After enjoying breakfast, we gathered for the first plenary session of the day, Claudia Johnson speaking on “Conjuring Jane Austen.” The listed title was “Can We Ever Have Enough of Jane Austen?”, which was a subject Dr. Johnson covered as well. Her talk was as fascinating as anticipated, scholarly yet witty, and now I’m really looking forward to her upcoming book on Janeites. One comment she made that I really liked was, though she found the most recent films “uninspired,” she still thought that one cannot have enough of Jane Austen, as those movies were not really Jane Austen at all. Hear, hear!
I skipped the next breakout session to prepare for my poster session, “Blogging Jane; or, Blog Snarkily and Carry a Big Cluebat.” What is a poster session? Simply it is several large corkboards set up around the room, and each of us who were presenting set up our stuff and talked about it to those who stopped by. Lorna helped me set up, and then I waited for the rush. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was great. Most of the people had at least heard of the blog, and even those who didn’t were kind and interested. I also had so many Gentle Readers stop by and introduce themselves, including some who whispered, “I just lurk.” The best thing some of them said was, “I found out about a book, or a play, or something else I enjoyed from AustenBlog.” That’s the best thing I could ever hear. The LOLAustens were especially popular. At one point the crowd around me was so thick I was holding three or four conversations at once. It was great but I was hoarse and worn out by the time it was over two hours later!
I ran off to the next breakout, Janine Barchas on Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and how it is almost a reaction to Pride and Prejudice, pointing out the north/south divide in P&P as well as in N&S.
The next plenary session was also much-anticipated, Joan Ray on “Jane Austen for Smarties,” obviously a play on the title of her book, Jane Austen for Dummies. Anyone who has had the opportunity to hear her knows that Joan is an extremely entertaining speaker, and she did not disappoint. She donned surgical scrubs and doctor’s lab coat (with her name and “Doctor of Austenology” embroidered on them) and used the children’s game Operation as a metaphor for creating the perfect Janeite. She highlighted early enthusiasts and scholars of Austen’s work–and even some early detractors (there were others besides Mark Twain). We can’t wait for her next work, either: the Jane Austen entry in Gale’s Dictionary of Literary Biography.
One more breakout, Jane Spector Davis on Harry Potter and Jane Austen, comparing and constrasting Emma with Prisoner of Azkaban, sent us off to prepare for the banquet and ball. Lorna and I both wore our Regency kits, so it took a while longer than usual, but soon we were dressed and ready to go. First we went to the author signing and cocktail party, got some books signed, and admired all the costumes. There were more people than ever dressed in Regency costumes this year, including gentlemen. I’m not sure if that is because it’s becoming more popular or because the AGM Steering Committee arranged for attendees to rent costumes, which were dropped off and picked up at the hotel, making it easy for those who have no Regency kit in their closets.
We went in to dinner, which was delicious and enjoyed in “the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation”–indeed the best company. After dinner, those of us in costume (probably 150-200 people), led by a bagpiper, paraded up Michigan Avenue and around the block, to the great bemusement of Chicago in general. We waved grandly to cars stopped at red lights and random tourists snapping photos of the crazy people; at one point (I was told) a bicycle messenger was yelling into his cell phone, “You won’t BELIEVE what I’m looking at!” I wonder if it was the same handsome young man on a bicycle who, clearly enjoying the spectacle, called out that the Duke of Nottingham was available once again. We “ooooohed” at him, which he seemed to like. Many people asked us what was going on. They heard “Jane Austen” and said “OOOHHHHHHH.” The universal passport: Jane’s name! It was hilarious and so much fun! When we returned to the hotel, the bagpiper had squeezed himself into an alcove, wishing (he told me) to be out of the way, but the ladies immediately queued up to have their photo taken with him. The power of the kilt!
We then repaired to the ballroom, where the dance floor had been laid and the musicians warming up for the ball! Each dance was demonstrated by experienced country dancers, who then dispersed among the crowd, inviting some of us to dance and helping us along. We were walked through each dance (and many of us had already practiced them in the dance classes) and of course there was some confusion and collisions and trains (and probably feet) tread upon, but it was still the most fun I’ve had in a long time. My fan came in handy as more than a prop, however. At midnight, I turned into a pumpkin (not really) and the ball was over, whereupon we stumbled off to bed, footsore and sweaty and smiling. We can see why Jane Austen, and her characters, enjoyed dancing so much!