Gryphon Gallery: Joan Austen-Leigh
Stuart Brambley, School Archivist
Following in the footsteps of her great-great-great aunt.
Joan Austen-Leigh was born in September 1920 and attended Glenlyon Norfolk School (then Norfolk House School) from 1931–1933 and was one of the original students to move to the Pemberton Woods campus.
Joan’s claim to fame was not all of her own making as she was the great-great-great niece of renowned author Jane Austen by way of being the great-granddaughter of Jane Austen's nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh. She did not follow in her famous ancestor’s footsteps until she was over forty “taking up the pen” after graduating with a BA from UVic and studying playwriting at UBC. For much of her fiction and her two coming-of-age novels, she maintained her maiden name, Joan Austen-Leigh, but she also wrote approximately 30 plays under her married name, Joan Mason-Hurley.
She was the daughter of a British-born land surveyor who came to Victoria when it was an 'outpost of the Empire.' Born in Victoria, she attended GNS (NHS) before attending a boarding school in the East Anglia town of Aldeburgh. She and her husband, married in 1940, managed the old Shawnigan Beach Hotel at Shawnigan Lake for more than 25 years, after which she returned to school.
In 1962 she presented a trophy to GNS(NHS) in memory of her father, for the top grade 12 student. She also sent her three daughters to this school: Freydis 1961–1963, Tibbie 1963–1966, and Damaris 1971–1974.
Joan was most prolific as a playwright between 1967 and 1983, with notable plays including: Canadian One Act Plays For Women, Women & Love, Our Own Particular Jane, and Women's Work. She also self-published her first novel, Stephanie in 1979 when she was 59, and its sequel Stephanie at War in 1987. That same year she founded the Jane Austen Society of North America. Further novels included Mrs. Goddard, Mistress of a School: Another View of Emma, retitled A Visit to Highbury and Later Days at Highbury. Her final novel, Invitation to the Party (2001) was mainly written aboard her boat ‘Elizabeth Bennett,’ named after one of Jane Austen's most memorable heroines. This novel is a light-hearted, self-published tale of life and love in a contemporary wine-growing Okanagan town.
Joan was an avid fair-weather sailor who stopped sailing in 2001 but continued to reside aboard the ‘Elizabeth Bennett’ while it was moored in Brentwood Bay. That same year, Goucher College in Baltimore, an important repository for Jane Austen artifacts, conferred an honorary Doctorate of Law degree upon Joan to recognize her for her role as the founder of the Jane Austen Society of North America.
Sadly, it was not to be enjoyed for very long as she passed away only months later on October 12, 2001.
We wish to acknowledge and respect the Lekwungen-Speaking Peoples on whose traditional territory we stand, and the Songhees, Esquimalt and Wsáneć Peoples whose historical relationships with the land, where we live, work, play and learn, continue to this day.