Attentive Gentle Readers will have noticed that the Editrix was not as comprehensive in her coverage of the JASNA AGM this year as she has been in years past. That is because the Editrix’s home region, Eastern Pennsylvania, hosted the AGM this year in Philadelphia, and we were busy with volunteer activities to help keep things running smoothly. However, we did get to attend most of the AGM and enjoyed it as much as ever. It is always great to meet readers (include those who whisper, “I just lurk”–you know who you are!) and our fellow JASNA members, and while being a volunteer meant giving up some fun activities, we were amply compensated by the opportunity to meet so many of our JASNA brothers and sisters in the City of Brotherly Love.
Things started off swimmingly on Thursday when the AGM was featured in a lovely article by the equally lovely Carrie Rickey in the Inquirer.
On the same day I was one of the volunteer leaders for a tour of the Winterthur museum and grounds (complete with a red tour leader flag, which I was completely obnoxious with). We had perfect weather and the Winterthur staff was delighted to see us. Among the treasures they put out for us was an 1816 Philadelphia edition of Emma, the first American edition of one of Jane Austen’s novels (and an extremely rare edition), inscribed by E.I. duPont, one of the former owners of the estate.
Later that night was an exciting event featuring Elizabeth Garvie, who played Elizabeth Bennet in the 1980 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I was exhausted from my activities of the previous two days and went to bed early to prepare for the main action of the AGM.
The AGM officially opened on Friday afternoon with the North American Scholar plenary session featuring Jan Fergus, an always entertaining speaker who discussed bad siblings in Jane Austen’s work sabotaging one another. The first two breakout sessions followed; I attended Jocelyn Harris’ session noting similarities in Fanny Burney’s The Wanderer and Persuasion. (The Wanderer being the only Burney I haven’t read, we told Prof. Harris we were going to do so right away, and she warned me it’s a bit of a slog. Nonetheless I will give it a try! I also purchased a copy of Prof. Harris’ new book, A revolution almost beyond expression: Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which looks great. I also attended a session by William Galperin, who discussed sibling and other relationships in Lady Susan. Among other things, he pointed out that Frederica was a rather manipulative little piece herself.
On Friday night, we had a treat: 11th Hour Theatre Company put on a one-night benefit performance of Austentatious, a musical about a very bad local theater company putting on the world’s worst adaptation of P&P ever. The first half of the show was plagued with sound problems, but the second half, when the inadvertently hilarious “new” adaptation of P&P was at last performed, made up for it. Janeites stopped the show twice applauding two absolutely hilarious moments (“I went back to the source, and there is no clog dancing on that DVD!”) We would like to announce that our new shorthand for bad adaptations will be “JAZZ HANDS!”
Saturday started off as always with continental breakfast, and then we enjoyed a plenary session by Maggie Lane on James and Henry Austen, refuting much of the common wisdom about those two brothers and defending James against the usual view that he did not get on very well with Jane.
I had to take care of some things to do with the author signing, so I missed most of the next breakout session, but caught the end of Liz Cooper and Molly Philosophos in character as the Bingley sisters giving “advice” to their brother, complete with hilarious slides. From what I did see, I’m pretty bummed that I missed the rest.
I had a few minutes to check out the Regency Emporium, and saw that the Austentation booth had straw poke bonnets. On a whim, I tried one on, and it looked really cute! Laura, the proprietor (and my friend) offered trim kits of ribbon, flowers, and feathers to dress it up, and I left the hat with her to trim and went to see the “Dressing Mr. Darcy” session put on by Lisa Brown, a/k/a Alert Janeite Lisa around these parts. It was a fashion show and explanation of how to put together a Regency kit for your gentleman friends on all budgets. The gentlemen modeling outfits were having way too much fun, as were some of the audience (DOWN, girls), and it was an enjoyable session.
Afterwards, I picked up my bonnet, and was so thrilled with it that I wore it for the rest of the afternoon, shouting across the room to acquaintances, “I GOT A BONNET!” It was an impulse purchase and one of the best ever. It is sooooo pretty! I saw quite a few of the straw poke bonnets around during the weekend, including Sunday morning at church, so they were obviously popular. I also purchased a cunning headband with a feather to use as my headpiece at the banquet and Regency ball.
Ruth Perry then gave a plenary session on why good brothers make good husbands (with many shout-outs to Mr. Tilney, to our immense satisfaction). For the last breakout session, I attended Sheila Kindred’s session on Charles Austen, and how Jane drew upon his experiences stationed on the North American Station with the Royal Navy in her fiction.
I rushed to put on my Regency kit (including my fabulous new headband–how easy, I just fluffed my hair, plopped it on and my hair was done! Awesomeness!) and rushed back down to the lobby to set up the author signing for speakers who are also published. We had a pretty decent turnout and the authors seemed to enjoy speaking with one another. In fact some of them got rather uproarious–I hated to break it up to go into the banquet! They were having such a good time!
Since the signing had been moved away from the pre-function area, where everyone was socializing before the banquet, I was pleased that so many of the attendees came out to the lobby to say hello. Quite a few attendees dressed up in Regency kit for the occasion, both men and women, and it was quite the glittering gathering. (I do want to stress that Regency costume is NOT required to attend the AGM–you will not be at all out of fashion if you just wear a nice outfit for the banquet, as you might wear to go to dinner at a nice restaurant.) The dinner was delicious and the company excellent!
After dinner was the promenade. Everyone in costume took a turn around the block. The Fluffyans we encountered did not seem especially surprised to see us, though some stopped to take photos and some came out of the bars to toast us and cheer us on.
There were several post-banquet activities, and since I was already dressed up, I went to the Regency Ball. The Germantown Country Dancers provided music and the (wonderful and funny) caller and expert dancers to help the rest of us not-so-expert. I have never seen a dance floor so crowded at an AGM ball! There was barely room to move at times. The crowd thinned out after a bit, and it became easier to dance, though the floor was still very full. Another successful AGM Regency Ball!
Sunday morning I was up bright and early to do a reading at the Anglican church service at historic Christ Church. The service included one of the prayers written by Jane Austen, and we got to sit in George Washington’s pew! Wow!
We got back to the hotel just in time for brunch, and the final plenary speaker, John Mullan. John is an engaging and charming speaker and his talk, about the intimacy shared by sisters in their conversations in the novels, was extremely funny and enjoyable.
The two upcoming AGM committees made presentations, including a hilarious Texan duo of Hank Dashwood (called Woody) and John Willoughby (called Willy) singing “Home on the Range,” customized to invite us all to Fort Worth for the 2011 AGM, and the Portland committee gave us a rundown of all the wonderful charms of their city and of their theme. The AGM banner was passed to the Portland AGM committee, and the AGM closed. It all passed so fast, and was so enjoyable. As much as we enjoyed the sessions, we enjoyed the fellowship of our JASNA brothers and sisters just as much. I particularly enjoyed spending some time with my AGM roomie, Allison Thompson. We spent hours talking about everything to do with Jane, and could have talked for many more. We talk by e-mail, of course, but it’s not quite the same!
I arrived home safely, as did my bonnet, courtesy of my good friend Lorna Carton. It was pretty nice to just have a half-hour drive home from an AGM, especially since I had taken advantage of the proximity to do a lot more shopping than I usually do!
I cannot commend the staff of the Sheraton Society Hill Hotel highly enough. They were friendly, professional, accommodating, and everyone we encountered went out of their way to be helpful and welcoming. I have a deep appreciation for good customer service and this establishment is absolutely superior!
I also have to commend the steering committee of the AGM (and yeah, I was a member but most of my contributions were early on) and especially Elizabeth Steele, the AGM coordinator, who did an amazing job putting it all together. Things ran like clockwork and it looked easy, but only because there was a LOT of hard work behind it.
I’m looking forward to next year’s AGM in Portland, Oregon, already! Northanger Abbey on Halloween weekend–what could be better? See you there!