June 20-27, 2017: The Jane Austen Society of the UK is hosting a conference in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I’m one of the speakers, along with Sheila Kindred, Cheryl Kinney, John Mullan, and Peter Sabor. I’m giving two lectures: “Anne Elliot’s Ambitions” and (with Sheila Kindred) “Charles and Francis: Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers on the Royal Navy’s North American Station.”
I love talking about Jane Austen and Edith Wharton — please email me (semsley at gmail dot com) if you’d like me to speak to your group about their novels, their current popularity, and/or connections between the two writers.
In addition to speaking about Austen and Wharton at many Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) AGMs and Regional meetings, at academic conferences, at the Rothermere American Institute (University of Oxford), and at the Humanities Center at Harvard, I’ve given talks and led discussions for several reading groups, including the Mothers’ Discussion Club (founded in 1899) in Cambridge, MA; the Church of Our Saviour Adult Education Group in Brookline, MA; the University of King’s College Chaplaincy Seminar Series; and the Dalhousie-King’s Reading Group in Halifax, NS.
In June 2015 I spoke on “Austen and Ambition” in Philadelphia at a meeting of the JASNA Eastern Pennsylvania Region, and I’ll continue to explore this topic in upcoming lectures on Emma and Persuasion. Is ambition a vice or a virtue? What’s the connection between ambition and happiness — or is there one? Read more about my current project here: “Austen and Ambition.”
I’m interested in the way Austen and Wharton have inspired creativity in others and I’m fascinated by the range of responses to their lives and works in films, novels, and other adaptations. A few of my favourites: the Cozy Classics board book versions of Pride and Prejudice and Emma, the Real Reads adaptations of Austen’s novels for young readers, Juliet McMaster’s illustrated version of Austen’s story The Beautifull Cassandra, the ITV series “Lost in Austen,” the 1995 A&E/BBC “Pride and Prejudice” series, the 1995 film “Persuasion,” the 1993 film “The Age of Innocence,” and The Age of Desire, a novel about Wharton’s life by Jennie Fields.
I also have a special passion for drawing readers back to the texts of the novels, and from December 23, 2015 to March 19, 2016, I hosted a series of guest blog posts and conversations about Emma, in honour of the novel’s 200th anniversary. In 2014, I was particularly interested in celebrating 200 years of Austen’s brilliant Mansfield Park. Ask me why I believe it’s a successful tragedy, rather than a somewhat disappointing romantic comedy.