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The Ten Best Reasons to Go to a JASNA AGM, Or, Why I would celebrate Jane Austen’s Birthday
by Spiriting Her Around Such an Event
Well, I had the best of intentions to do a full write-up of all the major events at the latest JASNA AGM in Brooklyn – a special location for me personally as I am a New Yorker born and bred – but as I have mentioned elsewhere life gets in the way of our best-laid plans and as the AGM now seems light-years away, I propose to just offer a grand summary in the context of why one should go to this annual Jane Austen conference; and why do so many plan on being there year after year? Friends and family just shake their heads with the typical “she only wrote 6 books, whatever can you talk about for 4 days??” and I nod knowingly that a lifetime of conferences would not satisfy… It takes me a long while to re-enter the 21st century – how delightful it is to enjoy the late 18th and early 19th without all the attendant inconveniences! I shall make a best effort to give the salient points of this year’s conference, memory perhaps failing me, with a dependence upon sketchy notes, not enough pictures taken (and those that were, not very good…)
But as today is Jane Austen’s Birthday, I shall write this as a gift to her [see below for entering into a drawing for a surprise gift giveaway] – how would she react to all this annula hoopla, created in her honor to celebrate her life and work? – So let’s imagine that I have Jane Austen by my side, sort of like the Ghost of Christmas from Dickens’s famous tale leading her about the AGM – sadly she cannot participate, but only observe, what she does after all do best…
1. Meeting other Jane Austen fans and friends [the mere numbers would astonish her!]
Without a doubt the best part of every conference – this year more special for two reasons: I roomed with a cyberspace friend who I had never met or even talked to on the phone – nearly five years of emailing each other a friendship makes, so to finally meet Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World and to spend those late night hours together summarizing all we did each day was incomparable – so a hearty Thank You! to Vic for being such a great roomie!
This year the proximity of Brooklyn to both my former haunts in Connecticut and present haunts in Vermont brought many friends and JASNA-Vermont members who usually don’t come to the AGMs – and this was pure delight to catch up with everyone in an “all Jane” atmosphere… and of course the many JASNA friends I have made over the years were there in full force and the annual re-connection is always invigorating!
2. The “Things barely connected to Jane Austen but let’s put her in the mix somehow” events
[or things Jane probably knows all about anyway]:
Wednesday saw a good number of us at the Brooklyn Historical Society for a talk by Francis Morrone, an architectural historian, on “Brooklyn in the Time of Jane Austen” – a most lively and visually enlightening trek through Brooklyn in the late 18th century – Morrone posits that Austen would have known of Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker’s History of New York, an international best-seller in her time, and she would also have heard of the Aaron Burr (a friend of Mary Wollstonecraft) and Alexander Hamilton duel. Walt Whitman? – born on Long Island in 1819, just missing an overlap with Austen…
3. Things that aren’t really about Jane at all [but that Jane would appreciate]:
I spent all of Thursday at the Frances Burney AGM, held at the New York City Bar Association, another architectural marvel, and heard various scholars speak to the topic of “Love, Money, and the Marketplace in Burney” – a day of much thoughtful and insightful chat on Burney as a novelist, diary-keeper, and playwright. The day ended with a curated talk at the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection,, wherein we had the privilege of ogling over the many Burney manuscripts in the collection – her handwritten plays, journals and even a poem she had written at the age of eleven. A delightful day, much like “The Beautiful Cassandra”: “This was a day well-spent.” [delicious lunch by the way at Kellari Taverna just down the street from the NYC Bar Association on West 44th Street.]
4. The Emporium [wherein Jane, agog, would find all manner of goodies]:
Ok, I confess, I am NOT a shopper, hate the time spent to outfit oneself and even to eat, but the JASNA Emporiums never disappoint – how could they? – everything there Austen-related somehow… I already posted on my book haul, mostly all from Jane Austen Books [you can read that here] – but there are many other things to look over, purchase, or add to want-lists, many JASNA regions host tables and there is always the joy of meeting up with the Chawton House Library crowd [Steve Lawrence, Gillian Dow, and this year Eleanor Marsden] – and Tim Bullamore from Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, and a delight to meet for the first time Susannah Fullerton from Australia’s JASA signing her latest book A Dance with Jane Austen.
5. The Plenary Speakers [oh my goodness, how she would be blown away by these three people!]:
*Every year is a treat to see and hear the headliners, Brooklyn hosting Anna Quindlen – laughter and tears as she told her tale of the ability of Austen’s books to transcend time and space (so hoping her wonderful talk “Jane Austen is My Homegirl” will be published in Persuasions – and I see in a note in the new Persuasions online that both the Quindlen and West talks will be in Persuasions 34 released in the Spring of 2013 )
*Dr. Cornel West – a gripping, “I must listen and not take any notes” kind of glistening meditation on why Jane Austen still resonates – this quote too marvelous not to share: “Philosophers deal with Flames; Jane Austen is the Fire.”
[See Cornel West on Austen at the Morgan Library website: http://www.themorgan.org/video/WestOnAusten.asp ]
*And finally, Sandy Lerner, founder of Chawton House Library and now Chairman of the Trustees, on “Money Then and Now: Has Anything Changed?” – where Ms. Lerner questioned Austen’s real understanding of money matters in her time, and pointed out the inconsistencies from novel to novel, perhaps due to the non-cash economy of the 18th century and a way of explaining her ambivalence about money.
6. The Breakout Sessions [how we would love for Jane Austen to be a speaker – just imagine the Q&A!]:
The only negative, hang-it-all, is that one cannot go to all – always a problem of choosing, and what one just had to hear when registering might not look all that interesting five months later! – one hopes that those missed will be published in Persuasions or Persuasions-Online. I try to go to different ones than my friends so we can share after – but this year, so many good ones, though an abundance it seemed on “sex” – but who can resist after all any sort of discussion on Austen and the question of “sex” – in her life, in her novels and in her time…. !
- I started with Janine Barchas’s talk on “Austen Between the Covers: A Brief History of Book Cover Art” – a visual feast of a journey through the marketing of Austen the last two hundred years.
- Miriam Rheingold Fuller, in “Slits, Spikes, Steeds, and Scandals: Coded Sexual Indiscretion in Jane Austen’s Fiction,” was quite humorous in her cataloguing the many places where Austen is telling us much more than the mere words convey about what is really going on – one knows a lot of this, but delightful anyway to see it all so clarified.
- I went to a rousing talk on the Prince Regent, with A. Marie Sprayberry, who gave us all the dastardly deeds and sexual machinations this Fellow put his country through and gave new meaning to all Jane Austen ever said about him! [hurray! this is in the just-released Persuasions Online: http://jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol33no1/sprayberry.html ]
- And of course, a highlight was Syrie James and Diana Birchall, staging their “Austen Assizes” – with a cast of renown, to include the formidable Joan Ray as Judge, Susannah Fullerton as a nearly hysterical Marianne Dashwood [and the hired actor who played Willoughby as scoundrel-par-excellance was quite dishy], and James (Lucy Steele) and Birchall (Fanny Dashwood) having their own moment in the limelight made for a laugh-out-loud romp through the trials and punishment of Austen’s most famous villians – this could [and should] be a series – Downton Abbey watch-out!You can see some of the antics on this short youtube:
[see the Persuasions article for more images of Sprayberry’s collection of Georgian coins]
7. The variety of special events that get missed
[No, no says Jane, I don’t want to miss anything!]
Now I would guess that as a spirit cavorting about, one could see all, but such is not the reality during a 4-day conference when one must eat and sleep and talk “Jane” to everyone – there are always so many special events – some I missed this year due to the Burney conference and regional coordinator meetings – there are always so many special sessions to keep us on our toes (literally) about Regency dance, Regency fashion, reticule and quilling workshops, and scholarly pursuits. A few highlights:
*An Antique Fan exhibition with Abbey Block Cash:
As I only took a few pictures, I direct you to Vic’s fabulous post and videos on this exhibition: http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/antique-fans-from-the-regency-era/
More information at the website of the Fan Association of North America (FANA).
* There is always an author signing event – this year on Sunday morning unfortunately during the RC meeting, but I did sneak out for a short bit and did meet William Deresciewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education – he spoke on Saturday night during the Ball on “Becoming a Hero: Being a Man in Austen’s World”…. I think he emphasized way too much that he was a straight man who loved Austen, as though he was the only one in the world – so when I met him I told him about the Jane Austen book group in Montpelier VT comprised of all MEN [as had two other JASNA-Vermont attendees – he must have felt bombarded!]– he laughed quite heartily and thought that was ground-breaking!
* Special lectures: Sheryl Craig gave one of her (always interesting!) talks on the British economy of the Regency [JASNA-Vermont very lucky here: Sheryl is visiting us in June!]; there were talks on the Austen materials at the Morgan [as well as a fabulous reading of Lady Susan on Thursday evening]; discussion of where Austen scholarship is headed; a post-banquet lecture on libations of the time by David Wondrich [his book is titled: Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl]; and a hands-on event with Louise West of the Jane Austen House Museum…. and lots more. Jane is quite exhausted with all the options!
And I did like this year the effort to assist newbies – an orientation to the AGM 101, and a session on how to prepare an AGM breakout proposal – if anyone went to these sessions I would like to hear how helpful they were…
8. Visiting places you might otherwise not get to
[Jane really likes this aspect – to be in Brooklyn was quite the thrill!]:
Each year the AGM is in a city in either the United States or Canada [with the exception of 2003 celebrating JASNA’s 25 years in Winchester, England], this year back in New York City for the first time since the very first AGM in 1979 (on Pride and Prejudice) and in 1987 on Lady Susan. If you look at the JASNA website http://jasna.org/agms/index.html you will see the varied locations and topics of the meetings – my first was in Richmond Virginia in 1996, and I have not missed many since. Each venue has its own historical and cultural offerings that may tie in with Jane Austen, this to me often the best part of each event. In Richmond we went to the Virginia Museum of Art and saw a wondrous exhibit of Fabergé eggs and treasures made for the Russian Imperial family – and each location since has not disappointed with these side trips.
9. Dare I leave out The Fashions?!
[nearly Jane’s favorite pastime – always observing,
and far more generous than Mrs. Elton would be in her commentary!]:
I do not dress [one of these days when I drag out my sewing machine!] – but this is one of the delights of each AGM, with costumes and fashions in abundance, the number of participants seeming to increase each year. And besides the various costumes, there is always someone doing a fashion show or exhibit, or “training” sessions on “Dressing Jane” or dare I say “Undressing Mr. Darcy.”
– Vic has again saved the day – she posted a good deal of the fashion event this year “Dressing the Miss Bennets” with Lisa Brown – you can view that here: http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/dressing-the-miss-bennets-lisa-browns-presentation-at-jasna-agm-2012/ – almost as good as being there oneself, so many thanks to Vic for videoing it all and to Lisa for her fashionista expertise!
[After the Promenade: this image from the JASNA Syracuse Region – c2012 Lisa Brown with thanks.
Visit their website for more pictures by Lisa Brown and commentary on the 2012 AGM]
10. And perhaps the best of all reasons, the Joy of spending
some quality time with Jane Austen and her Characters!
How can one get much closer to Austen than visiting her works, discussing them, analyzing her characters, laughing at her comedy, being amazed at her language, her irony – how better to feel reenergized and to know another re-reading with new insights is before you as you once again have to leave the early 19th century behind… just until next year when you get to do it all over again… in Minneapolis to celebrate 200 years of Pride and Prejudice, Sept 27-29, 2013…
Happy Birthday Jane Austen!
Giveaway!: What are your favorite things about attending a JASNA AGM [or any other Jane Austen Society conference]?? – please comment below! In honor of Jane Austen’s Birthday on December 16th, your name shall be entered into a random drawing for a surprise Jane Austen related gift, worldwide eligibility. Please comment by Boxing Day, December 26th at 11:59 pm. Winner will be announced December 27th. Thank you for sharing…!
Lol…since the prize is given by random drawing, this isn’t brownnosing(??)….visiting Vermont last Dec 4th(Gemma Jones Bday!!!) for the Marianne Dashwood(Team Marianne) meeting and Tea! I also walked some of the grounds of U of VT. Also, many a JASNA MA meeting. Especially memorable for me was talking with John Wiltshire a couple of years. Lol, finishing tied for 2nd last year with one of the delightful local scholars in a S&S quiz…especially since I wasn’t paying full attention to the quiz since my fantasy football team was in a tight battle at that moment.
Thanks Kirk for sharing all your high-spots since following Jane! – has been wonderful to see how much you now do in the Boston area – we need to get you to an AGM! – any chance for Minneapolis??
Happy Birthday Jane (& belated to you Deb). I agree on all the reasons to attend an AGM. My first AGM was Tucson & I was hooked after that. Already looking forward to Minneapolis.
Wasn’t Tucson fabulous! – I bought a jacket there in the hotel shop and everytime I wear it [still have it!] I think of that time there… Should mention to everyone reading your comment that one of my treats every year is to see what color dress you will be wearing! – every year more lovely!
Thanks Sue for stopping by – we need to connect!
Deb [and thanks for the birthday wishes!]
I’ve never been to a Jane Austen conference before, love reading about them and would love to go to one if I ever have the chance.
Hopefully Jessica there might be one close to you soon! I also realize after seeing your email that I mentioned little about the DANCING at the AGMs – always great fun to do the ECD workshops and to go to the Ball – they get better every year!
Do you do ECD?
Thanks for stopping by,
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It is so wonderful to step out of one’s normal daily life to spend time with new people who share your interest, and are interesting themselves, in a new place. I’ve been to more than one AGM and each one has been a fantastic and unique experience! Also looking forward to Minneapolis. Happy birthday, Jane Austen!
Love the Brooklyn Bridge picture. Reminds me of Danny de Vito inTAXI!!!!!! and that sound track.
Jane would have probably loved New York itself. You could add that to your list,, Deb and make it number eleven.
Mental note to self:
“Must show Jane around New York and see a show on Broadway. She loved the theater.”
I’m sorry,, but William Deresciewicz really disturbs me.. Has he developed at all his emotional growth since writing A Jane Austen Education. ? Has he found that his apparent emotional arrival wasn’t an arrival at all;or was that it?
I think I’ll always wonder how he is doing.The book seemed so final for him.
All the best,
Thanks Tony for bringing Broadway and the Theatre into this – indeed, Austen would have LOVED any play on offer! Taxi, I am not so sure about! but thanks for bringing it up!
I know you didn’t much like a Jane Austen education – but I did find it insightful in parts, esp his realizing that his dislike of Emma and most of the characters was just a sly bit on Austen’s part to make one realize that we are ourselves the butt of her irony… – his talk was very a nice accompaniment to the book, but he kept making these references to straight men and I saw a number of people take offence and leave… and there were a few awkward questions about his writing the book solely to sell a book, as anything with Jane Austen anywhere near the title sells right now – I think you had the same objection, didn’t you?
But I still think it is a good read for people, esp those just discovering Austen – and who can fault a guy for laying bare his inner feelings?!
Thanks Tony for stopping by and expressing your feelings, as always!
Great post. I am very much looking forward to my first AGM next year! There is so much to look forward to.
Excellent Michelle that you are planning on going next year to Minneapolis! – What a better first time than celebrating Pride and Prejudice!
Thanks for stopping by,
Just thought of number 12 Deb. SHOW Jane an episode of TAXI.. She loved great acting and actors!!!!!!!
OK Deb, maybe Danny DeVito might not ding her dong. Jane could use a line from Hill Street Blues, “Sergeant Stan Jablonski: Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.”
A line for Wickham, perhaps???
It’s OK Deb, I give up now. Have a good Sunday. Tony
What a great tribute to Jane Austen on her birthday! My most favorite thing about attending the JASNA AGM’s is being in the company of so many kindred spirits from literally all over the world. We may have many differences but the common bond of Jane Austen unites us all and that is always a wonderful thing to see and be a part of.
Deb, thanks so much for your kind comments about me under #6 and Lisa Brown under #9, as well as the link to our blog! Both the presentation in Brooklyn and today’s publication are major milestones for me; after over 30 years of cleaning up other people’s writing, it’s a real treat to publish something under my own name! Since “such a striking civility” as yours “ought to be imitated, though it could not be equalled,” see the penultimate paragraph of today’s post on the JASNA Syracuse blog (http://janeaustensyr.blogspot.com/2012/12/austenmas-news-roundup.html).
Re: the “favorite things about attending an AGM,” I may have to resort to Dr. Seuss: Oh, the places you’ll go–and the people you’ll meet!
Holiday cheers to you and yours.
I’m reading all of this with such a longing. I went to the Houston AGM and went straight to bed as I got sick upon arrival. Hence, I missed ALL of the events. So, here’s hoping for Minneapolis as a newbie. I’m practically drooling in my desire to be there. I would have been there this year but my son, perversely, decided to get married during it. When I cried out about having to miss the AGM he just told me too bad. Now how’s that for payback for his loving mother? Anywho, I’m loving living vicariously through reading the posts about it.
I’ve never attended a Jane Austen Society conference, but I would love to. To meet like minded people for a start. The dressing up would be fun.
Yes, meeting other Austen people is the main treat – and dressing up the window-dressing! Hope you can make it sometime soon…
Thanks for stopping by,
I have a question about the Princess commemorative tea cup. Was that photo taken at an odd angle? It looks more like a lady’s, uhm, chamber pot, which has a lovely name, French if I remember correctly, that she would use at home and possibly carry to use in church. The two are often mistaken but I’m finding it a bit hard to believe that such a personal daily article would be a commemorative item, though that’s not impossible as many of this period were quite fine. It’s just that I attended an event sometime this year where this item was passed around and explained. People have mistaken them as gravy boats and displayed them on their dining room tables as center pieces. I forgot to mention what my favorite thing about an AGM is. Since I was sick during all of it I’d have to say my roommate. I’d never met her in person until I got there but our two Marine “children” felt we’d absolutely love each other. And so we did. She filled me in on the events she went to so I got a taste of the AGM.
Karen: Thanks for your interest! The Princess Charlotte teacup is indeed a teacup. In fact, both it and the saucer are slightly smaller than the standard modern teacup/saucer set, and the saucer is more dish-shaped. My husband (who took the photos for the posters) had to blow the photo up quite a bit so that the inscription would be legible, so I can see why you were confused.
You’re also quite right that there are chamber-pot-size teacups out there. We own one made for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. It was described to us as a “farmer’s teacup” and does have a saucer–but it’s big enough to be used for the other purpose!
Thank you Marie for responding to Karen. And I agree completely with Dr. Seuss – “the places you go, the people you’ll see!” – sums it up perfectly.
So glad to find you were published in Persuasions – but it was your infectious “appreciation” of the Prince and all his foibles that made this talk so special – and seeing your collections only made it more so… excellent presentation!
Hello Karen, I see that Marie answered your question – the picture I took was of her blown-up picture, and I understand your confusion! – Marie had examples of coins with her – you can see more pictures in the Persuasions article as well. So sorry to hear how sick you were at the Texas conference – but hopefully another in the near future will be better for you, and no weddings on the horizon!
Thanks for stopping by Karen – I always like hearing from you!
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What a wonderful recap of a fabulous conference! Thank you so much, Deb, for writing this and posting all these great images. It was wonderful to see you at the AGM even though, alas, we didn’t get to chat for more than two seconds (so much to see and do!) It sounds as if you went to ALL the best breakout sessions–I will check with you next time as to which ones to attend! I’m so glad you enjoyed The Austen Assizes–it was such fun to write and perform. I look forward to seeing you in Minneapolis, if not sooner. :)
Thanks Syrie – we will work hard on getting you to Vermont to perform one of your plays – maybe in 2014 when you hit Montreal? Only 2 hours south! A perfect holiday in the fall in Vermont for you and Bill?
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I have never had the chance to attend a Jane Austen AGM or conference as I think my country does not have a society dedicated to celebrating the life and works of Jane Austen. I wish there was one so can share and talk with like-minded people. How I envy you and the others who can participate in this event.
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