Netley Abbey and the Gothic by Tony Grant

Please read this terrific in-depth post by Tony Grant over at ‘Jane Austen’s World’ on Netley Abbey and Austen’s ties to it and possible influence on her ‘Northanger Abbey.’ I visited Netley Abbey with Tony a few years ago – pouring rain, but also more atmospheric as a result!

Sitting on the base of a pillar

 

Jane Austen's World

Inquiring readers, Tony Grant, a blogger and contributor to this blog for a decade, has submitted this interesting post about Netley Abbey. He ties history, literature, poetry, and painting to Jane Austen’s fascination with the gothic novel, which led to her writing Northanger Abbey in her wonderfully satiric vein. Enjoy!

My Memories of Netley Abbey

When I was eight years old, I recall one of my grandmothers telling me about the ghosts that haunted Netley Abbey. Netley Abbey is four miles along Southampton Water from where I grew up. I lived in Woolston, a small industrial area of Southampton next to the Itchen River, which flows into Southampton Water at the cities docks. (See Google satellite map image below and Google map image alongside it.)

Within walking distance of where I lived are extensive areas of woodland and farms that specialized in market gardening. Netley Abbey itself is set within…

View original post 3,474 more words

Reblog: The Inexhaustible Jane Austen: An Interview with Jocelyn Harris and Bucknell University Press

Gentle Readers: I post here the full text of an interview with Austen scholar Jocelyn Harris that she did with her publisher Bucknell University Press on her newest book Satire, Celebrity, & Politics in Jane Austen. You can find the original post here: http://upress.blogs.bucknell.edu/2017/10/16/the-inexhaustible-jane-austen-an-interview-with-jocelyn-harris/

[Photo by Reg Graham]

Upon the release of her new book Satire, Celebrity, & Politics in Jane Austen (Bucknell University Press, 2017), Jocelyn Harris was kind enough to discuss her research and writing on the witty English novelist.  Jane Austen has been the subject for much of Harris’ work, and still is, as Harris continues to uncover new insights into Austen’s life and writing. As Harris puts it, Austen is “quite simply inexhaustible”—and as Harris’ responses demonstrate, new methods of research and deeper investigation reveal more about her with each new endeavor.

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Bucknell University Press [BUP]: You state in your introduction that you “reconstruct Jane Austen’s creative process by means of the newspapers she perused, the gossip she heard, the streets she walked upon, and the sights she saw.”  This method suggests a focus on environment, an almost anthropological study of a different time and place.  What was the research process like in regards to uncovering evidence from the past?  What challenges did you meet?  What was the most rewarding?

Jocelyn Harris [JH]: Distance is my biggest challenge, because I live in New Zealand, half a world away from the great libraries of Europe and North America. The Internet has quite simply changed my life. Exciting new resources such as databases of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers, digitized manuscripts, online books, blogs, and search engines all open up cultural and historical contexts that bring her back to life—as do new books and editions in print and e-book form, readily accessible articles on the web, and email suggestions from friends.

Reading the magnificent modern editions of Fanny Burney’s letters and journals made me aware that snippets of her correspondence, obviously too good to ignore, reappear in Austen’s novels. My guess is that her mother’s gossipy cousin, who lived over the road from the celebrated author, could have told the family many a sensational tale of Burney’s life at the court of George III.

With the help of the Internet, I realized that Austen probably based Elizabeth and Jane Bennet on two royal mistresses. Dorothy Jordan, celebrity actress, mistress to the Duke of Clarence, and mother of his ten children, seems to have inspired her creation of the lively Elizabeth, while Austen would identify a portrait of the regent’s mistress, Mrs. Georgina Quentin, as Mrs. Bingley. When the regent came courting this “professed spanker,” Georgina was living in Covent Garden, where Austen stayed with her banker brother, Henry.

Most of Jane Austen’s correspondence has been lost, and she kept no diary. Therefore, I had to fill out her life by poring over her locations, her reading, her social and literary networks, her knowledge of current events, and her viewing of cartoons and portraits.

BUP: While she is immortalized by her writing, Austen was a real person living during a unique moment in history.  In your opinion, what is the most compelling piece of information that you learned about Jane Austen during the research process for this book?

JH: Austen is often regarded as a gentle, amusing ironist. But as the title of Satire, Celebrity, and Politics in Jane Austen indicates, I believe that she was a courageous political satirist.  At a time when the cult of celebrity was in its infancy, she targeted celebrities, up to and including the Prince of Wales. Her in-jokes about public figures demonstrate her worldliness, her fascination with fame, and her relish of rumor.

She was also never more than one degree of separation away from royalty. To know from a local historian’s website that the young Prince of Wales lived near Steventon, Austen’s home, was to understand why she created so many satiric avatars of him. Austen was a patriot, and the prince was endangering the nation. She attacked him in the only way she could, obliquely, through her characters and plots. In Northanger Abbey, for instance, the unlovely John Thorpe lies, boasts, swears, looks, and behaves as badly as Prince George. A “stout young man of middling height,” with a “plain face and ungraceful form,” Thorpe utters “a short decisive sentence of praise or condemnation on the face of every woman they met.”

Austen attacks the prince yet again in Mansfield Park’s Henry Crawford, a man marked like him by caprice and unsteadiness. Crawford indulges in the “freaks of a cold-blooded vanity,” and rids himself of his money and leisure “at the idlest haunts in the kingdom.” In Persuasion, she criticizes Sir Walter Elliot’s status and power, as unearned as the regent’s, and praises Captain Wentworth’s merit and courage. Austen’s lacerating portraits suggest first-hand knowledge of the prince’s vulgar, voyeuristic, and self-indulgent ways.

BUP: Considering again the study of place, if Austen had lived during this day and age, who do you think her subjects for inspiration might have been?  How do you think the world would have reacted to her wit, humor, and criticism?

JH: A Regency woman in a golden age of satire, Austen attacked the Prince of Wales for his much-lampooned appearance, his lewdness, his vanity, his instability, his outrageous spending, his tremendous debts, his desire for absolute power, his implicit treason, his fondness for over-the-top building ventures, and his embarrassing braggadocio. Even court insiders warned that the prince was not fit to be king, and Austen wrote that she hated him. The current resurgence of political satire in social media, newspapers, and cartoons would have delighted this savvy, progressive, and thoroughly modern woman.

BUP: Satire, Celebrity, and Politics being your third book on Jane Austen, how has your research evolved regarding your interest in her life and writing? Are there any questions that still need to be answered? What will you do next?

JH: I only want to know how Jane Austen did it (only!). In Jane Austen’s Art of Memory (Cambridge University Press, 1989), I followed the turns of her mind as she picked up elements from other writers and made them into her own. Undeterred by being a woman, she took whatever she wanted from anywhere.

In A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression: Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” (University of Delaware Press, 2007), I traced her creative process in the only manuscript to survive from her published novels. In the cancelled chapters of Persuasion, she deletes, interlineates, writes new material in the margins, and sticks on a scrap with a wax wafer. Eight days later, she threw all that away, and wrote some of the most remarkable scenes in her work––the last chapters of Persuasion.  She was indeed a true professional.

At a time of hardship, inequality, and war, Austen wrote, “How much are the Poor to be pitied, and the Rich to be blamed.” In Persuasion, she attacks the class hierarchies propping up the society of her day. In a highly subversive move, she sets Sir Walter Elliot’s Baronetage against Captain Wentworth’s Navy List, pride of birth against pride of accomplishment. The aging patriarch of the Elliots cannot compete with the glamorous young Captain Wentworth, who derives from real-life heroes such as Lord Nelson, Lord Byron, and Captain Cook. So too, in this brave new world of energy and achievement, the faded beauty of Bath gives way to the Romantic sublimity of Lyme Regis. In this eloquent novel about second chances, Anne Elliot finds a fragile happiness.

Jane Austen is quite simply inexhaustible. I’m writing about her relationship to Madame de Staël, the foremost woman genius of the age; the London locations where she could have seen contemporary cartoons; and her continual fascination with Fanny Burney. There is always more to find out about this extraordinary woman.

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For more information on Austen, take a look at Harris’ latest book Satire, Celebrity, and Politics in Jane Austen. To order visit http://www.rowman.com or call 1-800-462-6420. Use code “UP30AUTH17” to save 30% on the list price (not valid on eBook).

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c2017, Jane Austen Vermont, reblogged from Bucknell University Press

JASNA-Vermont’s Next Gathering! ~ September 17, 2017, with Sheryl Craig on “Jane Austen and the Master Spy”

You are Cordially Invited to JASNA-Vermont’s September Meeting
~ part of the Burlington Book Festival ~


“Jane Austen and the Master Spy”
w/   Sheryl Craig

Sunday, 17 September 2017, 2 – 4 pm

Morgan Room, Aiken Hall,
83 Summit Street Champlain College, Burlington VT**

Jane Austen’s contemporary William Wickham was Britain’s first Master Spy and head of the British Secret Service. Wickham was also the focus of a massive government scandal and Parliamentary investigation when it was found that millions of pounds in taxpayer’s money had been funneled to Wickham and then disappeared without a trace. Pride and Prejudice’s George Wickham shares the Master Spy’s name and his legendary good looks, charm, cunning, and duplicity. Join us for an enlightening talk on what Jane Austen may have been telling her readers…
you can expect Sex, Lies, Scandal, and Spies!

Sponsored by JASNA-Vermont and Bygone Books

~ Free & open to the public ~ ~ Light refreshments served ~
For more information:   JASNAVTregion [at] gmail.com
Please visit our blog at: http://JaneAustenInVermont.blog

Burlington Book Festival website: http://burlingtonbookfestival.com/

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Sheryl Craig has a Ph.D. in 19th century British literature from the University of Kansas and has been a faculty member in the English Department at the University of Central Missouri for more than twenty years. Sheryl has published in numerous Jane Austen-related journals and is the editor of JASNA News. A popular presenter at many JASNA AGMs and tireless traveler to JASNA regional groups (this is her second trip to Vermont!), she has trekked far afield to spread Jane Austen in Nova Scotia, Scotland and England, and upcoming in 2018 she will visit New Zealand and Australia. Her book Jane Austen and The State of the Nation was published in 2015, and she is presently working on Jane Austen and the Plight of Women about Jane Austen and the Women’s Rights Movement in Georgian England.

Hope you can join us!
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c2017 Jane Austen in Vermont

Our Next Meeting! June 4, 2017 with JASNA President Claire Bellanti

You are Cordially Invited to JASNA-Vermont’s June Meeting

with

JASNA President Claire Bellanti* 

“‘You Can Get a Parasol at Whitby’s:’
Circulating Libraries in Jane Austen’s Time”

Sunday, 4 June 2017, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Morgan Room, Aiken Hall,
83 Summit Street Champlain College,
Burlington VT**

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Join us for an illustrated talk about an 18th century social institution that was very important to Jane Austen in her own life and her fiction, the Circulating Library. Claire will present its history and then, with references to Austen’s novels and letters, show how central such libraries were in the reading and sharing of books in Regency England. 

*Claire Bellanti holds an M.A. in History (UNLV) and an M.B.A (UCLA). She is retired from a 35 year career as a library professional at UCLA. She is currently President of the Jane Austen Society of North America, and has served in other capacities on the Board of JASNA SW and the Board of JASNA since 1994. She has written and lectured frequently about the UCLA Sadleir Collection of 19th Century Literature, including the Jane Austen contents and Silver Fork portions of the collection.

~ Free & open to the public ~ ~ Light refreshments served ~ 

For more information:   JASNAVTregion@gmail.com / 802-343-2294
Please visit our blog at: http://JaneAustenInVermont.wordpress.com

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**Aiken Hall is located at 83 Summit St – #36 on the map here: https://www.champlain.edu/Documents/Admissions/Undergraduate%20Admissions/Campus-Map.pdf
Parking is on the street or in any College designated parking during the event.

Please Join Us!

c2017 Jane Austen in Vermont

My Jane Austen Book Stash ~ From the 2016 JASNA AGM on Emma

jasnabannerThere has been a good deal to write about this year’s terrific JASNA AGM in Washington DC on Emma – but while it always takes me a good while to re-emerge into the 21st century after these events, little time has been accorded me to actually write anything about it. But I did want to give you a quick summary of the books and other “stuff” I bought this year – less than usual because I bought a DRESS and a SPENCER, which did my pocketbook some serious damage…(see the image below*).

But to the matter at hand, here are the books, etc. – most would make fine holiday gifts for your favorite Austen follower, or for your own stocking for that matter… except this first one which would not in any way fit:

  1. cover-mp-harvardJane Austen. Mansfield Park: An Annotated Edition. Edited by Deidre Shauna Lynch. Harvard UP, 2016.

Very excited to have this, completing my collection of these beautiful Harvard editions. The book was released during the AGM and thankfully Jane Austen Books had copies. I have only skimmed through it, but it promises to live up to the other Harvard editions with an insightful introduction and notes by Lynch, and color illustrations throughout that give you the sense of time, place, and history that surround the adventures of Fanny Price. A must have and a perfect holiday gift for your Austen friends (and at $35, this is the best book deal out there, bar none…)

2. Alden O’Brien, et al. ‘An Agreeable Tyrant’: Fashion after the Revolution. Exhibition Catalogue. Washington DC: DAR Museum, 2016.

The catalogue that goes along with the fabulous exhibition at the DAR Museum that many of us at the AGM werecover-agreeabletyrant-dar privileged to see. Ms. O’Brien spoke at the AGM to take us through the history behind and the creation of this fashion exhibit – complete with characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice found in the “Pemberley Room” – it runs from October 7, 2016 – April 29, 2017 and is described on the website as: “…displaying men’s and women’s clothing from 1780 to 1825 in a dozen period rooms throughout the museum. It considers how Americans fashioned a new identity through costume; on the one hand, Americans sought to be free from Europe, yet they still relied heavily on European manufacturing and materials.”

The catalogue is quite lovely, showing full page color illustrations of fashions of the time as well as photographs of costumes in the DAR Museum collection. A must-have for every good Janeite with any fashion sense and perhaps in need of a new dress idea…it also contains various patterns in the back. You can purchase the book through the Museum’s website here. And my friend Kelly has written about the exhibit on her blog Two Teens in the Time of Austen.

Here are a few of my shots of the exhibit:

3. Chawton House Library – their new brochure and guide, text by Helen Cole, et al. CHL, 2016.cover-chl-db2

This is Lovely! It tells the history of the Chawton Great House, Jane Austen’s connection with it, the development of it as a learning centre for the study of early women’s writing from 1600 to 1830. There is much detail with fine illustrations of the house itself: the Library; the various rooms and staircases; exhibition and conference information; the furnishings, art and portraits; the gardens and grounds; and a bit of the history of women writers and their place in our literary heritage. For $12 you get to armchair-tour the house at leisure, and then you will add this to your next-trip-to-England itinerary, as well as a commitment to become a valued Friend of the Library (also a nice gift in a friend’s name).

[Note that the CHL online shop is currently experiencing the dreaded tech difficulties – if you would like a copy, please contact me and I will get one to you.]

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Portrait of Mary Robinson, by John Hoppner c1782 (at CHL)

Also from the Chawton House Library – their table at the AGM was jam-packed with goodies – I bought their collection of 8 botanical cards from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (frameable!) – you can also “Adopt” this book as a way to support the Library!

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Also couldn’t resist this book-fan “The Rules for Love,” by book artist Angela Thames from Aphra Behn’s 1686 La Montre –  (you can read about Ms. Thames as artist-in-residence at CHL here).

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[Image from: a-n The Artists Information ]

cover-heyer-jasa-db4. Susannah Fullerton, Amanda Jones, and Joanna Penglase, ed. Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade: A Celebration. JASA, 2016.

Exactly what the title tells us and another must-have – a collection of essays from various JASA folk who have long-been or are new to the joys of reading Georgette Heyer, based on their conference on Heyer in August 2016. Complete with lovely contemporary illustrations, this was just off the press in time for the AGM – $12 (I think) – you can contact JASA for information on how to purchase.

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Alas! I was very disappointed not to find a single book on London that I didn’t already have at either of the book stalls – but did find a few oldies worth perusing:

  1. Lt. Col. W. P. Drury. A Regency Rascal. London: Collins, 1971.

The tale of Jack Peregrine, a regency rascal to say the least, who arranges a marriage of convenience for himself to helpcover-regencyrascal-db him through a financial crisis, and then finds himself the heir to an estate in Barbados – all based on the true story of Sam Lord and his Castle (most recently a hotel in Barbados*) – who cannot resist a story of such a man (Heyer couldn’t)! First published in 1937 by Hutchinson, it gives a glimpse of Regency-era life in both London and the Colonies. Will see if it lives up to the hype… [*The property was run as an exquisite hotel for many years but unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 2010 – it is currently being reconstructed and will open in 2018 as a Wyndham Grand Resort. The 450-room resort will feature 3 restaurants, meeting facilities and a luxury spa] – sign me up!

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Sam Lord’s Castle, Barbados, pre-fire

  1. J. Fairfax Blakeborough, ed. Legends of Highwaymen and Others. New York: Frederick Stokes, 1924.

Just because I am a sucker for carriages and highwaymen tales!

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(now, doesn’t that peak your interest just a little?)

  1. Hazel Mews. Frail Vessels: Woman’s Role in Women’s Novels from Fanny Burney to George Eliot. U of London: Athlone Press, 1969.cover-frailvessels-dbWhy not? – adds to my collection on women writers – but it also had an inscription that I first thought read “Catherine Morland” and that cracked me up – heavy reading for Catherine! (it reads on close analysis “Catherine R. Harland”).

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8. Joanna Trollope. Sense and Sensibility. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.

Only because I haven’t read this first of the Austen Project retellings and my Vermont Jane Austen book group has scheduled an S&S re-read this year and thought we would try this to compare…(though I know we will likely be gravely disappointed…)

 

9.  Jack and Holman Wang. Jane Austen’s Emma [Cozy Classics]. Chronicle Books, 2013.

This to add to my other board books, and a generous gift from the author. He attended my talk on “Illustrating Emma” and I could not have been more embarrassed to have not included this cover in my talk! (caveat: I did not include any of the covers of the many recent renditions due to lack of time – I have added them to the talk for those times where I can speak longer than the time-constrained AGM) – so with hearty apologies to Mr. Wang – this is of course a simply delightful addition to anyone’s Austen collection!

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  1. cover-ladycyclingErskine, Miss F. J. Lady Cycling: What to Wear and How to Ride. The British Library, 2014. Originally published by Walter Scott in 1897.

I have a friend who recently gave a talk on women and bicycles and my daughter is an avid cyclist – I bought this at The Folger Library shop (there seeing the simply amazing Will & Jane exhibit) as a gift but am now loth to give it away! Women and bicycles have an interesting joint history – here is a worthy account of the whole phenomenon here: http://www.annielondonderry.com/womenWheels.html

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So, as usual, I have my reading cut out for me – I would love to hear what YOU bought at the AGM this year

*and here is my new costume – I am with my Good Buddy Marcia, who is wearing a Regency dress for the FIRST TIME!! (we bought our fabulous fashions at Matti’s Millinery & Costumes (visit their site here and have fun shopping!)

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C2016 Jane Austen in Vermont

Jane Austen & The Arts Conference ~ March 23-25, 2017 at SUNY-Plattsburgh

John Broadwood & Sons square piano (1797), NY-MMA - 1982.76

John Broadwood & Sons square piano (1797), NY-MMA

Mark your calendars! The “Jane Austen & The Arts” Conference, scheduled for March 23-25, 2017 at SUNY-Plattsburgh has just announced its speaker line-up – a terrific group! – here they are alphabetically: (and note that our very own Hope Greenberg will be sharing her thoughts on Fashion!)

  • Elaine Bander (Dawson College, CA), “Austen’s ‘Artless’ Heroines: Catherine and Fanny”
  • Barbara Benedict (Trinity College, CT), “‘What Oft was Thought’: Wit, Conversation, Poetry and Pope in Jane Austen’s Works”
  • Natasha Duquette (Tyndale University College, CA), “‘A Very Pretty Amber Cross’: Material Sources of Austenian Aesthetics”
  • Tim Erwin (UNLV), “The Comic Visions of Emma Woodhouse”
  • Marilyn Francus (West Virginia University), “Jane Austen, Marginalia, and Book Culture”
  • Marcie Frank (Cornell), “Theater and Narrative Form in Austen’s Mansfield Park”
  • Hope Greenberg (University of Vermont), “Jane Austen and the Art of Fashion”
  • Jocelyn Harris (University of Otago, NZ), “What Jane Saw–in Henrietta Street”
  • John Havard (Binghamton University), “Jane Austen and Woody Allen”
  • Jacqueline George (SUNY New Paltz), “Motion Sickness: The Fate of Reading in ‘Modern’ Sanditon”
  • Nancy E. Johnson (SUNY New Paltz), “Jane Austen and the Art of Law”
  • John Lefell (SUNY Cortland), “The Art of Speculation in Austen’s Sanditon”
  • Ellen Moody (George Mason University), “Ekphrastic Patterns in Jane Austen”
  • Tonay J. Moutray (Russell Sage Colleges, NY), “Religious Views: Austen’s Picturesque and Sublime Abbeys”
  • Douglas Murray (Belmont University, TN), “Jane Austen Goes to the Opera”
  • Cheryl Nixon (University of Massachusetts), “Jane Austen and Family Law”
  • John O’Neill (Hamilton College), “Adaptation, Appropriation, and Intertextuality in Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship”
  • Deborah C. Payne (American University), “Jane Austen and the Theatre? Perhaps Not So Much”
  • Peter Sabor (McGill University), Keynote Address: “Portrait Miniatures and Misrepresentation in Austen’s Novels”
  • Juliette Wells (Goucher College, MD), “‘A Likeness Pleases Everyone’: Portraiture, Ekphrasis, and the Accomplished Woman in Emma”
  • Cheryl Wilson (University of Baltimore), “Jane Austen and Dance”

More info here: https://janeaustenandthearts.com/

c2016 Jane Austen in Vermont

“Will & Jane” Exhibit at the Folger ~ Interview with Co-Curator Janine Barchas ~ Brochure Giveaway!

UPDATE #2: watch “Will & Jane: The Movie” – 6 minutes on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pevAsxvhts

UPDATE #1: new images from the exhibition have been added!

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Folger Exhibit Brochure

The Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library is garnering a good deal of press (as it should!). Apparently there are record crowds wanting to get a glimpse of their two favorite Literary Heroes and how they have shown up in popular culture for the past 200 years – and “The Shirt” is no small part of this (a.k.a. Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy) – no, no, don’t get your hopes up, Mr. Firth is not part of the Exhibit (though he would be most welcome…), but rather the shirt worn for the endlessly-youtubed scene of Darcy emerging from a pool of standing water at Pemberley is on display in a locked glass case where it can be on view but protected from the expected mass hysteria of, well, the masses… Kissing a glass case is not quite the same as stroking a cotton shirt, albeit hanging rather listlessly from a plastic form… but it is still a must see if you can get there! Grown women have been known to faint away, despite the message from a young Jane to “run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint…” I do hope the Folger is up to the task of a gallery full of shirt-mad persons… (and dare I add that though I am NOT one of the shirt-hysteric Janeites who think this scene is the best in all of the nearly 6 hour film, I do confess a strong interest in getting a glimpse of the actual shirt worn by Colin Firth…)

If you are able to attend the JASNA AGM this year, to be held in Washington DC, October 21-23  (but do allow extra days for all there is to see and do) – you will get a chance to go to the Folger and see what all the fuss is about – the two curators (Janine Barchas of the University of Texas at Austin, and Kristina Straub of Carnegie Mellon University) will be on hand to tell us all about it. If you are not at the AGM, the exhibit runs from August 6 – November 6, 2016 and admission is free. In the sad event you shall miss it entirely, there are also various articles to read – see the links below.

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18th-century Staffordshire porcelain of William Shakespeare (Folger) /
and 20th-century figurine of Jane Austen (Joan Doyle)

Today however, I welcome Janine Barchas, who most graciously answered a few of my questions about how the idea of this Will & Jane grouping came about… if you have any questions, please comment below and she will get back to you. As an incentive, and especially for those of you unable to make it to the Folger, Janine has provided us a copy of the 18-page exhibit brochure – another piece of Jane Austen celebrity “stuff” we all like to collect! (see below for details)

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Will and Jane at Chawton Cottage

JAIV: Tell us how this exhibit came about?

JB: This was a case of classic academic one-upmanship. In 2012, Michael Witmore, the Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, came to the University of Texas at Austin for a conference about the fate of books in a digital world.  Over a meal, I joked that Jane Austen was “giving Shakespeare a run for his money” and asked what he was planning to do about it.  As Mike and I continued to spar about the differences and similarities between the fan cultures around these two famous authors, an idea was born: “Will & Jane.”

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Busts of William Shakespeare (Folger) and Jane Austen (Joan Doyle)

JAIV: How did you and Kristina Straub come to work on this exhibit together?

JB: Our partnership was the result of solid academic matchmaking! Mike Witmore was her former colleague at Carnegie Mellon University, so Kristina’s name came up right away in the context of her deep knowledge of Shakespeare’s reception in the 18th century.  She and I had never met before our work on “Will & Jane” even though we are both 18th-century scholars and know many of the same people in what is a smallish field.  This exhibition has been a full three years in the making, during which time we have grown very close.  I look at our publications and label text and cannot tell you what sentence began as mine and which was first drafted by Kristina.  Given that academics are known for their social awkwardnesses and a tendency to work best when alone, our partnership on “Will & Jane” has been an extraordinary intellectual experience – even outside of the unique content of the show.

Shakespeare bellows - Folger

Shakespeare bellows – Folger

JAIV: You mostly talk and write about Jane Austen, but also the book itself as part of the material culture of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. What was the biggest challenge in taking on this exhibit that largely deals with the artifacts of celebrity created and collected over the past 200 years?

will-jane-porcelain-figures-jb[2]Royal Worcester porcelain figurine of “Emma Woodhouse” (1998) from the collection of Joan Doyle / and a colored pottery tableau entitled “Othello Relates his Story (ca. 1880) from the collections of the Folger

JB: The dominance of non-book artifacts in this exhibition (ceramics, paintings, odd assortments of relics, tchotchkes, and souvenirs) may seem at odds with a serious library of rare books such as the Folger. However, although both Shakespeare and Austen are fundamentally admired for their great literary works, the history of their afterlives and the nature of their modern celebrity is not just about steady streams of new editions but about the material objects that ordinary fans crave and collect.  This exhibition took us out of the usual library stacks of books and into art vaults and collections of so-called “realia.”  Part of the challenge, then, of putting this exhibition together was for two academics who were used to talking about the language of plays and novels to learn how to think and talk about non-book and JABandages-Amazonwordless objects and the stories they can tell. Mixing high and low culture in this exhibition (books with bobble-heads, so to speak) has been both a joy and a challenge.  In practical terms, today’s objects that celebrate Jane Austen at her 200-year mark lack the historical patina of those Shakespeare “relics” and souvenirs that have been carefully preserved for two centuries.  And yet we wanted these authors to stand together as potential equals.  This meant that every juxtaposition of old and new objects, every comparison between the afterlives of Will and Jane, had to show similar impulses across centuries of fandom – in spite of any obvious differences between current market values of the materials shown.

JAIV: What most surprised you in your findings?

JB: We initially thought that in order to fill 20 large display cases, we might have to stretch the comparison a bit here and there. But we were amazed by the tight parallels between, for example, the public spectacles that celebrated Shakespeare around his 200 mark (e.g. a museum dedicated to the Bard and a Jubilee) and today’s BBC bonnet dramas that, in essence, do some of that same work to promote Jane Austen.  Also, we were genuinely surprised by the manner in which Henry and Emily Folger resembled, in their dedication to all things Shakespeare, the collecting impulses of Alberta and Henry Burke, the couple who amassed the world’s most significant Jane Austen collection (now split between the Morgan Library and Goucher College).  One thread across the exhibition is how these two American couples, collecting decades apart and focused on two very different writers, pursued their purchases in the same way.

JAIV: What do you hope visitors will take away from this exhibit?

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Will and Jane at the Folger

JB: A sense of fun. We hope the combination of whimsy and scholarship is infectious and will help folks to see that even pop culture benefits from a larger historical framework.

JAIV: What has been the response so far?

A chalice made from the mulberry tree Shakespeare planted (Folger) /
a lock of Jane Austen’s hair (Jane Austen’s House Museum)

JB: A lively and lavishly illustrated review across two pages of the NYT weekend section on opening day surely helped to boost visitor numbers as well as raise our curatorial spirits.  The public seems genuinely curious about a show that pairs these equally famous but very different authors.  So far, we’ve had some record numbers in terms of daily visitors and received enthusiastic feedback from Folger docents.  The docents are the well-informed volunteers who lead daily group tours and have their finger on the pulse of true public reaction.  When they remain enthusiastic, you know a show is doing well.

JAIV: Who besides Shakespeare and Jane Austen has had such an impact on our celebrity-obsessed culture?

JB: Modern movie stars (and before them the starry thespians of the 18th-century stage) have glammed up both Will and Jane.  Our exhibition features a number of film actors who have their feet in both Shakespeare and Austen camps and whose own celebrity is in a symbiotic relationship with these authors.  From Laurence Olivier (photo stills and movie clips) to Emma Thompson (she loaned us the original typescript of her Sense and Sensibility screenplay), objects about and from movie stars adds a bit of Hollywood sparkle throughout the exhibition.

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The Shirt – Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy (BBC)

JAIV: What is your next project???

JB: Hopefully another project with Kristina. It will indeed also be very hard to go back to a steady diet of “just books” after this.   I suspect that odd bits of material culture will cling to all my research from now on.  I see both Will and Jane differently now.  They are each bigger than their written works alone.

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This collector’s album for cigarette cards (London: Carreras Limited, ca. 1935) is one of many items in the exhibition showing Will and Jane being used to advertise non-book products

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Thank you Janine! – very much looking forward to seeing you and Kristina at the Folger in October!

If you would like to comment or ask Janine a question, please do so in the reply box below. Deadline will be Wednesday August 31, 2016 at 11:59pm – winner will be announced on Thursday Sept 1, 2016. Domestic only, sorry to say (our postal rates have soared).

barchas-janineJanine Barchas is Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.  She is the author of  Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity (Johns Hopkins University Press, August 2012).  Her  first book, Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel (Cambridge UP, 2003), won the SHARP book prize for best work in the field of book history.  You can visit (and spend hours browsing!) her online digital project What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org) which includes the gallery of the British Institution that Jane Austen visited on May 24, 1813 and the “Shakespeare Gallery of 1796.” Barchas, along with colleague Kristina Straub, is currently curating an exhibition at the Folger on Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity.

Further reading:

“Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity” runs August 6 through Nov. 6, 2016 at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street S.E., Washington; 202-544-7077.

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“The Shirt” at the Folger

c2016, Jane Austen in Vermont