Jane Austen in Philadelphia ~ the JASNA 2009 AGM ~ Part 2

AGM 2009 banner

Ok, here I go again…. [please note that due to a computer / camera glitch, all my pictures of the AGM which I was to include in this post, i.e the “Darcy” models, the Regency Ball fashionistas, etc. will not be on here at present – still working on this, but lack the time and patience to be honest! – will post them separately when I can…] 

Day 3:  Up for a continental breakfast, another Regency Emporium visit… then on to the next Plenary speaker, the always delightful Maggie Lane ~ “Brothers of the more Famous Jane:  the Literary Aspirations, Achievements and Influences of James and Henry Austen”.   As the emphasis is often on Austen’s brothers Francis and Charles and their naval world, Lane spoke only here on the professional and literary brothers, Henry, often considered Jane’s favorite brother, and James, who she thinks is in need of a reassessment. It is James, she says, who wrote the majority of the essays in his and Henry’s publication “The Loiterer” [Lane also posits here that the “Sofia Sentiment” letter is NOT by Jane – more on this in another post…] – and James who wrote plays and poetry throughout his life, and it was James with whom Jane shared a similar taste in literature.  Austen’s one negative comment about him [and the only negative comment about a family member] has perhaps been over-credited as her general view.  Lane goes on to compare James to Austen’s characters:  in youth, like Edmund Bertram; in later life, Dr. Grant!, and the use of the name “James” in two of her characters, James Morland and James Benwick, both young men who fell in love easily, a trait attributed to James Austen in his youth. 

Henry Austen, [Oh! what a Henry!] the brother who had a lot of enthusiasm [but often of the short-term variety!], is credited with being the chief negotiator with Austen’s first publisher Thomas Egerton, and likely helped to fund her publications.  He was the “interesting” brother, the one who married his “outlandish” cousin Eliza de Feuillide, the one who is likely the model for Henry Tilney, as well as Henry Crawford!  But Lane also gave us the side of Henry that resulted in the Biographical notice of Austen that began the “Dear Jane” view that persists today – Henry puffed up their social standing, and in the second edition added more religious references and removed the literary mentions of Burney and Edgeworth.  Lane also believes it was Henry’s ambition that resulted in Austen being buried in Winchester Cathedral rather than her beloved Steventon. In the end however, the immortality of both brothers “is only due to Austen’s genius.”

 On to the next two breakouts, and again a struggle to choose, but I decided on Peter Sabor’s “Brothers and Sisters for Brothers and Sisters:  Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, a wonderful discussion of the various dedications written by Austen to her siblings in her juvenile works.  This was very informative and enjoyable, Dr. Sabor being an energetic and engaging speaker, with all sorts of tidbits about Austen’s early works [he is the editor of the Cambridge edition of the Juvenilia].  As I have been reading through these works over the past few months [with much laughing out loud in the process!], this offered a different approach to the works based on her dedications, what Sabor feels were very thoughtful choices on Austen’s part.  As most readers of Austen know, none of her novels bear dedications, excepting of course Emma, where her over-wrought dedication to the Prince Regent was not of her own choosing!

After lunch, a quick pop-in to Lisa Brown’s fun fashion demonstration “Dressing Mr. Darcy” ~ with most excellent and accommodating models, walking the “runway” in all manner of Regency fashions for the men of consequence and their military counterparts.  [pictures forthcoming…]

The third Plenary session with Dr. Ruth Perry who eloquently spoke on the topic of the weekend, “Brotherly Love.”  The author of Novel Relations:  the History of the Novel and the Family in English Society 1750-1810, [and speaker at the Boston 2000 AGM on “Sleeping with Mr. Collins” for those who recall that!], Dr. Perry summarized how the changes in English society changed the view and treatment of women within the family:  as Susan Allen Ford in her session [as mentioned above] suggested, class mobility and geographical movement, changes in marriage choices, the inheritance laws, the increase in population, all led to changes in what was considered the immediate family – emphasis shifted to the conjugal family rather than the biological.  This is apparent in Austen’s own life with her dependence on her brothers’ voluntary support and provision of means of travel, when their priority was their own families.   Perry also emphasizes the literary / historical as well as the biological influences on Austen in her writings, and how good brothers = good husbands:  in Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney as affectionate brother and lover of muslin; John Thorpe shows his character by the way he talks to his sister and mother; Captain Tilney chafes at family responsibility; James Morland a good brother and friend to Catherine;   the various brother and sister ties in Mansfield Park – Edmund combines the conjugal and fraternal but is inattentive to his sisters [perhaps because there are two of them? – this is a good question…]; the selfish Henry Crawford, fond of Mary, but does not write to her or provide her with a home; Mr. Knightley who speaks of Mr. Martin as an excellent son and brother; Charles Musgrove, who tellingly supports his sisters over his wife; the housekeeper’s praise of Mr. Darcy as a good brother… etc. … lots to mine here as you can see – the need to re-read each book to just look at the brothers and what they do and say and what they don’t!

book cover my dear charlotte

Last breakout session – Jan Fergus on “My Dear Charlotte” the new book by mystery writer Hazel Holt.  I wanted to hear Dr. Fergus’s talk because I had just read the book and was intrigued by it – it is a novel set in the early 19th century written in letters, like Austen’s Lady Susan, but Holt uses selected words or sentences or ideas from the text of Austen’s actual letters and weaves in Austen’s words with her own story.  It is a fun read [I will review it in another post] – and what Fergus calls the “only successful imitation of Austen” on the market today.  The plot does not come from Austen, only those words taken out of context that fit into Holt’s story – at once a mystery and a romance.  Fergus is a friend of Holt, and after her talk she graciously made herself available in the Regency Emporium to offer the book with signed bookplates for sale.  I highly recommend it – the most fun is the ferreting out Austen’s words from Holt’s – it helps to be very familiar with Austen’s letters!


dancing longways rowlandson

 The Banquet and Regency Ball: after a few moments at the author’s book signing table, on to a delicious dinner to meet old and new friends at our table, watched the promenade of those regally dressed, and took some pictures for your viewing enjoyment [all photographs shown with permission of the subjects! – and will be forthcoming…]


And after watching the dancers for a bit, I wandered into the evening talk I unfortunately only heard the last two-thirds:  Dr. Janine Barchas on “The Sister Arts and Jane Austen”, a fascinating visual exploration of the surnames and places that Austen uses in her novels and the possible connection to contemporary artists:  Reynolds, William Hodges, William Larkin, and Charles Hayter’s miniatures.  It was a packed, standing room only crowd for those non-English Country Dancers among us [though I do so love to dance!] – and all were entranced with this take on names in Austen.  [Dr. Barchas will be presenting an address titled “A Big Name: Jane Austen and the Wentworths” at the August 2010 conference Jacobites and Tories, Whigs and True Whigs: Political Gardening in Britain c.1700 – c.1760, to be held at Wentworth Castle, given by the Wentworth Castle Trust and The Garden History Society.]

Charles hayter minitature

[Charles Hayter miniature – from Wikipedia]

Day 4:  After some housekeeping duties for the Regional Coordinators [a great meeting for sharing ideas, as always…but alas! missed the Episcopal Church Service at the historic Christ Church], we all gathered for the final Plenary session with John Mullan as he addressed us all on “Sisterly Chat” – a wonderfully engaging and humorous talk that will yet again send one back to all the novels for a re-read with a view to all the goings-on between sisters!  The sister relationship was paramount in Austen’s own life and thus in the novels; there is indeed more “chat” between sisters than between lovers.  Mullan is talking about the intimate talk between sisters when they are alone in a special place – the films show this visually, but in the books you have to look for it closely.  He reviewed the controversy from a few years back – “Was Jane Austen Gay?” complete with the newspaper articles and letters, the question hinging on the sleeping arrangements between she and Cassandra – Mullan quoted the final letter in the months-long submissions of raging letters which referenced the furniture company records that proved that Jane and Cassandra did indeed have separate beds!  But all this led to the many examples of the various sisters in the novels and how and where they do or do NOT share confidences.  And after quoting Keats’s “unheard talk”, Mullan runs through the examples of the talk that takes place off-stage, where the reader is “invited to infer what has been said”, with nods to Fanny [his favorite parts of Mansfield Park are when Fanny is not there!], the sisters Steele in what he calls their “mutual espionage” and of course can you imagine the chat between the Bingley sisters who are “always together, almost ganging up” on all around them!  This was fabulous – I hope it will be published in Persuasions, so all may enjoy this fresh approach!

bingley sisters

The Bingleys in P&P

So another AGM is done – I have skimmed over a lot – there were the essays by high school and college students, and the winning short story in that contest [see the JASNA site to read these – very inspiring to see another generation making room for Austen’s books in their lives!]; Steve Lawrence, the Director of Chawton House Library quickly summarized all the goings-on and handed out hearty thanks to all of JASNA for the generosity of so many members. 

The JASNA banner was then dutifully passed on to the coordinators in the  Oregon / Southwest Washington Chapter who will be hosting next year’s AGM:  Jane Austen and the Abbey:  Mystery, Mayhem and Muslin in Portland on the Halloween weekend of October 29-31.  We were also given a delightful treat by the North Texas Region, who will be hosting us in October 14-16, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas for  200 Sense & Sensibility, celebrating the 200th anniversary of its publication –  two very cute cowboys [and they could sing too!], who to the tune of “Home on the Range” gave us a good sampling of how terrific this 2011 AGM will be [“chatting with Deirdre Le Faye” brought the house down!]  

Final thanks to Elizabeth Jane Steele and her team at the Eastern Pennsylvania JASNA Chapter, who put on a lovely weekend – no words really to thank all the volunteers who have spent countless hours in preparation, just so a very appreciative crowd of Austen-obsessed souls could spend four days in the early nineteenth century! – I know this Janeite is still having troubling re-entering the 21st!

[Posted by Deb]

2 thoughts on “Jane Austen in Philadelphia ~ the JASNA 2009 AGM ~ Part 2

  1. Wow, sounds like you had a wonderful, lovely but over to quickly time. Please rest up a bit and then show us your pictures as they saying goes…. the pictures make the post!


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