One of the many highlights of this year’s JASNA AGM in Montreal was definitely Lynn Festa’s plenary session on “The Noise in Mansfield Park,” in which she showed us why this novel is Jane Austen’s “noisiest book.” Fanny Price may appear to be a quiet heroine, but both her interior life and her exterior surroundings are anything but peaceful. Lynn talked about how “it’s very difficult to quote noise” because it’s something we hear, but don’t really listen to. In Mansfield Park, she suggested, Austen asks us to pay close attention to noise, to listen carefully.
It really was a fabulous weekend of listening to people talk about Mansfield Park, just as I expected it to be. (Here’s last week’s blog post on “Mansfield Park in Montreal,” with details about things I was looking forward to.) It was great to meet up with several of the contributors to “An Invitation to Mansfield Park,” some of whom I met in person for the first time, after many conversations on-line. Many of our JASNA Nova Scotia members went to this year’s AGM, too.
It was a pleasure to attend talks by so many excellent speakers, including Juliet McMaster on “Female Difficulties: Austen’s Fanny and Burney’s Juliet,” Lorrie Clark on “Giving Mr. Rushworth a Brain: Austen Re-Minds Modernity,” Peter Graham on “‘Every generation has its improvements’: The Aesthetics and Ethics of Domestic Space,” Natasha and Frederick Duquette on “Fanny Price Amidst the Philosophers,” and Marcia Folsom, who introduced the new MLA volume Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Mansfield Park.
The food at the banquet (including an apricot tart for dessert, because “a good apricot is eatable”) was excellent and it was a delight, as always, to see people in period costume at the Regency Ball.
Many of us went to Morning Prayer at St. George’s Anglican Church on Sunday morning (“A whole family assembling regularly for the purpose of prayer is fine!”), which was followed by brunch and a very entertaining talk on the Georgian Royal Navy by Patrick Stokes, former Chairman of the Jane Austen Society (UK) and a direct descendant of Jane Austen’s “own particular little brother,” Rear-Admiral Charles Austen.
“A Dangerous Intimacy: Behind the Scenes at Mansfield Park,” the play by Diana Birchall and Syrie James, was hilarious, and included not one but two surprise appearances at the end – the first by Bill James as Sir Thomas Bertram, and the second by Patrick Stokes as the Prince Regent. In her role as Mrs. Norris, Diana not only brought out the infamous green baize fabric, but also wore it, complete with a curtain rod.
I’m very grateful to Elaine Bander and her team for welcoming us to Montreal to celebrate Jane Austen and Mansfield Park. It was a wonderful weekend of good company and a great deal of conversation. I love that the beautiful tote bags for this AGM were handmade in India by women whose work is supported by April Cornell’s The Giving World Foundation.
And, after spending so much time inside at the conference hotel, I really enjoyed the chance to explore Montreal, especially the Botanical Garden and Mount Royal.
I’m glad that the celebrations of two hundred years of Mansfield Park aren’t over quite yet, and that I can look forward to reading several more contributions to my blog post series “An Invitation to Mansfield Park” this fall. (Coming soon: guest posts by Margaret Horwitz – tomorrow – and by Sarah Woodberry, Joyce Tarpley, Syrie James, John Baxter, Sharon Hamilton, Sara Malton, and many more. Please do subscribe to the blog, if you haven’t already, so you don’t miss any of their posts.)
I’m going to keep listening to Juliet Stevenson reading Mansfield Park over the coming weeks, too – listening to audiobooks always helps me slow down and attend to the details of Austen’s language. I’m also keen to read conference papers from this year’s AGM when they’re published in Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line.
And there are future AGMs to look forward to: “Living in Jane Austen’s World” in Louisville, Kentucky, with Inger Brodey, Rachel M. Brownstein, and Amanda Vickery as plenary speakers (October 9-11, 2015), and “Emma at 200: ‘No One But Herself’” in Washington, DC (October 21-23, 2016). Thanks, JASNA. It’s a pleasure to listen to, and participate in, conversations about Jane Austen.