Janeites at the Morgan

A triple series of Janeite interest in the Pierport Morgan Library & Museum’s Austen Exhibit —

From Janeite Hope:

From now until March 14th the Morgan Library and Museum is exhibiting “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy.” According to the website, the exhibition “explores the life, work, and legacy of Jane Austen (1775–1817), regarded as one of the greatest English novelists. Offering a close-up portrait of the iconic British author, whose popularity has surged over the last two decades with numerous motion picture and television adaptations of her work, the show provides tangible intimacy with Austen through the presentation of more than 100 works, including her manuscripts, personal letters, and related materials, many of which the Morgan has not exhibited in over a quarter century.”

There is an online exhibition that includes images of pages from the manuscript of “Lady Susan” along with a short documentary film commissioned for the exhibit. The film contains brief interviews with several writers, scholars, and actors (you’ll recognize Harriet Walker – Fanny Dashwood in the Thompson Sense and Sensibility). Though the interviews are interesting, what I like best about the documentary is watching the participants handle Austen’s letters and manuscripts. Bit of a vicarious thrill, there.

More at: www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/exhibition.asp?id=22

 

From Janeite Suzanne:

I’d never been to the Morgan, so I’m glad to have discovered it. There was a little film showing downstairs in the theater to introduce the JA exhibit. It had a variety of people giving their thoughts about the letters. It was ok, but seemed like rather a stretch to pad the exhibit and not particularly valuable. And it bothered me a bit to see someone actually handling the letters. They were also playing the movie, none too quietly, in the actual exhibit room which I found annoying because at that point I wanted to enjoy looking at the letters undisturbed.

They were hard to read, of course, but one could read much of it, even with cross writing and that was nice. Seeing the actual “JA” was a thrill. I was surprised that one letter had the JA squished right down to the edge of the paper and the “a” was a large lowercase a, not the one we think of as her signature and which was on everything else.

 There were period copies of the books she would have read and some delightful period satirical illustrations, but what I liked best was a letter she’d written to a youthful Cassy. It would have been better if the presenters hadn’t “translated” it for us because that was the fun. I felt that I gained some insight into J’s character from seeing how she wrote this to a child and also that she was able to form the words as smoothly as if they had been familiar letters sequences. I shall have to make up my own text, but it will give you the idea of her “code”.

Read Yssac,

Ew Era ta emoh yadot dna ti si gniniar. Spahrep ew lliw eb elba ot og rof  a egairrac edir siht noonretfa. I ylniatrec epoh os esuaceb ereht era ynam sgniht ew dluohs tisiv erofeb ew evael Thab.

Rouy gnivol tnua, Enaj

Now, wasn’t that fun! It’s much harder than simply writing backwards, especially the capitalization. Now I have to wonder if she thought it up herself.

 

from Janeite Bonnie:

JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW:

Last night, I went to the Morgan Library and Museum’s exhibition “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy”, and, oh, what I saw!! I didn’t know that the Morgan holds the world’s largest collection of Austen’s letters, 51 of the 160 known ones. The curators trotted out many of the more well-known letters, and it was thrilling to see them in the original hand. Among the Austenalia I got to examine:

–cross-hatched letters and letters with lines excised by Cassandra
–the backwards letter to her niece Cassy
–the letter in which she writes of the gentleman on which she “once doated”
–the letter in which she writes of having a shaking hand from having drunk so much wine, and mentions the woman with the diamond bandeau, pink husband, and fat neck, and James Digweed having made a gallant remark about the two elms falling down in grief over the absence of Cassandra (a particularly enjoyable letter, and dated November 20–serendipitously read by me 209 years to the day later)
–the letter in which she drew the pattern of the lace for her new cloak
–the letter in which she asks Cassandra to tell Fanny that she has found a portrait that looks “excessively like” how she pictures Mrs. Bingley
–the page on which she sums up her expenditures for a year
–her satirical “Plan of a Novel” (very difficult to read)
–Cassandra’s letter to Fanny describing Austen’s last days and her death
–some pages of the manuscript of “The Watsons” with much editing
–some pages of the manuscript of “Lady Susan” (of which the Morgan holds the entire manuscript)
–James Stanier Clarke’s letter to Austen, in which he tells her that it is not *incumbent* on her to dedicate her next novel to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, but…
–first editions of all six novels, including the spines of a three-volume set of “Emma” with the price on the original labels
–one of the books that Austen owned, “The Spectator”, with her signature and “Steventon” inscribed inside

There was other material on display related to Jane Austen, such as books by Richardson and Cowper, a copy of “Camilla” open to the page of subscribers where “Miss J. Austen, Steventon” is listed (believed to be the only time her name was in print before her death), Walter Scott’s original journal open to the page of his comment about Austen’s “exquisite touch” versus his “Big Bow-wow strain”, material by Yeats, Nabokov, and Kipling, an edition of Pride and Prejudice with a preface by George Saintsbury (he who coined the term “Janite”, now “Janeite”), and, to top it off, original prints by James Gillray interspersed among Austen’s letters to punctuate some of the trenchant comments she made in them.

As a little bonus, on the way out I stopped by Mr. Morgan’s library and took a peep at the original 1843 manuscript of “A Christmas Carol” and one of the three Gutenberg Bibles (1455) in the Morgan collection.

All I can say is, I’m so thankful for the Morgans’ use of their money in this manner.

in a second email, the following wonderful & exciting tidbit was added:

I have one more thing to tell. It happened during the question-taking portion of the gallery talk. One of the enthusiasts in the crowd questioned Declan Kiely, the curator of the exhibition, about the attribution of one of the documents — a scrap attributed to Jane Austen, with the titles of all her novels. The woman questioned whether it was actually Jane Austen who had written it, as the title “Persuasion” was listed, and she thought that that was the title Henry had given it after Jane’s death, and that she had always called it “The Elliots”. I had read that too, but I wasn’t sure that it had not been settled on before her death, as there are other theories out there.

Afterwards, a few of us compared it with the note that she wrote summing up some profits from her books, which was in the same frame, and we saw that the capital P’s didn’t match. However, now that I see the “Profits” scrap close up on the Morgan website, I do see two different ways that Austen wrote capital P on the same scrap

(See the P in “Mansfield Park”, then compare it to the P in “Profits from Emma” quite near the blot of ink.)

If it is the case that Jane Austen habitually wrote her capital P two ways, then the scrap with all the titles of her novels that is attributed to her would confirm that she intended the title of her last novel to be “Persuasion”, and all the speculation should be laid to rest.

I think it will require another trip to take a closer look and see if there are similarities of script in Cassandra’s letter to Fanny, and look for capital P’s in all of Jane Austen’s other letters…

I don’t know if people are aware of this, but the Morgan has no entrance fee from 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM on Fridays.

In the News!

WilloughbyJane Odiwe has just announced the publication of her latest novel: Willoughby’s Return.

“I’m writing to everyone about my new book Willoughby’s Return, which is about to be published on November 1st and I’m hoping you will help me spread the word by mentioning its release to anyone you think might be interested.

Here’s a bit of blurb from the publisher Sourcebooks:

A lost love returns, rekindling forgotten passions…

In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, when Marianne Dashwood marries Colonel Brandon, she puts her heartbreak over dashing scoundrel John Willoughby in the past. Three years later, Willoughby’s return throws Marianne into a tizzy of painful memories and exquisite feelings of uncertainty. Willoughby is as charming, as roguish, and as much in love with her as ever. And the timing couldn’t be worse, with Colonel Brandon away and Willoughby determined to win her back, will Marianne find the strength to save her marriage, or will the temptation of a previous love be too powerful to resist?”

Jane is also doing a blog tour, and to celebrate publication there will be giveaways, competitions to win books and paintings, plus interviews over the next couple of weeks.

Information on her blog: http://www.janeaustensequels.blogspot.com/

* * *

One of my favorite websites is the book ‘repository’ A Celebration of Women Writers. Mary Mark Ockerbloom, our hostess who has been busy ‘rescuing’ books from Geocities (before that site closes down), has announced many additions to Celebrating Women’s website, but one in particular will interest Austen enthusiasts:

The Castle of Wolfenbach
by Eliza Parsons (1739-1811)
London : printed for William Lane, at the Minerva Press, and sold by
E. Harlow, 1793.

Writes Mary in her email introduction about the latest additions: “My personal favorite of the new titles, however, is Eliza Parsons’ “The Castle of Wolfenbach”. One of the seven “horrid novels” recommended with delightful anticipation by Isabella Thorpe in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, The Castle of Wolfenbach is important as an early Gothic novel, predating both Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and Monk Lewis’s The Monk.

A virtuous young woman in peril, a wicked uncle, a mysterious castle, a noble lover, what more could one ask?

Read and enjoy”

We’d love to post a ‘review’, should anyone be interested in reading then writing…

* * *

And last – Google’s book site has *finally* given us some (note the word!) volumes of Austen’s 1811 Sense and Sensibility!!

Only volumes I and II have been found – though Google books is notorious for making it difficult to find all volumes of a title (anyone listening to this complaint, Google?). I have not yet gone through the two volumes, for Google books is also notorious for skipping pages, missing pages, popping in pages twice, mis-scanning, etc etc. Though where can most of us see an Austen first edition, except through such a site! Now if only they will give us volume III as well as finish off Pride and Prejudice by supplying volume I for that trio.

[Posted by Kelly]

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
(chorus)

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
(chorus)

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]

Elegant Arts Society invites you…

New Haven, Connecticut is the scene for the Elegant Arts Society’s Regency Assembly, taking place on Saturday, October 17; further events on Sunday, October 18:

country-dance-pic“Please join the Ladies and Gentlemen of The Elegant Arts Society for a weekend of the delightful dances of the era of Jane Austen, Napoleon, Lords Nelson and Byron, and Beau Brummel.” There will be country dances done in period style, quadrilles, waltzes (including the bouncy sauteuse waltz), and reels, including the lively nine-person Country Bumpkin. “Spare Parts” provides the music.

This is part of a weekend of events that includes a park stroll, and tea-and-games on Sunday. Venues are Trinity Lutheran Church and St. Thomas Episcopal Church, both in New Haven. Advance reservations are strongly recommended, as the Assembly has a limit of sixty attendees.

We include the flyer (in PDF): page 1 and page 2; and a registration form.

As well, for further information, dance-instructor Susan de Guardiola’s website (www.kickery.com) and an email address for the Elegant Arts Society (info at elegantarts dot org).

A dance workshop takes place on the Saturday from 2:00 to 4:30, with the Assembly Ball beginning at 7:30 p.m. Period costume is admired and encouraged, but not required (though they will assist you in proper attire should you desire!); otherwise, dress is formal for the ball, informal (no jeans or T-shirts) for the card party, and casual for the workshop.

[posted by Kelly, thanks to Janeite Bonnie]

An Austen Saturday

I write this Sunday morning, gentle reader, because “dinner” never broken up until Midnight! A good time was had by all, don’t you think??

***

Saturday in Hyde Park (Vermont) dawned fairly grey. The rain that had plagued Washington and New York City ceremonies yesterday has wended its way northward – but only enough to dampen, never enough to wet events for our Austen participants.

Suzanne’s Breakfast begins with a tasty honeydew slice, followed — if you would like — by oatmeal (a warm crunchy nut concoction today!), and finishes with stuffed French toast – served with real maple syrup, of course!

The dining room windows open out to a lovely view of green lawn, with hazy mountains closing in on the trees which are still green — but in a month’s time will display an explosion of color. On this grey day, a bit more cloud-cover hides the scenery from sight.

Let me introduce you to some of the Austenites here: There is Marilyn and Lenice, fast friends since high school, who hail from Texas (Marilyn had come to last January’s Persuasion weekend). Stacy, from Upstate New York (Ithaca way), has come with her sister Cheryl and their mother Cathy and family friend Marie. Maria, an avid hiker heading to Killington for a few days after this weekend, traveled up from Florida. There are a couple people much more local: our avid Austen-fan Mkay is here (yeah!) and later in the day will see the arrival of Diane and her husband, all coming down from my old home-area of Essex.

As breakfast ends, it is decided that Kelly will join Marie and Ann, a UMASS grad student, on a horse-and-buggie ride down in Stowe. The large party has been divided into groups of 3-4-3 and given half-hour segments. Our appointment with the horses is for 11:30 a.m.

Maria has gone on ahead, so Ann and I zoom through the narrow backroads of Hyde Park and Morristown (passing a nice used bookstore, which I haven’t visited in a few years but would recommend: The Red Brick Bookshop) and come off onto Route 100 just as the town of Stowe, with its shops and tourists, opens out into ‘downtown’. Our goal is Gentle Giants, up on the Mountain Road. The rain that sprinkled a tiny bit while I had popped down into Johnson to mail a bill (booooo!!!!) and then back up Route 15 to grab a little cash and some candies at the local BigLots!, now comes a bit more steadily. The distant sound of tinkling sleigh bells heralds the arrival of the foursome occupying the carriage in the ride ahead of ours.

carriageRed-haired Rochelle, the owner-operator, greets us, saying “I thank God every day for working with these animals, and in this beautiful place.” Given the uncertain weather, we all were taken out in the buggy with a retractable roof. Brave Maria decids to sit on the box with the driver — although, she confesses sotto voce, that she is afraid of heights! She later confirms that she did indeed have a quite good view. That leaves Ann and I in the back, under the hood. Our carriage seems to be the one IDed as the ‘vis-a-vis’, for four. Our horses were the greys, Jack and Mack

We travel at quite the leisurely pace (undoubtedly necessitated by the country lane, as well as the length of the horse-trail — which, if taken at break-neck speed, would shorten the half-hour drive), but what surprises is the time the horses take for doing horsey-kinds-of-things. When they have to ‘go’, they have to go – and they halt in mid-stride. According to Rochelle, when one relieves, the other one will follow suit. So you sit and wait. That’s something you never see in the movies!

When I first joined the Austen weekends, back at the end of January, the threesome staying the entire weekend went on a SLEIGH ride; how wonderful that must be! This time of year, with the seasons just about to change from summer to fall here in New England, it is a quiet ride through lush greenery, sometimes crossing the Stowe Recreational Path and sometimes plotted beside a clear, babbling stream. The turn-around is an expansive field, which offers beautiful views of a cloud-enshrouded Mount Mansfield.

As we exchange our carriage for our cars (and a drive down into Stowe for a brief look-around), I close this diary briefly.

Our Austen Weekend Begins…

It is well past midnight and I should be asleep, for breakfast comes bright and early at 8 am. But – with WiFi in the room I occupy – I just had to log on and chat about this — my third — Jane Austen Weekend at Hyde Park. There are several posts about these Governor’s House Austen weekends, so I will ask you to search for them rather than try to link them for you.

This is our largest group yet (prior weekends were held in January and August), with the book I am covering: Pride and Prejudice. Of course all these active minds engendered MUCH discussion this evening, which makes for a fast ice-breaker. A couple people are lucky — they met last year over Persuasion (at which inn owner Suzanne Boden served as ‘guest lecturer’ for Friday night talks on the British navy; you can join Suzanne for this novel in 2011 [next year the focus is on Sense and Sensibility]) and have come again for a whole new novel and some new experiences. That’s the interesting thing here: this is not the first time I’ve heard people say ‘I made a friend here’.

The weekend opens with my talk (over beverages and dessert), which centers on Georgiana Darcy. We get to discuss Georgiana and her life as we know it (through Austen’s writing), and then extrapolate how a young lady of means might have spent her life by looking at the art work of three ladies.

Our August group seemed to pull a lot of information from one or two pictures of each artist – for we divide into groups to look at samples, then come together again to talk about everyone’s thoughts and ideas. It was interesting, then, in that one group was quite taken with the depiction of children our youngest artist included in her series of pictures; another group noticed the expert use of composition in one or two paintings of our teen artist; and the third group was astonished at the minute detail in depictions of interiors by our third artist.

The group tonight found life as lived at the time more interesting, and critiqued the pictures as artwork much more. They appreciated the ‘story-telling’ of our youngest artist; spotted all the social situations our teen artist had to offer; and thought the interiors were a bit ‘sad’ due to their ‘depopulatedness.’ (One person observed, in the dining room, that the table was set, but there was no one to dine! In August these lived-in but peopleless interiors made me think of the Dennis Sever House; today, tonight, this morning, it makes me think of a Royal Museum I visited in Vienna, where the rooms awaited the arrival of Empress Elisabeth [“Sisi”]). All opinions are valid, and makes clear, from a speaker’s point of view, just how the same pieces of art work strike different people.

I fear I express these thoughts badly – if I do, put it down to tiredness! And much stimulating conversation, before, during and after the talk.

So, content yourselves with ideas of lively discussion; and then talk that turned, as it always does, to books and TV, Austen’s life, England. Suffice it to say, that a pleasant evening was passed.

queen mumI write to you sitting atop a high bed (others may use the steps, but, being tall, I don’t bother with them) in the so-called “English Room“, staring between the posts of this four-poster bed at what has to be a portrait of a young Queen Mother. There is a pair of comfortable wing chairs, set to either side of the fireplace. I can imagine cosy evenings with the snow coming down (though do I use my fireplace at home when the snow tumbles down?? nope…). The tall and wide windows look out on the side lawn as well as the back porch, which beckons with its white wicker furniture. Fall is my favorite time of year – and last week’s harvest moon was just a treat to see. What shall we wake up to? In August, it was a hazy and misty dawn – very similar to that photographed at the end of the 2005 P&P, though – alas – no Mr Darcy appears out of the mist… Maybe next time.