Your Regional Coordinator writes:
This year’s JASNA Annual General Meeting, “Jane Austen: 200 Years of Sense and Sensibility,” is now history--and it was a blast from start to finish. Texans know how to have a king-sized good time, and our JASNA North Texas Region hosts certainly showed us how it’s done!
The Sundance Square area of downtown Fort Worth, where the Renaissance Worthington Hotel (our headquarters) is located, is full of interestingly repurposed older buildings and astonishing new ones. Here’s the view from my hotel window. Note especially the former Knights of Pythias Hall (the one resembling a church) in the middle distance, and the new white limestone Bass Performance Hall with its enormous angels behind it. (As usual, you can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.)
I arrived in Fort Worth on Wednesday afternoon, October 12, and spent the rest of Wednesday and the first part of Thursday registering, greeting friends, doing justice to this year’s AGM quiz (which this year came as a two-parter, the “Fun Quiz” and the “Challenge Quiz”), shopping in the three-room Emporium, greeting more friends, and doing more shopping. Geez, it was an awful burden, but someone had to do it! The t-shirt depicted below was purchased from Jane Austen Books.
The special events started Thursday afternoon with two much-anticipated presentations. First, British crime writer Lindsay Ashford gave us an introduction to her new novel, The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen--told from JA’s friend Anne Sharp’s point of view, solidly grounded in research conducted at Chawton House Library, and offering a most unusual “take” on JA’s untimely demise.
Then Fort Worth’s one and only Baronda Bradley gave us her views on “Managing Muslins in the Modern Millennium.” Baronda’s Regency wardrobe is deservedly famous in JASNA, and her advice on doing your research, knowing your fabrics, taking the necessary classes, and reusing/restoring old materials should be invaluable for anyone with an interest in creating or wearing Regency-style fashions. She was ably assisted by her son Austen and her daughter Leah. Here, Austen shows off his waistcoat.
I must admit that I missed both of the Thursday evening presentations, because I went out to dinner with friends, and we never stopped talking till well after the end of the second presentation! However, I was on board for Friday morning’s tour of the Fort Worth Japanese Garden and Botanical Gardens, where “every disposition of the ground was good” (as Elizabeth notes of Pemberley in P&P), and where Kim Wilson, author of In the Garden with Jane Austen, gave us an enjoyable talk and several handouts on Regency gardening. Here’s a shot of the long cascade in the Botanical Gardens’ rose garden, which reminds me somewhat of a scene from the 1980 BBC version of P&P.
The AGM officially got under way Friday afternoon, with Joan Klingel Ray’s plenary address on “Sense and Sensibility as Austen’s Problem Novel.” Ray acknowledged the various reasons why many present-day readers are uncomfortable with S&S (mainly the facts that Colonel Brandon is “underwritten” and Edward Ferrars is unsatisfactory on several counts), and addressed these with her characteristic humor.
I was fortunate in all three of my choices for the breakout sessions that followed. Sheryl Craig’s “Wealth Has Much to Do with It” was an excellent discussion of the economics of the mid-1790s (when JA wrote the first version of S&S), which in particular put the John Dashwoods’ “improvements” at Norland into damning perspective. Linda Slothouber’s “Decorating Your Own Barton Cottage” was an enjoyable guide not only to acquiring small Regency-era antiques (such as china, glass, silver, and wooden boxes), but to using them “to pursue questions we might not have pursued otherwise.” And William Phillips’s “Meaner than a Texas Polecat:...Austen’s Largest Cast of ‘Nasties’” was a highly entertaining and somewhat controversial examination of the various “skunky” characters in S&S. Here’s William’s ranking of the “nasties” from least to most odiferous: (7) Lady Middleton; (6) Robert Ferrars; (5) Willoughby (“only fifth?”, but William made a plausible case for this); (4) Fanny Dashwood; (3) Mrs. Ferrars; (2) John Dashwood; and (1) Lucy Steele. Would you agree?
[Skunk photo credit: Ervin C. Nielsen/Painet Inc., Illinois Department of Natural Resources.]
Some of us went by bus Friday evening to the Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s production of S&S in an adaptation by Jon Jory, while others watched an S&S movie marathon at the hotel. The SSG evidently decided to solve the problem of what to do with Edward Ferrars by playing him for laughs (the actor in this role wore an oversized pair of spectacles and a coat two sizes too large), and the actor playing Willoughby lacked the necessary passion--but the over-the-top Mrs. Jennings was excellent!
The Saturday sessions began with “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of S&S,” featuring the all-Canadian plenary panel of Elaine Bander, Peter Sabor, and Juliet McMaster. Below, Elaine (at left) and Juliet engage in a brisk pre-plenary warmup. (That blur in Juliet’s hand is her trusty smallsword, by the way; she needed a special letter from the AGM organizers to get it through U.S. customs!) Elaine discussed the “good” and the “bad” as ethical judgments versus the “ugly” as aesthetic judgments in S&S; Peter examined the “good, bad, and ugly” letters in the novel; and Juliet discussed the novel’s various duels (the actual duel fought by Willoughby and Colonel Brandon, of course, plus the “duels in words” fought by Elinor and Lucy).
My good fortune in breakout choices continued with Pat Michaelson’s “How to Talk like Mrs. Palmer (and Other Silly People)” and Juliette Wells’s “S&S Will Change Your Life.” Pat began by noting the major characteristics of “silly” speech in Austen (notably “a lot of words for not very much content,” and a reliance on “empty exaggerators” such as “vastly” and “amazingly”). She then put us into small groups to practice our silly talk, and by far the best job was done by Ellen Fuller (at left below) and Moorea Corrigan!
Juliette, for her part, examined several present-day Austen-based “conduct texts” (JA’s Guide to Dating, The Tarot of JA, A Walk with JA, etc.) for their interpretations of what S&S has to teach us, and then opened the floor for personal accounts of what audience members have learned from the novel.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated plenary of this AGM was screenwriter Andrew Davies’s “Mr. Darcy’s Wet Shirt and Other Embarrassments: Some Pleasures and Pitfalls in Austen Adaptations.” A video prepared by the organizers and titled “16 Reasons Why We Love Andrew Davies” began the session. Once the standing ovation that greeted him had died down, Davies pretended to quaver: “Be gentle with me. I’m only a little old man!” He then, of course, demonstrated in his account of writing the screenplays for the BBC P&P, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and S&S that he’s not exactly a geriatric case yet. (In the photo below, however, he does seem somewhat dismayed at the length of the line waiting to ask him questions after the presentation!)
Although some of us were beginning to droop by the sixth and final breakout session, Persuasions editor Susan Allen Ford was well worth hearing as always in “Mrs. Dashwood’s Insight: Reading Edward Ferrars in Columella.” Susan showed that, like Volume 1 of The Mirror in NA (see the 11/8/10 entry on this blog) and Fordyce’s Sermons in P&P (see the 5/24/11 entry), Richard Graves’s 1779 comic novel Columella, or The Distressed Anchoret isn’t just mentioned in S&S, but seems to have exerted a considerable influence on it as well. Edward’s fate may have been a little happier than that of either the title character of Columella or its author: Both Columella and Richard Graves himself actually married their “Lucy Steele” figures, and both paid a price for it.
None of us, however, were so tired that we couldn’t enjoy the banquet, the promenade around Sundance Square, and the ball! As usual, the JASNA members in attendance turned out in their finest threads (both Regency-style and modern), and as usual, an excellent time was had by all. (Personally, I have more fun on the Saturday night of the AGM than I do any other night of the year these days.) The photo below shows 60% of NY State’s Regional Coordinators. From left to right: your humble servant; Celia Easton of Rochester; and Meg Levin of New York Metro. (Meg’s New York Metro co-RC, Linda Dennery, was elsewhere in the hotel at the time, and Syracuse co-RC Lisa Brown unfortunately couldn’t make the trip to Texas. Next year in Brooklyn, however, Lisa will be reprising her “Dressing the Miss Bennets” presentation at the “Sex, Money and Power” New York City AGM!)
It's never too early to introduce the littlest Janeites to the pleasures of the AGM promenade. (That's an elegant "baby barouche" they're riding in, too!)
And dancemistress Beverly Francis and the "Ladies at Play" enabled dancers of all skill levels to enjoy themselves thoroughly at the ball.
Next morning, after we Regional Coordinators had shaken ourselves awake for an 8 a.m. business meeting, we all enjoyed the delights of brunch. First, the winners of the two quizzes and the J. David Grey Young Writers’ Workshop were announced. I must confess I was too rattled to get the other winners' names (I'll add these as soon as I can), since from the two of us tying for first place on the “Challenge Quiz,” your humble servant’s name was drawn as the winner. I received a bag containing several prizes, chief among which was a Sense and Sensibility bangle bracelet in a cloth carrying case.
An unusual feature of brunch was the presence of the “Wedding Party at Delaford,” including three of the four newly married couples at the end of S&S. Not only was Willoughby unaccountably present without the “smart, stilish, but not handsome” former Miss Sophia Grey, but an altercation broke out between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon, and the gentlemen had to withdraw from the banquet hall so as not to disrupt the brunch’s main event--a video presentation titled “The Green Apple,” by independent Austen scholar and living legend Deirdre Le Faye.
A self-described “rambling chat,” the Le Faye presentation centered on her view of S&S as an “unripe” effort (hence the video’s title), but it also extended to her views on the “afterlives” of S&S and the other novels. Most interestingly, she may be almost alone in seeing possible problems for Captain and Mrs. Wentworth after the end of Persuasion: The Captain “has never had a home life,” and Anne “may have been a spinster too long” and may not make as capable a sailor’s wife as Mrs. Croft. Even those of us who were inclined to dispute this prediction, however, were delighted with her ultimate solution for General Tilney in NA: marrying him off to the title character of Lady Susan!
For me, the afternoon tour to the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center, followed by the group dinner at the famous Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican restaurant, concluded this AGM. And hearty thanks to the AGM organizers, Dr. Cheryl Kinney and Rosalie Sternberg, for everything they and their volunteers did to make this AGM Texas-sized fun!
P.S. I unaccountably forgot to mention that a launch party for the Jane Austen Made Me Do It anthology (edited by Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose) and two other Austenite books was held at the Sundance Square Barnes and Noble on Friday night. If I hadn't already been committed to the play, I would have been at the launch.
P.P.S. The winners of the Young Writers' Workshop prizes were Fort Worth-area high school students Allison Garcia, Amanda Miller, and Catherine Miller. I haven't yet been able to find out the name of the "Fun Quiz" winner (who was chosen from among 49 perfect scorers on that quiz).