Diary ~ Day Two
A morning of Regional Chapter training, an excellent gathering with many ideas thrown about. Kudos to the JASNA team for all their efforts in coordinating this…. I missed the dance classes but “duty called” and it was well worth it!
…and then on to the first Plenary with five North American scholars discussing “How Far Across Countries, Cultures and Disciplines does Jane Austen’s Legacy Reach?”
Elizabeth Lenckos, of the University of Chicago, introduced the panel and then queried the audience -“are we the protectors of Jane Austen’s legacy?”, discussed her iconic stature, and lamented that in many adaptations, both books and movies, the “power of her voice” goes missing.
Inger Sigrun Brodey, of the University of North Carolina, emphasizing that Austen’s books are alive (versus the term “legacy” which denotes “dead”), spoke about the various translations of Austen, especially the popularity of Chinese and Japanese editions.
Gillian Dow of the Chawton House Library, spoke on Austen’s contemporaries: Maria Edgeworth, Hannah More, Felicia Hemans, Ann Radcliffe, etc, as well as telling us about Isabelle de Montolieu’s translation of Austen’s Sense & Sensibility into French in 1815…though it was far from a direct translation with quite hysterical results, something akin perhaps to today’s many loose adaptations?
Paula Morantz Cohen of Drexel University and author of several scholarly works, but known mostly for her Jane Austen in Scarsdale / and Boca, spoke on the social realism and romantic idealism in Austen’s domestic novels – Austen’s greatest legacy being her ability to analyze homogeneous societies, and how that translates in today’s world to the social dynamics of a gated community in Florida (Boca), “Clueless” in a high school, or the British singles scene in “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”
…and finally Peter Graham, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and author of the newly released Jane Austen and Charles Darwin: Naturalists and Novelists” – that Austen and Darwin were the two greatest empiricists of the 19th century; true knowledge = right reason, that Austen “got the scale of a study just right;” she wrote what she knew, her three or four families in a country village, observing all with a fine eye.
A lively discussion followed…
The Breakout Sessions were many and varied, and as always at the AGM, I was in a quandary as to which to attend- you can see all the options at JASNA.org and I do hope that many of the talks will be published in this December’s Persuasions, and so with that in mind I went for the visual treat of Deirdre Gilbert’s talk on “Covering Jane Austen.” As a bookseller and collector I have long been interested in Austen’s illustrators, publishers and book bindings, so I was intrigued by this session.
Ms. Gilbert, an independent scholar, traced the history of covers and book jackets, focusing mostly on the British editions. Starting with the cheap “yellowbacks” published by Routledge and sold in train stations, to such bindings by Macmillan in the early 20th-century as the “Peacock” edition with illustrations by Hugh Thomson, and on to the Burt’s Home Library Series, the Everyman Series, Dent’s publications, Penguin’s first Classics Series (with a dancing penguin!) sold in “Penguincubators” in train stations (this quite an amazing marketing tool!…see below,) the varied original art for dust jackets from the 1940s on, and to the present day with all the varied covers on all the novels with either period art reproductions or original contemporary designs. A visual feast!
Next I was off to hear the always fabulous Edith Lank on “Louisa Sets Lord Brabourne Straight” – she delighted the huge crowd with pictures and stories about her Austen collection. She started collecting any edition of Mansfield Park that she could find, and not setting out to be a book collector, she happily went along like this accruing all sorts of Austen-related works until she happened upon one of the Austen signatures that family members had cut from her letters to give to admirers…this letter accompanied by a letter from Francis Austen – Ms. Lank most generously handed this over to the audience who lovingly passed it from one to the next , each of us quietly “oohing and aahhing” and taking it all in… She shared her lovely edition of Emma, and her tales of acquiring the many foreign translations she has, finding the world a smaller and friendlier place with the sharing of Austen’s words. All this capped with her copy of the 1884 Brabourne edition of the Letters in which she discovered the notes of Louisa Langlois Lefroy (Anna Austen’s daughter and wife of Septimus Bellas; Louisa is the author of the Bellas MS)… a quick finish to the talk (running out of time) left us with the tidbit that Eliza de Feuillide was indeed the daughter of Warren Hastings (Eliza had a son named Hastings with De Feuillide and later married Henry Austen) as the notes imply. We all left wanting to hear more….!
The evening was filled with “Mysteries and Characters” with another lively panel that included Stephanie Barron, Carrie Bebris, Jennifer Hunter, and Steve Martin (no, not THAT Steve Martin, but THIS Steve Martin was most entertaining…)
Following a brief but inclusive history of the detective story, Mr. Martin took us through his formula for determining the nature of personalities in Austen’s novels…sort of a Briggs-Myers test for fictional characters: the Good, True nature, Perceptive vs. the Bad, Facade, and Clueless. The ideal union would be based on an “intelligent love,” a partnership of the mind, with Darcy and Elizabeth being the perfect match (likened to Holmes and Watson!)…this was all quite a fascinating study and I am not giving its just due…but it gave food for thought, especially on how to characterize Henry Crawford (BPS: bad, perceptive and selfish) or Frank Churchill (GCS: good, clueless, and selfish)…get the idea?? [there was MUCH talk about Frank being “Good” !!]
Stephanie Barron, author of the Jane Austen mysteries, was asked why she chose Jane as the detective in her tales, rather than one of Austen’s characters… she explained that Jane is a “high analytic” with her reason predominant, she understands the human heart and motivation, and thus would make a perfect detective. Carrie Bebris on the other hand has the Darcys as her detectives because she felt that in Pride & Prejudice both Elizabeth and Darcy were the solvers of the underlying mysteries and she wanted to take that further – she sees them as the 19th-century Nick and Nora Charles. Both authors talked about their writing and revising techniques, use of language, and the incorporation of actual facts in Austen’s life and letters as starting points.
More on Day 3 tomorrow….