AGM: Everything’s smart and fun in Kansas City
The 2018 Annual General Meeting, with the theme “Jane Austen in Paradise,” was held Sept. 26-30 in Kansas City, MO. We are happy to share some impressions and photos from members who attended.
By Katie Marks
It has taken me a few years to settle into the rhythms of JASNA and JASNA-WI, but I think I’ve got the hang of it now — especially after attending this year’s Annual General Meeting.
I had been contemplating going much earlier in the year and was musing with a friend that it was so close to Milwaukee — and wow! even closer for her in Illinois! As an Austen lover herself, Angie got very serious and asked if she could tag along. “Are we doing this?” “YEAH we are.” So Angie got us organized and, schedules and gowns in hand, to the AGM we went!
And I must say, what a supremely lovely — and lively — experience it was.
I went in with two expectations: one was perfectly met and the other was totally off.
1. I expected that the AGM would be the best combination of a literary conference and a comic-con, and I was so right. The organizers achieved a perfect balance between fangirling over pretty dresses and Captain Wentworth, and literary critiques, linguistic nuances, and historical scene-setting. Ah! be still, my nerdy, romantic heart!
2. As an introvert who has had issues at past conferences talking to other humans, I expected much of the same. My, how wrong I was. I left breakouts chatting with “strangers” (though are Austenites ever really strangers to each other?), made flirty eyes at everyone up and down the sets while dancing, and didn’t want to go back to my room during breaks. Color me flabbergasted.
I also spent quite a bit of time with Wisconsin Austenites, which I did not expect, but treasured.
I could jump right into some of the topics the plenary and breakout speakers discussed (What would have happened to each of the characters after the banking collapse? Did publication negotiations for Emma influence Persuasion? Why is there less fan fiction for Persuasion than P&P? Does Anne Elliot delude herself or is she really perspicacious?), but I really don’t think there’s space for that here.
Instead, please find me anytime, anywhere and let’s chat about Persuasion in specific or anything Austen in general. I love a good literary (or fangirly) chat.
And since I have mentally penciled in every AGM for the rest of my life into my calendar, I hope to dance with you all at future events!
By Vic Richard
I retired this year, and in addition to my robotics hobby I wanted to broaden my horizons a bit. My wife, Susan, suggested that I read a Jane Austen novel; she has been after me for years to do so. She suggested that since I was a naval officer early in my career, Persuasion would be a good starting point. I read it and was very impressed with the story itself and the quality of Jane Austen’s writing. I somehow managed to get through an elite high school and three engineering degrees without being exposed to Jane Austen’s work. Needless to say, I will read more.
The Kansas City AGM was my first experience with a large-scale gathering of Jane Austen fans. I found the experience intellectually exhilarating, the people knowledgeable and friendly, the venue first class and the overall organization of the meeting superb. Having a fullscale replica of a T-Rex in front of Union Station across the street from the conference site and The National World War I Museum next door were major pluses as well. The talks were excellent from both an academic standpoint and an interest standpoint. Also, Julienne Gehrer and her team coordinating the conference did a great job. They managed to keep an engineering guy engaged for four days, and I left wanting more.
I would certainly read more Jane Austen and attend more AGM conferences in the future. I told Susan that I would even dress up for the Regency ball if she finds me a Royal Navy officer uniform from the era. I already have the right dress sword.
By Marsha Huff
It was a pleasure to see George Justice at the AGM. He is an old friend of the Wisconsin Region, having been a plenary speaker, with his wife, Devoney Looser, at the 2005 AGM in Milwaukee. George and Devoney were also favorites of Joan Philosophos. For many years George served as a dean at Arizona State University, and he has only recently returned to his first love—teaching and scholarship.
I attended George’s AGM breakout session, “Persuasion and the Passage of Time.” It was a scholarly examination of Jane Austen’s use of time in the novel to create emotional impact and to prompt reflection on the meaning of the characters’ lives, individually and within the family, the community, and the nation. Sounds deep and serious — and it was — but George’s style of delivery was humorous and inclusive, eliciting comments and reflections from an engaged audience, which included plenary speaker John Mullan. We hope to see more of George at future AGMs.
By Judy Beine
When I learned that Persuasion was the theme of JASNA’s 2018 AGM, I chuckled. Persuasion with its naval theme in land-locked Kansas City, Missouri! Well, okay, KC is on the Missouri River. But “200 Years of Constancy and Hope” was another fun and informative gathering. President Clare Bellanti told us this was the largest AGM in history, and I was told, unofficially, that 912 Janeites came together. Our conference hotel was spacious and never did it seem that so many were in attendance. I was on vacation out of the country when the registration day and hour was set and it took another ten days before I learned I was confirmed and duly registered. My only disappointment was I didn’t get a ticket for the AGM’s Pump Room Tea and Fashion Show. I do hope someone else will write up that event.
Sheryl Craig was my favorite plenary speaker. She always gives a splendid presentation, and it seems, effortlessly. Her lecture “The Persuasion of Pounds” enabled me to learn about the money in Georgian and Regency England. For instance, the 1797 cartwheel penny and its worth. One could buy a day’s worth of coal, or one candle which would last three hours, or two or three buns, or enough gin to get drunk.
A shilling was a day’s wages, 10-12 hours’ labor. A shilling would buy a loaf of wheat bread, or a pound of bacon or 20 pounds of potatoes. If you stole a shilling you could be hanged or shipped to Australia.
Sheryl also told us of the history of Jane Austen’s brother Henry’s bank and how the post-Waterloo depression affected England in 1815. No one predicted the crash. Persuasion begins in August of 1814 and Sir Walter Elliot is already heavily in debt and has to retrench. By pulling together the facts of England’s economic history and tying it to Austen’s Persuasion, I’d say that Sheryl Craig’s audience, including me, was fascinated with the telling.
By Sara Bowen
The 2018 JASNA AGM in Kansas City highlighted Persuasion: 200 Years of Constancy and Hope. Plenary sessions, breakouts and special events examined both the novel and its historical setting from many perspectives. Here are a few highlights from some of the sessions.
Opening speaker John Mullan urged us to consider how every character in Persuasion engages in self-
delusion, from Sir Walter’s incessant delusions about his youth and good looks to Anne’s insistence to herself that she is happy Wentworth no longer loves her. Austen’s free indirect discourse style is a perfect tool for allowing those self-delusions to sidetrack us, as we follow Anne’s perceptiveness – or lack thereof. One of Mullen’s fascinating insights was that Persuasion has the lowest level of dialog in Austen’s novels – only 35%, whereas both Emma and Pride and Prejudice have close to 50% of the novel in dialog. With much of Persuasion’s talk turned into reported speech and filtered through Anne’s consciousness, we are bound to buy into her self-deluded interpretations if we aren’t careful.
Sheryl Craig, our 2017 Birthday Luncheon speaker, reminded the AGM that Austen’s first readers would have known that in the months after the novel’s conclusion, the economic world of many of the characters would collapse with the end of the war after Waterloo. Sir Walter might well need to flee to the continent to escape debtor’s prison as failing banks, such as Henry Austen’s, would call in his many loans. Mr. Elliot, who probably owes money to Mr. Smith’s estate, which is why he won’t settle the estate accounts, will be called to task by Captain Wentworth. Farmers such as the Musgroves and the Hayters would do well with the passage of the Corn Laws. Naval officers such as Admiral Croft and Captain Wentworth would probably be invested in government bonds and maintain their fortunes, but the end of the war would throw many out of work – not just demobilized military members but also many employees of military goods manufacturers.
Sheila Hwang’s plenary concentrated on the perceptions of Bath and Lyme Regis contained in contemporary works, including travel guidebooks. Bath was losing prestige in the early 19th century to the seaside resorts, but was still viewed as a place of questionable doings – Bath visitors could lead lives of relative invisibility, as opposed to the gossipy countryside. Lyme, on the other hand, was noted in travel guidebooks for its friendliness and hospitality, and Austen’s use of the Harvilles’ friendliness played upon that image.
Gordon Laco, the naval and historical technical advisor for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, enthralled the brunch audience by audio feed from Canada with his precise description of life in the British Navy in the early nineteenth century. A sailor could not purchase a commission in the Navy, unlike the purchase of army officer commissions for people such as Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. It was essential that any naval officer have superb technical skills, and although “interest” was needed to move up in officer ranks, the navy stayed meritocratic in demanding that officers pass skills tests before they could formally receive the commission. The base pay scale was low, so one depended on prize money to make a fortune.
Breakouts covered topics as varied as George Justice’s exploration of time concepts in Persuasion; Marcia Folsom’s discussion of how the revised chapters of Persuasion amplify the themes of earlier chapters far better than the cancelled version; and Susan Allen Ford’s detailing other contemporary novels about naval life and its effect on the families of sailors.
Special events also illuminated deeper themes in Persuasion. A huge crowd heard Joan Ray give fascinating background on “Persuasion 101,” such as how Mrs. Clay’s name symbolizes how malleable she is to those around her – clay can take any shape when wet, but when it’s dry, it’s extremely hard, as symbolized by Mrs. Clay abandoning her children for her Bath adventure. Various versions of the words “persuade” and “persuasion” are used 31 times in the novel, as more characters than Anne are persuading others or themselves. And Joan Ray reminded us that Persuasion is also about a battle between books – the Baronetage that Sir Walter reads at the beginning, which represents the past he clings to, and the Navy List, which represents the present and future that threatens him.
Sheila Johnson Kindred discussed how the writings of Austen’s sister-in-law Fanny Austen show marked resemblances to the development of Mrs. Croft. Hazel Jones brought original Navy Lists to her presentation on the various Navy List periodicals which brought detailed intelligence of the fleets – including news of marriages of officers – to the wider world during the Napoleonic wars. Jones noted how an attempt to start a similar publication in Boston in 1813 during the War of 1812 was banned by Congress so as not to give valuable intelligence to British spies, and how Britain then also limited intelligence allowed to be published in its lists. Sue Dell of Jane Austen’s House Museum explained to an after-banquet crowd the various types of candles available in Austen’s time, and how Sir Walter’s extravagance can even be seen in his lighting choices.
A new feature this year was a Jane Austen Pub Quiz, held during the pre-banquet cocktail hour. A packed room held a number of teams and a couple hundred spectators as British quiz host Tom Kelly ramped up questions from simple to obscure in each round. It was the decided opinion of the crowd that the Pub Quiz needed to be a featured event at every AGM!