reader she must know the heart and soul of the book, an experience Juliet found enriching.
  • Naxos has also been featuring audio books of Charles Dickens novels, including Little Dorrit. Click here.
  • You can listen to audio readings of Jane's novels at Librivox. While these recordings are free, the vocal readings are generally amateurish. There are some exceptions, Karen Savage is an outstanding example, but generally the quality of the reader is not guaranteed at this volunteer reader site.


Nonna said...

She is a wonderful actress and I'm glad to know of these recordings too !

Ms. Kathleen said...

She is a superb actress. I must say this is one of my fav blogs. Just thought I'd let you know. I'll have to check out the recordings.

Vic said...


Thank you, Kathleen Marie. And thank you for your continued support, Lynn. Your support and compliments mean a lot.

Anonymous said...

"Two of my favorite readers are Maria Burton, Richard Burton’s daughter from his first marriage, and Campbell Scott, the son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst."

Maria Burton is not Burton's daughter from his first marriage. Maria's mother is Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton's second wife.