A First-Timer’s AGM

Upon arrival at the AGM Registration desk you are *marked* for the remainder of the conference: Pale blue ribbons on the name badges around your necks denote the First-Time AGM Attendees.

AGM 2009 bannerA bit too late to join in the prefunction Welcome Reception, my first official AGM engagement was the “conversation” between Elisabeth Lenckos and actress Elizabeth Garvie, better know to her Austen fans as Elizabeth Bennet (1980 BBC production). A rather long and narrow room meant those off to one side got a bit of a crook in our necks, but how thrilling to be all collected together to talk about what has to be my favorite production of P&P. The great pity was that no time was reserved for questions from the audience.

Dr. Lenckos’ questions were not especially thought-provoking, but they did bring out small tidbits about Ms. Garvie’s life in the nearly thirty years since this production, as well as some fascinating insights into  TV production of the period – sans steady cams and extensive on-location filming. Garvie credited being in “the right place at the right time” for her being cast as Elizabeth, though in her finely-drawn portrait her audience recognizes that “right time” might have gotten her in the door, while a rightness for the role got her before the cameras.

A couple memorable remembrances: During the first three weeks of their April to September filming schedule, all exterior shots were filmed — this included (on the third day!) the walk taken with Darcy after Elizabeth had accepted him!  Otherwise, they filmed episode by episode – Garvie likened the experience to “episodes shot like little plays.” She commented on the greater immediacy now possible with the smaller cameras. Then she related that while seated on the log to read Darcy’s letter, the log wobbled and over she fell!

The talk began late and ended early…

Friday packed in a full day, starting with a 10 am call to Tea: Mim Enck talking about tea, that is. She showcased some wonderful photographs of the women tea-pickers who work the slopes in tea-regions half a world away. From the audience comments and questions (yes, we did get to ask questions here), most of her information about the growing, picking, processing and drinking of tea was new to many. Guess they don’t order from my favorite loose-leaf tea company… One useful comment made: do a tea tasting with same tea but different water.

Spotted an interestingly-titled book in the hands of an audience member nearby: A History of Jane Austen’s Family. Wonder if there’s anything on Edward and Emma??

The next hour brought Louise West, of the Jane Austen House Museum (aka Chawton Cottage) and her discussion of the museum’s obtaining funding through the UK National Lottery Fund for its very recent house ‘make over’. Some background history was provided through pictures for those of us who don’t recognize all the names and faces that made Chawton Cottage what it was and has become – as well as the close ties between the ‘Cottage’ and the ‘House’ (Chawton House Library). Her discussion of bringing Austen and Austen’s home to young students and those who might otherwise be unable to afford a few hours there was very thought-provoking for those of us hoping to do the same sorts of outreach – without such a museum! – with our chapter organizations.

News included that the Austen quilt had been lent to an exhibition of quilts being held in Winchester! Great to see a photograph, too, of R.W.  Chapman (his are the editions I use when writing). Visit the website – all new!

Lunched at POSITANO with Janeites Deb and Carol; and got to meet the woman who is so good at sending membership information every month and on demand: Bobbie Gay. Nice to put a face to a name.

After lunch, 1:30 to be precise, the 2009 AGM was officially ‘opened’. The AGM coordinator, Elizabeth Jane Steele (how apropos her name) was our master of ceremonies at all of these mini-events. How did she manage to be everywhere? Though, obviously, no one does such coordinating singlehandedly and Eastern PA had a great pack of volunteers.

Jan Fergus, whom I had met in Montreal in the summer (giving an early version of this plenary speech), spoke on “‘Rivalry, Treacherybetween Sisters!’: Tensions between Brothers and Sisters in Austen’s Novels”. Poor Jan had injuried herself only a few weeks earlier, so she had to deliver her talk sitting down. We wish her a speedy recovery…

Break-out Sessions began at 3:15 – my session was Kathleen Anderson‘s “‘A Most Beloved Sister: The Influence of Sisterly Love on Romantic Relationships in Austen’s Novels”.

Little did I realize at the time, but the next speaker sat in the audience; they teach at the same Florida university. This was the 4:30 break-out session by Susan Jones on “‘My Brother was an Only Child”: Onlies and Lonelies in Jane Austen’s World of Brotherly Love”. As an only child, how could I not attend such a lecture??? Though the more informative proved to be Jones’ thoughts on the ‘lonelies’ in Austen (ie, Mary Bennet).

After a long afternoon on some rather uncomfortable chairs and hours of being talked at and lectured, I nipped back to the hotel room for some rest and hopes of less-intense headache.

Saturday brought a brighter day: it closed with the most interesting lecture of the entire AGM.

Carol and I joined AGMers for a lovely continental breakfast at the Sheraton Society Hill (the conference hotel), meeting JASNA members from as far away as California as well as closer-to-home Boston. One enthusiastic Boston member hadn’t read my last Persuasions article, but was absolutely thrilled that a non-professor actually gives Austen-related lectures and she just loved the idea of my combining Jane Austen with Abigail Adams. We all need a little encouragement from time to time…

Maggie Lane’s plenary talk opened today events (9:30). I had hoped on finding her Austens through Five Generations book at the Boutique – but nope… And more on books later.

Maggie Lane‘s “Brothers of the More Famous Jane: the Literary Aspirations, Achievements and Influence of James and Henry Austen” was right up my alley. In my research, these two brothers are on the fringe: James being the father of James-Edward Austen (my Emma’s eventual husband) and Henry having his stint as a banker — though, in conversation with Maggie Lane after her talk (I got her autograph!), she had never heard of the banking firm Goslings and Sharpe (but she did give me the name of someone who’s looked into Henry’s life as banker).

When the Break-out sessions began at 11:00 I had a good seat for one of the best presentations, “The Bingley Sisters Advise their Brother Charles” – the sisters played by sisters-in-law Liz Philosophos Cooper and Molly Philosophos. Although instructive to the audience, in words and PowerPoint pictures, I must confess that their talk’s title made me envision a different lecture. However, as a performance piece, with pointed humor pulled from what must be their favorite P&P (the 1995 Ehle/Firth production), simply brimming with information on Regency life and delightful visuals, the Bingleys provided a highpoint for an entertaining lecture.

The after lunch events began promptly at 1:00 – Lisa Brown‘s entertaining, enlightening and informative “Dressing Mr Darcy”, a fashion demonstration. Saying that she usually passed around the articles of clothing to an audience more in the range of 15 people, Ms Brown solved her problem by finding volunteer models. Oh the howls that came from the audience when they were told they ‘mustn’t touch the models’! One wished the runway was less “down the middle” (in such a large crowd it was difficult to see), but a few times the models took it upon themselves to stroll down side aisles, thereby giving those on the sides a chance to see what was being discussed – whether it was frills on shirts or the heft of an all-linen coat. The most enthusiastic model – the only Miss Darcy in the group – was simply a delight, and gave me the idea to dress in male clothing should I ever wish to go in costume (how much more comfortable!). BTW, Lisa, I will sooner or later get to emailing you about your handouts, as well as that letter reference to a “pudding”…

The next plenary speaker, Ruth Perry on “Brotherly Love”, followed on the heels of this memorable demonstration. Her concept focussed on Consanguinal versus Conjugal family, and how the trend changed more and more towards the conjugal over the nineteenth century. Quite useful for my research.

The 3 o’clock hour brought the last Break-out, and my session had been originally called “‘Brother and sister! No, indeed!’ From Friendship to Courtship in the Novels of Jane Austen”. Nora Stovel, however, informed her audience that the talk had taken a bit of a turn; while the opening Emma quote still retained its place in the title, the rest of it changed to “From Siblings to Suitors” and looked at pseudo-siblings (ie, Edmund) or paternalistic men (Darcy, Knightly) who end by courting. I had hoped for some insight on why Charles Smith (Emma’s brother) might have turned to a woman he’d grown up with after the death of his first wife. Alas… when late changes are made… the audience is the last to know.

I then made a quick dash across the hotel to the actual Annual General Meeting – a far smaller crowd! And at only a half-an-hour, business was quickly gotten through: new officers were named, including incoming President Iris Lutz — who was on hand as VP for Regions when our Vermont Chapter was first forming! It will be a pleasure to welcome her as President next year. Americans were prompted booted out so the Canadians could have their meeting; I darted back to my hotel room to change for the banquet – thereby missing the Author’s book signing. BUT: I had my signatures…

At Maggie Lane’s plenary talk, she was greeted by Freydis Welland – daughter of Joan Austen-Leigh and one of the movers behind the book A Life in the Country which shows off the silhouettes Edward Austen-Leigh cut for his young children in the 1830s. I had missed talking to Mrs Welland in obtaining Ms Lane’s signature in this book – but guess who showed up as a guest in the audience for the Bingley sisters!? I made bold and introduced myself afterwards; Mrs Welland was kindness itself – and even said she may have illustrations for my next article (though it may be harder to illustrate an article based on Emma’s cousins Lord and Lady Compton…unless she had more “shades” in her collection than I dare hope!). Likewise, on Friday I had introduced myself to Susan Allen Ford (after her talk, which I had not been able to attend); she is the hard-working editor of Persuasions, and is very complimentary of my work–especially “Derbyshires Corresponding,” which appeared in the last issue and appears online at JASNA.org.

At the banquet I sat between Carol and a woman from close-by PA. The volume of chatter in a room with 600 persons meant I only got a few words with the Southern woman sitting beside Carol and none at all really with those a mile away at the other half of the table! A bit of a squeeze (I suspect tables were more for parties of six?), but a delicious vegetarian ravioli. Tea came too late for me to want to imbibe and risk being awake all night. (My hotel room nestled between two highways and a major bridge to New Jersey meant I got about as much sleep as I manage at home being next to a highway and way too close to a ‘new and improved’ airport…) And wouldn’t you have thought a nice cup of tea just the thing at a Jane Austen convention – yet all participants were ever offered in the Break-out sessions was ice water.

After watching the promenade of Costumed participants (though I’m sure a few had on street clothes, just like me), I got a good seat for what turned out to be the most enlightening – and original – talk of the entire AGM: Janine Barchas on “The Sisterly Art of Painting and Jane Austen”. She opened with a litany of names – Wentworths, Elliots, etc. who had connections one with another in REAL life; she’s obviously been performing the feats of a true genealogist in tracing these connections. Needless to say, she had my full attention. But when she brought up names of artists – for we all know the well-conceived idea that in Mrs Reynolds (Pemberley’s housekeeper) Austen nodded at Sir Joshua Reynolds – who perhaps also appear in the naming of minor and not so minor characters, I was astonished: such an avenue of original, thought-provoking research! Janine is another one I promised to email, for Reynolds too portrayed portraits within portraits, as in his picture of Lady Cunliffe who wears her husband’s portrait on her wrist.

Needless to say, after this stimulation, even without cups of tea, I was wide awake half the night… As well I was looking foward to tomorrow’s Boutique and the books I had scoped out earlier.

Sunday opened with a quick breakfast and then off to the Regional Coordinators’ meeting. This was a stimulating session – meeting some who were old hands at being their region’s RC, while others were quite new to the position. Again, a wish for more time… An AGM goes so quickly (though some of the talks were a bit over long, especially when you sit on the same stackable chairs for days on end).

Breakfast brought a hello, come join us from Peter Sabor and his wife. I had first met Peter over email – he was in Surrey not far from where the Goslings lived – then met him in person at last December’s Jane Austen Birthday celebration in Montreal (he was their guest speaker).

The last speaker of the 2009 AGM, John Mullen, closed with his thoughts on “Sisterly Chat” – which brought up the remarkable ‘find’ that a Basingstoke furniture company had sold the Austens two beds, ie, for Cassandra and Jane; what things turn up in historical records, huh?!

The ‘promotions’, as announced in the program, proved to be promoting the next couple AGM regions with ‘invitations’ for the audience to come and join them. Poor Portland, Ore. had a hard act to follow (although they host the next, 2010, AGM on Northanger Abbey) when Fort Worth brought out two well-spoken gents and two musical cowboys and offered up Sense and Sensibility‘s 200th anniversary AGM. By the way, it was announced at the General Meeting that Pride and Prejudice‘s 200th anniversary (the 2013 AGM) was awarded to Minneapolis!

And I leave the AGM (and all this typing…) with their song, which still has my toes tapping. The tune is “Home on the Range” but the piece is entitled “Homeless on the Page“:


Oh give us a home,
Where Marianne roams,
And Colonel Brandon can visit all day
Where the rent is quite low,
And Fanny won’t go,
And London is not far away

Norland was entailed away,
Then Willoughby left for Miss Gray,
Lucy Steele gets a spouse,
But she’s still quite a louse,
Elinor is pragmatic all day

Come to Fort Worth and see,
A toast to Sense and Sensibility
There’s museums galore,
Teas, gardens, and tours,
And you can win the Texas Hold ’em Trophy

So in two thousand eleven,
Come to Texas, it’s heaven,
We will talk of Jane Austen all day

Learn the Two Step and Glide,
There’s a bull you can ride,
Or just chit-chat with Deirdre LeFaye

Oh give us a home on the range!!!!!!!

Singing cowboys: Leo Sherlock (Woody – Hank Dashwood) and Brian Keeler ( Willy – Johnny Willoughby); hear Leo’s band Mile 77 at  www.myspace.com/mileseventy7)
Lyrics by: Uncle Lenny, Craig, Cheryl, and Kathy 

[Posted by Kelly]

4 thoughts on “A First-Timer’s AGM

  1. Great write up Kelly. Thank you. It sounds wonderful and I hope I get to wear one of those blue ribbons some day. It’s one of my dreams.


  2. Just wanted to point out that the light blue ribbons for first-time attendees are meant to identify them to all attendees, to offer them a special welcome. Not meant as a bad thing at all!!!

    I’m glad you had a good time at the AGM. They do zip by, don’t they?


  3. Ah, you mistake me, Mags, if you think I meant ANYTHING but good thoughts on the pale blue ribbons… It’s a great idea! Pity there can only be one “first” AGM per person.

    Actually, it was *wonderful* to see SO MANY pale blues; I’m not looking at my notes, but think at the Business meeting (?) it was announced that there were something like 170 first-time attendees. That is astonishing. And so many people I met were new to JASNA. So it amazing to me that that level of interest — and commitment, even — is out there.


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