October 5-8 the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Huntington Beach, California. Now that I’ve decoded all those mysterious letter, what does it all mean? Well, in short, just south of a thousand Janeites gathered to celebrate all things Austen. So what does one do at these things? The options are many and varied.
1. See a Play.
The first evening, Diana and Syrie performed a two woman play, You are Passionate, Jane, that Diana wrote herself!
Charlotte Bronte (Diana) and Jane Austen herself (Syrie), appeared before us, allowing us to be privy to a most interesting discussion. It seems that even in heaven, Jane Austen in a woman of strong opinions and a sharp wit. No one channels Bronte like Diana Birchall! Aren’t they gorgeous–even … angelic.
2. Eat meals with people you rarely get to see
The next day we got to enjoy the conference and the rare opportunity to spend some face to face time with each other. Though we talk to each other regularly, sometimes even daily (!) and work on projects together, real life distances keep us from being able to see each other very often. Diana and Syrie are on one coast, Abigail on the other, and I’m smack between on the Gulf Coast. It can be years between the times we get to see each other. So these opportunities are a rare and special treat.
3. Attend some wonderful presentations.
All day and into the evening there were speakers and presentations on Jane Austen, her life and times–totally amazing stuff. Too many to name here. Two memorable ones were a presentation by Edward Knight about the current state of Chawton House, where Jane Austen’s brother lived, and a printing demonstration by the Print Museum of a period printing press. Just mind boggling to think about how Jane Austen’s books were originally typeset one letter at a time, by hand.
4. Hang out with book lovers (and sign a few books)
Book signings are a rare chance to spend some face to face time with readers. It’s pretty special to get to see the real flesh and blood readers and shake their hands!
5. Wear Regency Costumes
It’s a shame we can’t wear regency costumes more often, but when the chance comes up, you just can’t say no! In particular, the Saturday evening banquet is anticipated as THE dress-up event of the conference. The banquet ended with a promenade through the conference center in all our finery!
6. Give a presentation
Three three Austen Variations authors gave a presentation: Readers, Writers and Jane Austen: Appreciating Austen in the Internet Age.
What did we talk about? Here’s the introduction of our presentation proposal to give you a flavor: The popularity of Austen adaptations combined with the explosive growth of the internet has brought a new audience to Jane Austen’s novels. Unlike pre-internet Janeites, who had fewer opportunities to find other fans and limited ability to contact each other, today’s internet-savvy Austen lovers are able to gather together in cyberspace and converse about Austen’s works with other equally rabid fans worldwide on a daily basis.
As part of this increased interest, a number of authors have found inspiration in Austen’s novels, her characters, narrative voice, and style. Encouraged by an Austen fan base hungry for more stories about her characters, modern authors are exploring the joys and challenges of adapting Austen’s characters to different time periods and social milieus, spawning an entirely new genre: Austensque fiction.
I don’t know when I’ve had such fun doing a conference presentation. It was more like a chat over coffee with old and new friends, sharing our passion for Jane Austen. What a treat to be surrounded for four days by those who ‘get’ our enthusiasm for all things Jane!
7. Sneak in a little time to enjoy the scenery
The conference was held in the gorgeous Huntington Beach area. Admittedly I had to get up early one morning to sneak off and see the beach, but it was worth it!
Hope to see some of you guys at the next one!