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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Austen & Shakespeare

The thing about scholarship and motherhood is that even though you might be researching the connections between the work of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, the reality is that when the family gets sick…that’s the end of it. Now that all the sickies are in bed, I can share some of what I’ve learned.

I would also like to reiterate here something Sarah said upon embarking on this blog: We are probably not going to say anything new or even say it better than it has been said before. That couldn’t be truer than on this subject. There has been a lot of serious scholarship done on both Shakespeare and Austen (obviously) and also the connections between the two. I became curious about what has been said after finishing the passage in Mansfield Park set in the garden wilderness of Sotherton where there is a very Shakespearean amount of entrances and exits, motives and cross-purposes. Then, of course, the novel progresses into the realm of theater itself (at which time Shakespeare is mentioned directly many times).

I was not disappointed in my research when online I ran across the introduction to a criticism by Rachel Wifall called “Jane Austen and William Shakespeare Twin Icons?” that goes deeper into specific Shakespeare/Austen connections. Interestingly, Mansfield Park is indeed the Austen novel most known for its references to and echoes of Shakespeare’s work. Again, because the characters themselves attempt to put on a play and talk about plays, but also because it is a novel about acting, both on the stage and off (theater perhaps being the best antithesis to the heroine Fanny Price. Oh, and when Edmund’s principles cave under the chance to act opposite Mary Crawford, he goes beyond boring and becomes, really, a leading man that is very hard to like. That’s why there are no TEAM EDMUND shirts. Yet I digress.)

Other delightful observations included the way the courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice mirrors Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing AND that plot echoes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night can be found in Emma.

Also, there is a small group of actors that appear in the adaptations of both the works of Shakespeare and Austen, as well as films about them (Emma Thompson immediately coming to mind, as well as Colin Firth who was in Shakespeare in Love).

Aside from interesting comparisons, much has been said of Shakespeare and Austen being masters of the same caliber, and also the way in which their work has survived and flourished over time in the same ways, for many of the same reasons.

I’m very excited to think about Emma and Twelfth Night, but first I aim to tackle the claim put forth in the movie, The Jane Austen Book Club, that Fanny Price was Austen’s favorite.