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The Ten Best Reasons to Go to a JASNA AGM, Or, Why I would celebrate Jane Austen’s Birthday
by Spiriting Her Around Such an Event
Well, I had the best of intentions to do a full write-up of all the major events at the latest JASNA AGM in Brooklyn – a special location for me personally as I am a New Yorker born and bred – but as I have mentioned elsewhere life gets in the way of our best-laid plans and as the AGM now seems light-years away, I propose to just offer a grand summary in the context of why one should go to this annual Jane Austen conference; and why do so many plan on being there year after year? Friends and family just shake their heads with the typical “she only wrote 6 books, whatever can you talk about for 4 days??” and I nod knowingly that a lifetime of conferences would not satisfy… It takes me a long while to re-enter the 21st century – how delightful it is to enjoy the late 18th and early 19th without all the attendant inconveniences! I shall make a best effort to give the salient points of this year’s conference, memory perhaps failing me, with a dependence upon sketchy notes, not enough pictures taken (and those that were, not very good…)
But as today is Jane Austen’s Birthday, I shall write this as a gift to her [see below for entering into a drawing for a surprise gift giveaway] – how would she react to all this annula hoopla, created in her honor to celebrate her life and work? – So let’s imagine that I have Jane Austen by my side, sort of like the Ghost of Christmas from Dickens’s famous tale leading her about the AGM – sadly she cannot participate, but only observe, what she does after all do best…
1. Meeting other Jane Austen fans and friends [the mere numbers would astonish her!]
Without a doubt the best part of every conference – this year more special for two reasons: I roomed with a cyberspace friend who I had never met or even talked to on the phone – nearly five years of emailing each other a friendship makes, so to finally meet Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World and to spend those late night hours together summarizing all we did each day was incomparable – so a hearty Thank You! to Vic for being such a great roomie!
This year the proximity of Brooklyn to both my former haunts in Connecticut and present haunts in Vermont brought many friends and JASNA-Vermont members who usually don’t come to the AGMs – and this was pure delight to catch up with everyone in an “all Jane” atmosphere… and of course the many JASNA friends I have made over the years were there in full force and the annual re-connection is always invigorating!
2. The “Things barely connected to Jane Austen but let’s put her in the mix somehow” events
[or things Jane probably knows all about anyway]:
Wednesday saw a good number of us at the Brooklyn Historical Society for a talk by Francis Morrone, an architectural historian, on “Brooklyn in the Time of Jane Austen” – a most lively and visually enlightening trek through Brooklyn in the late 18th century – Morrone posits that Austen would have known of Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker’s History of New York, an international best-seller in her time, and she would also have heard of the Aaron Burr (a friend of Mary Wollstonecraft) and Alexander Hamilton duel. Walt Whitman? – born on Long Island in 1819, just missing an overlap with Austen…
3. Things that aren’t really about Jane at all [but that Jane would appreciate]:
I spent all of Thursday at the Frances Burney AGM, held at the New York City Bar Association, another architectural marvel, and heard various scholars speak to the topic of “Love, Money, and the Marketplace in Burney” – a day of much thoughtful and insightful chat on Burney as a novelist, diary-keeper, and playwright. The day ended with a curated talk at the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection,, wherein we had the privilege of ogling over the many Burney manuscripts in the collection – her handwritten plays, journals and even a poem she had written at the age of eleven. A delightful day, much like “The Beautiful Cassandra”: “This was a day well-spent.” [delicious lunch by the way at Kellari Taverna just down the street from the NYC Bar Association on West 44th Street.]
4. The Emporium [wherein Jane, agog, would find all manner of goodies]:
Ok, I confess, I am NOT a shopper, hate the time spent to outfit oneself and even to eat, but the JASNA Emporiums never disappoint – how could they? – everything there Austen-related somehow… I already posted on my book haul, mostly all from Jane Austen Books [you can read that here] – but there are many other things to look over, purchase, or add to want-lists, many JASNA regions host tables and there is always the joy of meeting up with the Chawton House Library crowd [Steve Lawrence, Gillian Dow, and this year Eleanor Marsden] – and Tim Bullamore from Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, and a delight to meet for the first time Susannah Fullerton from Australia’s JASA signing her latest book A Dance with Jane Austen.
5. The Plenary Speakers [oh my goodness, how she would be blown away by these three people!]:
*Every year is a treat to see and hear the headliners, Brooklyn hosting Anna Quindlen – laughter and tears as she told her tale of the ability of Austen’s books to transcend time and space (so hoping her wonderful talk “Jane Austen is My Homegirl” will be published in Persuasions - and I see in a note in the new Persuasions online that both the Quindlen and West talks will be in Persuasions 34 released in the Spring of 2013 )
*Dr. Cornel West – a gripping, “I must listen and not take any notes” kind of glistening meditation on why Jane Austen still resonates – this quote too marvelous not to share: “Philosophers deal with Flames; Jane Austen is the Fire.”
[See Cornel West on Austen at the Morgan Library website: http://www.themorgan.org/video/WestOnAusten.asp ]
*And finally, Sandy Lerner, founder of Chawton House Library and now Chairman of the Trustees, on “Money Then and Now: Has Anything Changed?” – where Ms. Lerner questioned Austen’s real understanding of money matters in her time, and pointed out the inconsistencies from novel to novel, perhaps due to the non-cash economy of the 18th century and a way of explaining her ambivalence about money.
6. The Breakout Sessions [how we would love for Jane Austen to be a speaker – just imagine the Q&A!]:
The only negative, hang-it-all, is that one cannot go to all – always a problem of choosing, and what one just had to hear when registering might not look all that interesting five months later! – one hopes that those missed will be published in Persuasions or Persuasions-Online. I try to go to different ones than my friends so we can share after – but this year, so many good ones, though an abundance it seemed on “sex” – but who can resist after all any sort of discussion on Austen and the question of “sex” – in her life, in her novels and in her time…. !
- I started with Janine Barchas’s talk on “Austen Between the Covers: A Brief History of Book Cover Art” – a visual feast of a journey through the marketing of Austen the last two hundred years.
- Miriam Rheingold Fuller, in “Slits, Spikes, Steeds, and Scandals: Coded Sexual Indiscretion in Jane Austen’s Fiction,” was quite humorous in her cataloguing the many places where Austen is telling us much more than the mere words convey about what is really going on – one knows a lot of this, but delightful anyway to see it all so clarified.
- I went to a rousing talk on the Prince Regent, with A. Marie Sprayberry, who gave us all the dastardly deeds and sexual machinations this Fellow put his country through and gave new meaning to all Jane Austen ever said about him! [hurray! this is in the just-released Persuasions Online: http://jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol33no1/sprayberry.html ]
- And of course, a highlight was Syrie James and Diana Birchall, staging their “Austen Assizes” – with a cast of renown, to include the formidable Joan Ray as Judge, Susannah Fullerton as a nearly hysterical Marianne Dashwood [and the hired actor who played Willoughby as scoundrel-par-excellance was quite dishy], and James (Lucy Steele) and Birchall (Fanny Dashwood) having their own moment in the limelight made for a laugh-out-loud romp through the trials and punishment of Austen’s most famous villians – this could [and should] be a series – Downton Abbey watch-out!You can see some of the antics on this short youtube:
[see the Persuasions article for more images of Sprayberry's collection of Georgian coins]
7. The variety of special events that get missed
[No, no says Jane, I don’t want to miss anything!]
Now I would guess that as a spirit cavorting about, one could see all, but such is not the reality during a 4-day conference when one must eat and sleep and talk “Jane” to everyone – there are always so many special events – some I missed this year due to the Burney conference and regional coordinator meetings – there are always so many special sessions to keep us on our toes (literally) about Regency dance, Regency fashion, reticule and quilling workshops, and scholarly pursuits. A few highlights:
*An Antique Fan exhibition with Abbey Block Cash:
As I only took a few pictures, I direct you to Vic’s fabulous post and videos on this exhibition: http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/antique-fans-from-the-regency-era/
More information at the website of the Fan Association of North America (FANA).
* There is always an author signing event - this year on Sunday morning unfortunately during the RC meeting, but I did sneak out for a short bit and did meet William Deresciewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education – he spoke on Saturday night during the Ball on “Becoming a Hero: Being a Man in Austen’s World”…. I think he emphasized way too much that he was a straight man who loved Austen, as though he was the only one in the world – so when I met him I told him about the Jane Austen book group in Montpelier VT comprised of all MEN [as had two other JASNA-Vermont attendees - he must have felt bombarded!]– he laughed quite heartily and thought that was ground-breaking!
* Special lectures: Sheryl Craig gave one of her (always interesting!) talks on the British economy of the Regency [JASNA-Vermont very lucky here: Sheryl is visiting us in June!]; there were talks on the Austen materials at the Morgan [as well as a fabulous reading of Lady Susan on Thursday evening]; discussion of where Austen scholarship is headed; a post-banquet lecture on libations of the time by David Wondrich [his book is titled: Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl]; and a hands-on event with Louise West of the Jane Austen House Museum…. and lots more. Jane is quite exhausted with all the options!
And I did like this year the effort to assist newbies – an orientation to the AGM 101, and a session on how to prepare an AGM breakout proposal – if anyone went to these sessions I would like to hear how helpful they were…
8. Visiting places you might otherwise not get to
[Jane really likes this aspect – to be in Brooklyn was quite the thrill!]:
Each year the AGM is in a city in either the United States or Canada [with the exception of 2003 celebrating JASNA’s 25 years in Winchester, England], this year back in New York City for the first time since the very first AGM in 1979 (on Pride and Prejudice) and in 1987 on Lady Susan. If you look at the JASNA website http://jasna.org/agms/index.html you will see the varied locations and topics of the meetings – my first was in Richmond Virginia in 1996, and I have not missed many since. Each venue has its own historical and cultural offerings that may tie in with Jane Austen, this to me often the best part of each event. In Richmond we went to the Virginia Museum of Art and saw a wondrous exhibit of Fabergé eggs and treasures made for the Russian Imperial family – and each location since has not disappointed with these side trips.
9. Dare I leave out The Fashions?!
[nearly Jane’s favorite pastime – always observing,
and far more generous than Mrs. Elton would be in her commentary!]:
I do not dress [one of these days when I drag out my sewing machine!] – but this is one of the delights of each AGM, with costumes and fashions in abundance, the number of participants seeming to increase each year. And besides the various costumes, there is always someone doing a fashion show or exhibit, or “training” sessions on “Dressing Jane” or dare I say “Undressing Mr. Darcy.”
– Vic has again saved the day – she posted a good deal of the fashion event this year “Dressing the Miss Bennets” with Lisa Brown – you can view that here: http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/dressing-the-miss-bennets-lisa-browns-presentation-at-jasna-agm-2012/ – almost as good as being there oneself, so many thanks to Vic for videoing it all and to Lisa for her fashionista expertise!
[After the Promenade: this image from the JASNA Syracuse Region - c2012 Lisa Brown with thanks.
Visit their website for more pictures by Lisa Brown and commentary on the 2012 AGM]
10. And perhaps the best of all reasons, the Joy of spending
some quality time with Jane Austen and her Characters!
How can one get much closer to Austen than visiting her works, discussing them, analyzing her characters, laughing at her comedy, being amazed at her language, her irony – how better to feel reenergized and to know another re-reading with new insights is before you as you once again have to leave the early 19th century behind… just until next year when you get to do it all over again… in Minneapolis to celebrate 200 years of Pride and Prejudice, Sept 27-29, 2013…
Giveaway!: What are your favorite things about attending a JASNA AGM [or any other Jane Austen Society conference]?? – please comment below! In honor of Jane Austen’s Birthday on December 16th, your name shall be entered into a random drawing for a surprise Jane Austen related gift, worldwide eligibility. Please comment by Boxing Day, December 26th at 11:59 pm. Winner will be announced December 27th. Thank you for sharing…!