The JASNA AGM in Washington, DC last weekend was absolutely wonderful. I enjoyed spending several days with JASNA members listening to presentations and participating in conversations about Jane Austen and her Emma. I’m grateful to everyone who helped organize “Emma at 200: ‘No One But Herself,’” especially Debra Roush and Linda Slothouber, Conference Coordinators.
On Thursday, Louise West and Mary Guyatt spoke about plans for “The 1817 Bicentenary in England” (Louise West, on the importance of Steventon and Chawton: “it was Hampshire that made Jane”); Sue Dell described the creation and preservation of the quilt sewn by Jane and Cassandra Austen and their mother; Deborah Charlton talked about the archaeological excavation of Steventon Rectory in a session on “Jane Austen’s Birthplace” and quoted James Edward Austen-Leigh, who said that “The most ordinary articles of domestic life are looked on with some interest, if they are brought to light after being long buried”; Gillian Dow gave a virtual tour of “Jane Austen’s Emma at 200: From English Village to Global Appeal” and spoke of Austen’s connections with the wider world through her brothers’ experiences (“although she didn’t travel much herself, she travelled through them”); and Jack Wang offered a behind-the-scenes look at the Cozy Classics board book adaptation of Emma and showed pictures of the felted figures he and his brother Holman created (“This strange alien creature is Mr. Elton before he got his head put on,” he said at one point. I wish I’d taken a picture of Mr. E.). At a luncheon/lecture/performance called “‘I must leave off being young’: Jane Austen in 1816,” Angela Barlow and Hazel Jones (presenting on behalf of Maggie Lane, who was unable to attend the AGM) highlighted the fact that Emma, unlike other Austen heroines, looks forward to what her life will be like when she reaches the age of 40 or 50.
And all of those sessions took place before the conference officially began on Friday afternoon, with Bharat Tandon’s plenary lecture on things that are hidden in plain sight in Emma. “Austen’s astonishing achievement in this novel,” he suggested, “is that fiction and reality each become the other’s visible world.” Susan Allen Ford paid close attention to Robert Martin and Harriet Smith in her plenary session on Saturday, and talked about how Mr. Martin’s “reading allows us to imagine an interior life for him.” At the closing session on Sunday, Juliette Wells described her research on the six surviving copies of the 1816 American edition of Emma (and talked about the annotations in the New York Society library copy, including “Mr. Knightley—tolerable,” “Emma—intolerable,” “Harriet—very pleasant,” and “El[ton]—d____d sneak”).
I loved learning from Cheryl Kinney, Theresa Kenney, and Liz Philosophos Cooper about “Fictive Ills, Invalids, and Healers” in Emma and from Elaine Bander about “‘Liking’ Emma Woodhouse.” (Jane Austen famously said of Emma that she was going to take a heroine “whom no one but myself will much like.”) In my own session, I explored what it means that Emma is described as “faultless in spite of all her faults.” As always, with several breakout sessions scheduled at the same time, it was impossible to hear all of them, and I’m looking forward to reading about sessions I missed when JASNA’s journals Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line are published.
Perhaps some of you who were in Washington last weekend would be willing to comment on this post to share your experiences of the AGM. I missed out on several tours and events as well as breakout sessions. I found myself wishing I had bought a ticket for the candlelight tour of Mount Vernon, for example, and the “Illuminated Washington” tour, and I heard from several people that Friday’s “Salon Concert at Hartfield” by Ensemble Musica Humana was fabulous. (I didn’t have a ticket to the concert and that evening I watched the PBS documentary “Hamilton’s America,” which was also fabulous. No direct connection with Jane Austen—although the musical “Hamilton” is definitely about what it means to be ambitious, and, as many of you know, I’m very interested in the topic of Austen and ambition.)
I enjoyed catching up with the contributors to “Emma in the Snow” who attended the AGM, including Deborah Barnum, Carol Chernega, Gillian Dow, Susannah Fullerton, Theresa Kenney, Cheryl Kinney, Deborah Knuth Klenck, Dan Macey, Paul Savidge, Maggie Sullivan, Kim Wilson, and Deborah Yaffe, and several of us sat together at the banquet on Saturday. Mutton was not on the menu, but we did talk about the recipes Dan included in his wonderful guest post, “Discovering Mutton in Emma.”
I spent most of the weekend in the hotel, but I did get a few photos of Washington. Here’s what I saw on my early morning run on Thursday:
And here’s what I saw on the way back to the hotel after I visited “Will & Jane” at the Folger Shakespeare Library. I missed the curators’ talk by Janine Barchas and Kristina Straub on Wednesday evening, unfortunately, and it was great to have the chance to tour the exhibit on Friday morning (and then catch a ride on this shuttle bus).
The exhibit includes the famous white shirt worn by Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series—but that wasn’t my favourite part. (If you’re interested, you can read my thoughts on Mr. Darcy here: “Why is Mr. Darcy So Attractive?”) What I liked best about “Will & Jane” was the opportunity to think of Jane Austen as a playwright and/or an actor, and as the author of novels that continue to inspire others to write plays and screenplays and other creative works. The manuscript of the play “Sir Charles Grandison” was displayed alongside Emma Thompson’s screenplay for the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.
This year’s AGM has inspired me to read more about the Austen family’s interest in attending, writing, and performing in plays, to explore the various journeys undertaken by Jane and her siblings, to reread Emma yet again (this time paying more attention to what characters are reading and to what’s visible or invisible), and to continue to think about the ways in which Jane Austen’s life and writings inspire readers to create new works of their own, whether they—or rather, we—are writing essays or fiction or picture books or plays and screenplays, or designing and sewing quilts or period costumes. (I took a few photos of Janeites in costume at the Regency ball on Saturday evening, but they’re a bit blurry, so I won’t include them here. Someday I’ll stop relying on my iPhone for everything and invest in a camera so I can take better photos indoors.)
Reading about Austen’s legacy will be excellent preparation for next year’s JASNA AGM, “Jane Austen in Paradise,” in Huntington Beach, California, which focuses on “how Jane Austen has influenced literary and popular culture, and how she has been reimagined by succeeding generations of Austen scholars and enthusiasts in the 200 years of her ‘afterlife.’”
Next on my reading (and rereading) list, then: Jane Austen and the Theatre, by Paula Byrne; Jane Austen’s Journeys, by Hazel Jones; the Penguin edition of Emma, edited by Juliette Wells (I read Bharat Tandon’s beautifully illustrated Harvard University Press edition when I was preparing my talk for the AGM, but I haven’t read the new Penguin edition yet); The Joy of Jane: Thoughts on the First 200 Years of Austen’s Legacy (essays by Maggie Lane, Deirdre Le Faye, Susannah Fullerton, Ruth Williamson, Carrie Bebris, Emily Brand, Penelope Friday, Amy Patterson, Nigel Starck, Margaret Sullivan, and Kim Wilson), and Among the Janeites, by Deborah Yaffe, because I remember that Deborah talks about the ways in which Jane Austen inspires creativity in her readers.
I’m also partway through rereading Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, and I’m planning to read Persuasion again soon—along with Brian Southam’s Jane Austen and the Navy and Sheila Kindred’s essays on Charles and Francis Austen and the time they spent in Halifax, Nova Scotia—as I prepare to write two lectures for the June 2017 Jane Austen Society (UK) conference in Halifax. (Sheila and I will be giving a joint lecture on “Charles and Francis: Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers on the Royal Navy’s North American Station” and I’ll also be speaking on “Anne Elliot’s Ambitions.”)
I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that attending a conference devoted to Emma Woodhouse has inspired me to draw up an ambitious reading list….
I think I’ll begin by rereading the Cozy Classics Emma, which is just twelve words long.