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Throwback venue suits AGM beautifully

As usual, several dozen members of the Wisconsin Region traveled in October to attend the JASNA Annual General Meeting. Below, several of them share their impressions of the 2019 gathering in historic Williamsburg, VA.


By Judy Beine

JASNA’s 2019 AGM, JASNA’s 40th anniversary. If we swept from view the motor vehicles which surrounded the conference headquarters and if we somehow confiscated all the cell phones, we could have been living in late 18th century Alton, or Steventon. There were numerous period costumes, and some of our members were mistaken for colonial Williamsburg guides. Northanger Abbey was our book, and Austen’s characters came alive for me once again, on this my third reading. “200 Years of Real, Solemn History” was my 19th AGM, and I must tell you these gatherings get more fun all the time.


At times one wondered where all 840 attendees were, as the venue, Williamsburg Lodge, did not seem crowded. For the first time our group was split into two ballrooms for the banquet, and our own Liz Philosophos Cooper, in her first year as JASNA President, led the toast to not only Jane but to one another for our continued friendships. Liz did a terrific job. Her mother, Joan Philosophos, would have been so proud!


The last breakout on Saturday, “Stormy Sister-hood: Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre,” presented by Amanda Beverly and Mary Landrum, was very lively. Team Austen vs. Team Bronte. Amanda and Mary met at a book group some years ago and became fast friends. I learned gothic novels are set in old castles or mansions, have an atmosphere of mystery and/or suspense, the characters have overwrought emotions, there are women in distress and threatened by men, and there’s an element of romance. The good ladies gave point-counterpoint. Team Austen had the edge, no surprise.


By Susan Richard

“200 Years of Northanger Abbey” in Williamsburg, VA was my 16th AGM and Mom’s 14th and we were very much looking forward to the sights and fine weather of Colonial Williamsburg. We arrived to temperatures in the mid-90s, but it felt good after a cool, rainy start to our own fall in Wisconsin.


On Friday morning we took advantage of a few unscheduled hours and ventured down to Merchant Square. We entered a College of William & Mary bookstore and I found several Christmas gifts. Having two grandchildren now, named William and Mary Victoria, I couldn’t have found a more perfect shop, and their colors were green and gold like the Green Bay Packers!


Mom and I enjoyed traveling with members of our NE WI region, sharing shuttles and flights, and watching the gate notices delay our flights again and again. They say misery loves company and they’re so right! We look forward to the AGM in Cleveland and to making new memories together.


By Marsha Huff

The AGM in Williamsburg was my 20th. It was especially meaningful to me because, in a way, I saw my work for JASNA come full circle. Joan Philosophos, who died in 2002, was my JASNA mentor, as well as the Nominating Committee chair who placed me on the JASNA board and then chose me to be President. I have since mentored her daughter, Liz Philosophos Cooper, and strongly recommended her to succeed Claire Bellanti as President. It was a joy to see Liz in Williamsburg at the podium and in meetings, very much the leader I knew she was.


In addition to providing a joyful reunion with kindred friends, AGMs offer an opportunity to learn more about Jane Austen and her work. Some might ask (as my husband has), after 200 years, what more is there to say about Austen and her six novels? As it turns out, plenty. In Williamsburg, Janine Barchas introduced a new approach to reception history: how Austen’s work and literary status has been received and evaluated by critics and the common reader. Instead of examining first editions and famous interpreters, Janine traced the growth of Austen’s readership through the many inexpensive editions of her novels available in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Her lecture was based on her latest publication, The Lost Books of Jane Austen.


Janine’s subject especially resonates with me because my first encounter with Austen was in an inexpensive edition of Pride and Prejudice, paired in one volume with Lorna Doone (Richard Blackmore, 1869), which I received as a Christmas present when I was about 12. After many house moves, I lost the book, but it remains precious in my memory. You may have a similar story. Janine’s illustrated lecture will be available in Persuasions Online this winter, along with many others.


By Sarah Wittlinger

I had been a JASNA member for just over two years, and Williamsburg was my first AGM. Northanger Abbey is one of my favorite Jane Austen novels so I was really excited to be going to this year’s gathering with my mom.


On the shuttle to the conference center and at check-in we were greeted by members extra excited to see first-time attendees. We received beautiful tote bags with our programs and helpful tips on where to go and what to do. The emporium was a Jane Austen paradise of hats, dresses, accessories, and books of course! There were tables set up for Chawton House, Jane Austen House Museum, and places for regional groups to sell their merchandise.


There were so many interesting breakout sessions that it was difficult choosing which ones to see! The influence of the gothic novel to the writing of Northanger Abbey was one of my favorites! The speaker even read all of Mysteries of Udolpho we wouldn’t have to and told us the ending. I also enjoyed learning about cheaper editions of Northanger Abbey that brought the book to the masses.


The ball was the crowning moment of the conference. Many a lady (and quite a few gentlemen) were dressed in Regency finery. My mom and I even wore handmade gowns. As I had taken a country dance lesson earlier in the week, I felt more confident taking to the dance floor. I danced quite a few dances and with people I had not met before. I have no words to express the happiness of being amid other Janeites and dancing!


I must say that the feeling of camaraderie amongst fellow JASNA members is wonderful. I not only learned so much from the talks but felt like I made many friends. I can’t wait for the next JASNA AGM and the hopes of making many more! Can’t wait to see you there!