Another look at the 2013 JASNA AGM, Minneapolis

Michelle has done so much justice to our JASNA AGM experience in Minneapolis, it’s not even funny. It was an amazing four days away from it all—so much so that we didn’t even usually bother to stop and recall that we were, indeed, away from it all. We were just there, immersed in all things Austen, all things Pride and Prejudice, and it was great.

Like Michelle, I came away with two things at the forefront of my mind: 1) I am only a fan and avid reader and lover of Jane Austen; I do not approach the level of serious, scholarly, and academic thought that goes into a real and deep study of her novels, although I desperately admire it and have just enough knowledge to be excited by it; and 2) Jane Austen is even more awesome than I realized. I suppose we’ve become very used to her. Her novels and the film/mini-series adaptations of them are a sort of comfort food for me, and she and her characters have been embraced by contemporary culture. That in no way diminishes what she does, and I now stand more in awe of it than ever. I can maybe imagine that her stories don’t speak to everyone—really, I can try to imagine that—but her writing is genius. Trust me, it just is. Or better yet, don’t trust me, trust John Mullan!

The plenary speakers were all so incredible, they alone would have been worth the trip. On top of that, I enjoyed several break-out sessions on array of topics including: performing to strangers, the militia in Austen’s time, Charlotte’s back parlor, and what was the matter with Anne de Bourgh. I don’t want to go into too much detail about any of these, but I think a taste of each is in order.

Performing to Strangers: Being, Seeming, and Courting in Pride and Prejudice. This was a good talk with a lively Q&A at the end. It’s going to stick in my mind, however, as the paper read by Ted Scheinman in place of his mother, Deborah Knuth Klenck, who had broken her leg and couldn’t attend. Fortunately, Ted is a British literature scholar, and he gamely read his mother’s paper—and ably responded to questions about it—including all the pronouns as they had been originally written. I recall a memorable opening line about when he was a young girl, and a passage near the end about his worries of one day becoming a dowager trying to marriage off her children… Highly amusing. Or perhaps I’m just simple.

“I liked a red coat myself very well—and indeed, so I do still at my heart”: The Role of the Militia in Pride and Prejudice. Blame the fact that I woke up at 3am, or that I’d already been to the opening session and one breakout session, but I can’t recall a lot of detail on this one. I found it really interesting at the time! But it’s all left my head. I can tell you that there was a much higher proportion of men in the room for this particular talk.

Charlotte Settles in the Back Parlor: Her “pleasantest preservative from want”. I quite like Charlotte Lucas/Charlotte Collins. In fact, I find her practical outlook on life easier to relate to, in some ways, than the impetuous idealism of Elizabeth Bennet. And we are meant to sympathize with Charlotte, her plight, and her actions. Elizabeth condemns her choice, but the author and the reader do not—or not so strongly. Her situation was all too familiar and realistic. One interesting point of the talk was how Charlotte devalued herself with her pursuit and acceptance of Mr. Collins—something Elizabeth would never have done. And we must, of course, never forget that poor Charlotte has to sleep with Mr. Collins. I don’t know why it’s important to say that, it just is.

What’s the Matter with Anne de Bourgh? This was, by far, my favorite break-out session, and it was presented by a three-person panel, each of whom had different theories on what was the matter with Anne de Bourgh. The first suggestion was rheumatic fever, which affected many young girls and could have been the cause of many of her physical symptoms—to the degree that we can identify them (thin, small, pale, sickly, cross). The second was that she is proud and rude and the luxury of being “ill” is a mark of her social class. She is, after all, seen talking to people she is close to, just not to Elizabeth. The third is that she suffered from childhood depression which, as she grew older, became situational depression—the situation being her mother. This was such a fascinating talk, and there’s no way I describe it all, so if you want to know more, just ask me! One of my favorite suggestions was that perhaps Anne de Bourgh uses her illness—real or imagined—as a way to escape her planned marriage to Mr. Darcy. After all, she is wealthy and will inherent (no entailment away from the female line in her family), and she has no need to marry at all. Perhaps she does not wish to—not even to Mr. Darcy!!

Before I wrap this up—and I’ve gone on too long already—I wanted to mention The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. The closing session featured several people involved with the creation of that Emmy Award-winning project, a modernized Pride and Prejudice that aired 100 short YouTube segments and took place across a variety of social media platforms, including: facebook, twitter, tumblr, pinterest, and many others. (You don’t have to use any other social media platforms to follow it, although they enhance the stories and the characters.) I watched a handful of episodes when I got back, and they’re engaging enough, but I doubt I’ll end up watching the entire thing. I can see, however, that the appeal might really rest in its immediacy—kind of like reality television—and the project has now been over for several months.

But! We are in luck. Tomorrow, October 7 is the start date for Emma Approved, a similar project updating…Emma. I think I’ll check it out. Agree or disagree with their version, I assure you that the creators are very thoughtful about the decisions they make with these beloved stories and characters.

I am now extremely excited about Montreal in 2014! Mansfield Park. So get your outfits ready! We will have SO much fun.

Photos: white soup, regency dress

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5 thoughts on “Another look at the 2013 JASNA AGM, Minneapolis

  1. I’m excited for next year and going with our entire book group.

    I’m so glad you talked about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I just watched Episode 1 of Emma Approved…hmmmm. As you well know, Emma is one of my top three Austen novels so I had a true interest in this project. Right off the bat, I don’t like their Emma, not her complexion or her hombre hair coloring. Secondly, it’s like watching self-involved youngsters (even though they are actors) video themselves and talk fast and perky. I can’t sustain. The actor playing Mr. Knightley is channeling Jonny Lee Miller to no small degree. I wish I could but I can’t say I liked it. I’ll give it a few more episodes. I’m now less inclined to go back and watch all of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I may be getting too old. They were such a good panel and I can’t argue with bringing Austen into the 21st century. I just hope it does what they said it did: get viewers to read the book!

    Neither of us mentioned Janine Barchas, author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity who gave a talk on the same topic. Her research on the famous people and places in Austen’s time was a revelation. She tracked, on GoogleMaps, the trip that Elizabeth took with her aunt and uncle Gardiner to pin down the most likely model for Pemberley: a mansion called Wentworth Woodhouse. See Deb’s post and link to Barchas’s post on Johns Hopkins University blog.

    So many things to talk about. It was a real education and a good time too.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the 2013 JASNA AGM. I wish I could have been there, so really enjoy reading about your experiences. I am both an avid reader of Jane Austen and a bit of an academic (though JA is not my area of research), and I would highly recommend that you watch the Lizzie Bennet Diaries completely through. 🙂 Because of the format (4-6 min. videos), I don’t think watching just a couple of videos will really do the show justice. I wasn’t impressed after the first couple either, but by the end I couldn’t stop watching them. 🙂 Individually the videos are not all that special, but together, as a whole, I think it is an incredibly thoughtful, inspiring and still faithful-to-the-spirit (though not exact) adaptation. That being said, I am in my mid-30s and work with college students every day, so perhaps I am more inclined to like something geared toward the 16-25 demographic than others my age. 🙂 I’m very excited about Emma and I definitely plan to watch. When I saw her, I admit, I didn’t think she looked like an Emma, but then again, I didn’t think that about Lizzie at first, either. Of course, in the end, my favorite JA experience is and always will be reading her novels. The movie and Youtube adaptations, to me, are just cherries on the cake. 🙂

    • Thanks for your thoughts! I was truly impressed with the writers and producers when we heard their panel talk. I have no doubt as to the integrity of their intentions. I’ll give both series a chance, although after re-watching the first Emma episode last night, I have grave concerns. They have taken one quality of the character of Emma (self-satisfaction) and blown it up as her whole personality. Maybe it was just an introduction to the character and we will get more of the Emma we know and love as the series unfolds. But you are right, these interpretations are bonuses and we can enjoy them as such. Maybe we will see you at the next AGM :).

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