2010 JASNA AGM Report: Mystery, Mayhem and Muslin in Portland
We received a lot of surprised comments about “Aren’t you liveblogging this?” during the AGM. If we hadn’t had a presentation to prepare for, and lots of friends and correspondents to hang out with, there might have been time and energy for such things! This AGM passed more in a rush than usual, and it really was a constant stream of pleasure and enjoyment. Many thanks to the hard-working Portland AGM organizers and volunteers, who were all lovely and welcoming and truly dedicated to showing everyone their beautiful hometown as well as a good time–and that’s what it’s all about.
We had a long day of traveling on Thursday, which started very very very early and took way longer than other west-coast trips have seemed to take, but at last we arrived at the Hilton, barely capable of coherent speech, and discovered Heather L. checking in. We fell upon her neck (well, not literally) and were checked in just after her…and realized when we had received our key that we had cut in front of a long and patient line of people already waiting to be checked in. *cringe* We would like to take this opportunity to publicly flog ourself with a large stinky trout and apologize abjectly to those people, who included Laurel Ann of Austenprose! Whoops.
We bustled off to a Top Secret Rehearsal with the rest of Team Tilney, including our Very Special And Top Secret Guest, during which we realized we needed to work a little harder on our own part of the presentation to avoid sounding like a stammering moron. Ran into Allison T., with whom we were sharing a hotel room, and ended up in a large merry group for dinner at the Heathman. Retired early to work on our presentation.
Friday morning, up bright and early for a final run-through of the presentation, and then it happened! (We will write about the presentation itself in a separate post.) We had a very large group in the main ballroom–it was about half-full, or maybe a little more, so we’re guessing around 300 people, but we are not good at that sort of thing. The presentation went VERY well and our prep paid off! The audience seemed to like it a little bit.
A quick lunch at the Flying Elephants deli, and we were back for Stephanie Barron’s plenary talk, which made us realize how much Northanger Abbey has in common with modern murder mysteries. There were two breakout sessions on Friday afternoon; we attended James Ashley’s talk on “Muslin and Magic in the Regency Era,” which really did include some magic! And spirits! And mysteriousness! We had the honor of introducing Stephanie Eddleman for her presentation on “Henry Tilney: Austen’s Feminized Hero?” We point out the question mark, which is important. Prof. Eddleman pointed out the difference between feminized (which, she argued, Henry was, in the sense that he identified more with his sister and possibly his mother than with his father and brother) but not effeminate, and moreover was a strong, moral character, especially compared to his Gothic-novel counterparts. We have to agree, and hope other Team Tilney members will have the opportunity to read her paper in Persuasions. Friday evening we were treated to art historian Jeff Nigro’s exhaustively illustrated talk, “Mystery Meets Muslin: Regency Gothic Dress in Art, Fashion and the Theatre.”
Saturday kicked off with Juliet McMaster’s lovely plenary talk about Catherine Morland, which we also hope is published for non-attendees to read. We then attended the morning breakout session, Mary Hafner-Laney on “Jane Austen and the Art of Being Fashionable.” Examples of various fabrics were provided for us to fondle, and we saw a Regency-era fashion doll, which dressmakers would have garbed in smaller versions of the latest fashion, much like mannequins are displayed today. The second breakout we attended was Sarah Parry, from Chawton House, who spoke on real-life abbeys and other Gothic-inspired country houses in Jane Austen’s time. Our last breakout session for this AGM was Allison Thompson’s talk, “The Rules of the Assembly,” explaining not only the actual rules (yes, there were rules, which we received in a handout) but the various social details that Jane Austen’s contemporary audience would have known, but remain a mystery to current readers. That was our favorite breakout–and we don’t just say that because Allison is our friend, but because we thought she did a great job of explaining the sort of things that many readers wish to know and that help one to understand some of the action in Herself’s novels.
Then it was time to dress for the banquet and ball. We were amazed, when we went down to the pre-dinner gathering, to see the variety of costumes–as it was a Bal Masqué, there was not just Regency wear. But even in the Regency wear, the clothing has become so elaborate and with much more of an eye to period-correctness than even a few years ago. (We hasten to add that if you attend an AGM, you need not bring or wear Regency garb unless you want to; and that even then, there are no Costume Police around to mock your effort. It’s all meant in fun, so it should be fun and not stressful.) At the first AGM we attended, 2000 in Boston, there were only a handful of people in costume, and wearing period costume has really grown in popularity over the years.
The banquet was spent with a convivial group at a table with mostly Team Tilney members and spousal support units, but with a few new acquaintances as well, whom we enjoyed meeting. The Grand Promenade turned out to be not very promenade-y, so we just milled around and checked out everyone’s costumes. Then the dancing commenced, and a very good ball it was. We can say with all sincerity that we have never seen so many people dancing at a JASNA AGM. Like the costumes, more people participate every year–and the dancing was the best I’ve ever seen, if a bit limited sometimes by the tight quarters–not that the ballroom was small, because it was the biggest ever as far as we can tell, but there were just SO many people dancing. The caller was excellent, which might have something to do with the general excellence of the dancing, and if one is new to dancing, a dance workshop is helpful, but we haven’t had a workshop for a couple of years and manage to follow along quite well. We were sad at the end to say goodbye to Kelley B. and Heather and her husband, as well as our new acquaintances, the Antique Fashionista and her spousal support unit, who all were leaving early on Sunday morning.
Sunday morning we slept in a little and then enjoyed a lovely brunch and a panel discussion, “Dispute Without Mayhem,” featuring Joan Ray, William Phillips, and Diana Birchall, moderated by Kimberly Brangwin. There was a general agreement that NA was undeserving of the reputation it has in some quarters as being Not Quite As Good As The Others, and there were a few shoutouts to Team Tilney as well, though the participants declared themselves members of Team Catherine at the end. (Isn’t that the same thing?) William Phillips brought down the house with his “Doggerel Abbey,” which we will post separately.
We did a little sightseeing in the afternoon, and VERY early Monday morning was winging our way home. We wish our stay could have been longer, as we really enjoyed both the city and the company at this AGM.
We would love to hear everyone else’s impressions and memories of the AGM in the comments. We were so busy with our presentation and social whirl that we missed the tours and lots of the extra events, and of course one can’t attend ALL the breakouts, so do please talk about them in comments if you attended!