misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

2010 JASNA AGM, Portland: Jane Austen and the Abbey/Burney and the Gothic

Dear Friends and Readers,

Izzy and I arrived home safely last night around 10:30 pm (Daylight Savings Time still); we both had our deeply gratifying moments, and happy times and conversation we'll try to remember for a long time to come.   As the title of this JASNA was Jane Austen and the Abbey, and its topics Northanger Abbey, the gothic, and Henry Tilney, I can do no better than offer a still from the 2007 Granada Northanger Abbey (Andrew Davies, the writer) of J.J. Feilds as Henry Tilney driving Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland into the pretend Abbey (Castle Lisemore, Ireland):

On the bridge crossing over:

This is just one woman's account of what I saw and heard. 

Izzy and I arrived after a long plane ride (from 10:20 am to 7:20 pm, Washington time); we took the lite train into the hotel, a vast tall two-towered enormous building. We managed to check in, get to our room, unpack, and rush out to register by 6:00 pm Portland time. 

Then it was time for me to find the Burney people as I had already missed the day's sessions and reception, and did not want to miss anything of the dinner and talk afterwards. Happily the women at the JASNA AGM reception desk were able to find out that drinks and dinner were across the street, in another tower of the hotel, down in the lowest level. 

I went over and found myself among friends I had made at EC/ASECS and ASECS and online; they welcomed me and by the time the dinner was over I had met a small group of new people, heard the history of the Burney society (given by the president, Paula Stepankowsky, telling of its inception to the present time, and of all the accomplishments, as for example, the plaque in the Abbey), and I was cheered by the good feeling emanating at all 6 tables.  I talked Marilyn Francus at the Burney dinner; I finally met Elaine Bander in person; I talked again with Jocelyn Harris (who just flies about the earth -- she had come from London, been to NY, and now was in Portland, soon to go to Otago, New Zealand again); her student, Janine Barchas was giving a paper on historical context for NA..  I don't remember what I ate, only that I drank scotch and ginger ale and looked forward to the Burney society conference for half the next day.

Izzy had found herself supper at a local McDonald's, wandered around Portland a bit, and was ready for bed. I stayed up late reading Winston Graham's Memoirs of a Private Man which should rather have been called Memoirs of a Socially networking financially successful writer.

The next morning she had a ticket to the continental breakfast downstairs, and I didn't.  But I was allowed in and both of us had croissants and orange juice, and I had coffee.  The breakfast was held in a room not nearly enough to accommodate even half the people to the conference (said to be 690).  There I encountered Diana for the second time in our lives. Izzy's plan was to watch ice-skating on her computer for about an hour, go to a large session occurring in the Grand Ballroom whose topic was Henry Tilney, and then to an hour and one-half of dance workshop which would have helped her do the dances on Saturday night.  She did all that.

As for me, I first chaired a panel at the Burney society.  The topic was "Real Terror" in Burney's grotesque gothic. Marie Thompson spoke about how grotesque realities were represented in the novel of Frances Burney and Charlotte Smith. Prof. Galperin (he of Historical Austen) and Marie Thompson had two different sets of texts, mostly all Burney and all Charlotte Smith; he Evelina and Northanger Abbey, and Prof Galperin once again differing. Both speakers praised the gothic as a mode women could use to communicate their real lives through and to one another. I noticed and said both papers show that there was a pivotal shift in the way gothic was understood and presented in the later 1780s into late in the French regency. Miss Thompson concentrated on particulars in the texts of Burney and Smith: she showed that Smith has many a female harridan and Burney's older women are often destructive, that Burney's characters are complex and don't fit preconceptions about communities of women nor the female gothic; she discussed a concept I found in other papers: the domestic gothic, how ordinary life holds terrors.  Prof Galperin showed the strongly pro-patriarchal strain that comes through in Evelina and NA; Henry Tilney and Lord Orville will carry on the patriarchy; Prof Galperin's larger purpose was to break down genre distinctions so that the gothic is the real.

A gatehouse with a lodging place for servants to live, a lead-in to the privileged spot Austen is not going to want to give up. What more can she need her Emma might have asked.

The plenary lecture by Cynthia Wall was called "The Impress of the Invisible." What she wanted was to show us how readers are led to ignore the typical gatehouse and nearby parking lodge as simply the introduction to the actual luminous cards.  The gatehouse and parking lodge are far more than this. They kept being built to give prestige, status and impose an aristocratic ordering and set of values (as in the train shuttle).  She showed how Park Gates when say X is pulled over for a license, he hasn't got a chance of anyone believing he didn't do it.  These are buildings which uphold the establishment.

Prof Wall went over several different texts picking out passages which includes the characters going through these gates and lodges and coming up the long progressive path to the mansion:  from Pilgrim's Progress to Mysteries of Udolpho to Northanger Abbey, from Mansfield Park to Camilla.

What I most enjoyed about the lecture were all Prof Wall's slides showing so many parking lodges, gatehouses, massive gates at the opening of Portsmouth; all meant for ostentatious display yet often a poor miserable wretched person would be living in the private ones.

A modern ruin

There was much talk afterward on these two papers and also on the gothic as it had emerged in the session in general. Again the idea that the gothic in these papers had become indistinguishable from the real was pointed out. I remembered that in the Landmark Trust catalogue there are numerous lodges and gatehouses, and that Jim and I had stayed in a hunting Lodge which had a vast bed in an alcove with a mirror about the bed. this was a place a great duke kept his mistress. A 15th gatehouse in Devon now sports the Jacobean ceiling once in a mansion.  Nowadays the lodge has the prestige elements in it. 

Afterward (when all had gotten up and were standing about, going off, having coffee &c&c), I introduced myself to and talked with Juliet McMasters at the Burney meeting, telling her how much I had admired her work all these years, including the book on Trollope. She said she had an interest in Thackeray too -- I knew that but don't know Thackeray that well. 

Then this really pleasant time and group of people merged into the larger JASNA.  I enjoyed the small time I had just as much as I had enjoyed their lectures at the EC/ASECS last autumn and mean in 2011 when I hope to go to the NYC JASNA AGM to go early enough to participate in the whole of the Burney society conference. I wish I could give a paper.  It'd have to be on the diaries for these are what I like in Burney.

Well it was near 1, time for the welcoming address to JASNA and the first plenary lecture by Stephanie Barron.  Izzy and I met in our room, went out to grab a hot dog for her and a banana and coffee for me, and then hurried back to go to the Grand Ballroom for the first time.  An enormous number of people were in that room, and within the limits that no one could be there who couldn't afford it in some way (the average cost must've been about $1500 for 3-4 days), they were varied in type, from academic and professional (lawyers, business people) to Austen readers, to people dressed up in 18th century costume they had either gone to a lot of trouble to sew themselves and/or expense to buy. Everyone attempted to be friendly with everyone else.  The first plenary at this Austen AGM was by the author, Stephanie Barron who has grown fairly independent by writing mysteries with Jane Austen as a major character in them.

Stephanie Barron looked youngish and pleasant.  Her talk consisted of aligning story lines in Austen's P&P and NA with story lines in her and other mystery stories fitted against categories drawn from mystery outlines as described in the popular presss or reviews.  She was turning Austen into modern mysteries this way.  At one point during the question time afterward (some inane) Izzy grew restless and asked me why we were sitting there. Barron did have a basic honesty.  Apparently her latest book has Byron's name in its title and he appears; she told us she had not read Byron's letters (not even apparently a selection) and recommended an older biography written in the 1930s which she had just read. She does a minimum of research it would seem.  She also revealed something of her original inspiration or idea: she reads Austen's letters until she come across  an incident which lends itself to modern women's romances; then she makes up a full-blown mystery out of that using elements from the famous six novels.  She likes to have other marquee characters. I noticed that the title of her first book resembled that of Sayer's Unpleasantness at the Bellona ClubJane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor.  I can't help seeing that the typical double title resembles the titles of the Bobbsey Twin or Nancy Drew series.

In the 1987 NA a statue of a woman broods over Catherine Morland in the Abbey room; she is the missing mother, the woman whose loss Eleanor Tilney longs for

Then it was time for the break-out sessions and mine came first. Its new title is "People that marry can never part: An intertextual reading of Northanger Abbey. I read the book in the context of Genlis's Countess of C********** and two other gothic tales from Adele et Theodore; Charlotte Smith's Montalbert, a powerful enthralling gothic with patterns and attitudes that resemble Austen's ow;, Anne Fuller, The Convent, or the History of Sophia Nelson, a startling eye-opener as it satirizes to many books; finally Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle, written with NA in mind. I 'read" Northanger Abbey in the context of a different set of gothics than is common: through the lens of French texts, real life cases, and little known and modern anti-gothics. My aim was to read Northanger Abbey against a fuller backdrop of the gothic, to explore and defend the gothic, especially those called "female" and those which feature younger sons. Among my points is the argument that coerced into nunnery tales are not about sexual violation but the confiscation of a woman's life.  Imprisonment motifs reveal the wife abuse of the era as well as behavior that comes close to the torture of being a hostage (living in solitude, dependent on a cruel person, in the dark &c&c).  I'll say no more until it's published by Persuasions (or rejected), except that the paper went over very well:  it was well-received in the room, and I was thanked by several people over the course of the next two days: either they were there and enjoyed the paper, or they had been told by someone else I had done an excellent paper. This made me feel so good.

In addition, that the next day I was chuffed to discover that among the last papers give was Gillian Dow's paper where Dow made the same central point: as I: Genlis's Duchess of C******** was a primary source for NA. I no longer can make precise shorthand forms nor quickly but just attest to how forceful, vigorous and confident many younger women are today. In her session she had all the "important" people there. Gillian rightly emphasized how quickly English works were translated into French and vice versa; she mentioned the women writers whose novels I've worked on a lot: Sophie Cottin, Germaine de Stael.  Genlis wrote 17 novels. She added a detail I hadn't noticed:  Mrs Tilney died 9 years ago in the novel; so the Duke of C********* imprisons his wife for 9 years.  She did come over to me later on that night to talk and say she understood how close to hers is my work and we should pool energies. I shall write her briefly before the end of the week. She said to watch out for a conference in Chawton in July on other 18th and 19th century women. I could write about Smith at long last. I have to email her soon.

In the 2007 NA, Felicity Jones as Catherine, deeply distressed to discover she has been tricked into standing up the Tilneys and cannot jump out of the carriage as John Thorpe just laughs and makes the horses go faster

After Gillian's talk I and Izzy went to hear Elvira Casal's talk on courtship and deception in NA. She had a big enough crowd in her room and spoke clearly and in an easy to understand talk style. It was like being in a classroom. As opposed to most of the talks which were about context, genres, archetypes, placing Austen amid other women's novels (Helena Maria Williams's Julia, for example), Elvira sensibly analyzed the motives and behavior of John Thorpe and Henry Tilney and showed us why Henry so valued Catherine (for her honesty, generosity of spirit) and how Catherine asserted herself to chose (wisely) what she wanted and reject what she (rightly) didn't.  Hers was a humane reading of the novel, about how people construct lies to control what's happening around them and to control others.

I took few notes so this brief resume of a few papers and what I remember of Juliet McMasters' and Jeff Nigro's lecture on Regency Gothic dress in the era and in today's films will comprise the rest of the scholarly or bookish/art content I can contribute as a record of what happened. I feel morally persuaded (and from what I remember) Mr Nigro's talk was excellent.  Alas it came so late at night I couldn't take much of it in; Izzy said she drowsed. The one comment (with stills) I remember best is his assertion (probably true) that along with hair-, women's costumes are often far more modernized than the men's costumes in film adaptation.  There seems to be a feeling that it's necessary to please the woman viewer by giving her images of herself to identify with in the film, while it is not necessary to please men this way.  Perhaps film-makers believe few men watch or identify.  At supper tonight Jim said he had wondered why in the era men wore these terrifically high and uncomfortable collars; they didn't add to your looks; you had other clothing items to make you look exclusive.  Corsets flatter women's bodies in ways they want: when Isabel put one in at the JA Museum in Bath, we laced her up and then put a mid-18th century dress on her, she did look lovely. On the other hand, until recently too in film adaptations male actors were trussed up all around their necks until they could barely move their heads easily and they did not look any better for it.

The high point of the conference for me that others can perhaps join in on was Juliet McMaster's lecture, which was basically a meditation on the "holy fool" nature of Catherine Morland's character who has "wisdom in simplicity."  She began by talking of how Claudia Johnson and other academics often downgrade the importance of character's personalities; Prof McMasters wanted to show that responding deeply to characters the way we can respond to people can be a valid guide for seeing into the author's larger purpose and meaning of her book.  She showed us how Catherine Morland makes "holes" in our imagination and how we care deeply about what happens to her. She cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible; she acts out of a refreshing honesty. Henry's jaded dullness is rejuvenated by Catherine; he needs her.  It could be that Isabella Thorpe's mercenary and corrupted behavior influences Catherine's, but it does not (as Emma is not hurt by Frank Churchill). That carriage ride by Thorpe is an abduction but it's not the body that's emphasized, rather Catherine's mind he tries to attack.  Catherine is suggestible, can be colonized, but she is fundamentally too good to be alienated and maintains her own space. Prof McMasters suggested Catherine's reading of Udolpho saved her from Isabella; she is so absorbed in her books and her own values, they can't touch her.  I love how Prof McMasters ended her lecture; it was on how Catherine under the tutelage of Elinor turns from gothics to the natural world and learns to love a hyacinth and Henry's response (my epigraph for this blog):  we can never have too many holds on happiness.  During the course of the hour, Prof McMasters quoted Wordsworth, Keats, and ideas about the romantic imagination.  These writers also used the gothic as a form of awakening in their poetry. I have left out much that she said as part of her line of argument, but hope I have done justice enough to this moving talk.

Of course I really loved the meeting with friends, the overtly or directly social activities of the conference.  Diana Birchall had organized a lunch at South Park restaurant. There I met with a few friends on Austen-l and Janeites and now Women Writers through the Ages who I had been writing to for years now.  Two of the women were just beautiful (physically -- how I feel my age!), and one was so generous as to give Izzy advice on what to do with her career (hoped for) as a novelist.  She and Diana told Izzy her Cinderella story (the only one she has on the Net) is superb and she must finish it.  I met Arnie Perlstein who is a nice guy at this lunch. Izzy did take pictures with her camera and maybe we'll figure out how to put them on this blog, but in the meantime here's one of the general talk I filched from Diana's blog:

You glimpse Cindy Jones, and see Christy Somers, Katherine McCormack, Ted Adams, Izzy and me

We went to the social hours and I drank and chatted away.  We bought books at the Emporium, including a graphic novel version of Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, Austen's Northanger Abbey, and Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla (all in one book). Diana and I managed to steal an hour and go to the gigantic Powell's bookstore. It's sort of overwhelming and we all bought a book (Izzy one by Terry Pratchett, Diana one on ballet and ballerinas, me Nuala O'Faolain's posthumous Best Love, Rosie.  We (Izzy and I) went out to a lovely Italian restaurant one night and had a good meal and I drank.  We went to the ball, dressed up: Izzy in a white lace dress, and me in my black velvet one with the big black satin bow at the back.  I did get two people to dance with me even if I hadn't gone to the workshops and managed to go up and down the line twice.  I hope I did not make a fool out of myself and look too ridiculous for I was not in costume the way most of them dancing were.  I did drink, gentle reader, scotch and ginger ale when I could get it, wine when I could not.  This helped on the night of the banquet when Isabel found the excitement and tension of the four days had been too much and had to go upstairs early. I saw some people at that table were made uncomfortable; to my mind, they were intolerant over a couple of minutes' difficulty and I should have ignored them but did not.  I was trying for Izzy's sake to persuade her to stay and dance as I knew she wanted to.

We did love the Wild Rose Garland dancers at the Portland museum. They did gestures which reminded me of Lancashire cloth-making and the instruments were folk, original, 19th century. The dancers were delicate and authentic. The museum has some lovely 19th to early 20th century American art.  There were at least two other mother-daughter pairs at the JASNA, and we sat with one:  Miriam Rheingold Fuller (whose Domestic Gothic in NA I heard) and her daughter: both in costume.  We walked by ourselves through the museum and then back to the hotel and then out again to dinner at a nearby good Italian restaurant.

Of course part of this socializing is meeting and talking with people whose names you never learn or who tell you their names but you know little else but the talk is fun because there's a shared interest and nothing fraught, nothing going or resting on it, disinterested.  I talked with one gentleman with a bow-tie twice at breakfasts and then discovered he was one of those who owned one of the book stalls. I talked with a woman who will be organizing the NYC AGM and she explained why it costs so much to do power point presentations and so why one is discouraged from doing this sort of thing -- though if it's justified they can be done. I talked with the people running the book stalls.  One woman recommended a new Tracy Chevalier.  I met up with people from our JASNA-DC group during the large meetings in the ballroom.  I met the curator of the Jane Austen Chawton cottage at the banquet.  Unfortunately, I forgot to ask her name, but found myself inquiring whether she was a museum or Jane Austen person. She replied both.  At the end of Elvira's talk I came up and re-introduced myself and we chatted as two friends. I spoke with Mary Margaret Benson while the dancing on Saturday night went on. I thanked her for allowing me to register Izzy late and helping us out in all sorts of ways. She and her team made it all possible -- and for so many people.

Why do people go to conferences? Not really to hear the thoughts of the papers, because eventually many get into print. You go to be validated; to talk to people in your community like yourself.  To share feelings and thoughts.  The conversations on the bus (in this case trolley-cars and bus shuttles).  You are among your particular tribe.  A tribe not linked by genes or biology.  Perhaps this accounts for my worst moment.   While listening to Prof McMaster's opening, a woman came to sit next to me.  She was one of the many in Regency costume.  She did differ from most of these by the perfection of her outfit. From head to toe she was dressed in impeccable later 18th century clothes; everything she had matched, from a partly rose-colored reticule to a spotless part-white dress.  She had regency shoes she had made.  Reader, she made me very uncomfortable. She took out of a thin bag a kind of cardboard figure which she proceeded to knot or knit at.  What was uncanny is that if she had been an 18th century lady, she'd have never been that clean or done such an act in a public lecture. It was entirely incongruous with her chair, with the lecture itself, with the year 2010.  Sometimes too she sat there so still. I doubted she was hearing the lecture. I felt very alien from this woman:  there seemed a kind of madness about the way at one point she ostentatiously took out a pair of fragile knitted gloves and put them on and off with a slight movement of her body. She did want people to see her, to pay attention.  For her the procession and parade at the banquet must be a must-do. Yet beyond the absurdity of her behavior and apparent consistency of dress, she had no corset on. Most of the women I saw wore no corset. These 18th century styles are not flattering to even young women unless they wear a corset; they are set up for corsets; modern taste does not idealize fecundity and in any case middle-aged women have (to put it tactfully) had it (more on the lack of laced corsets in my comments).

To turn back to the matter of the conference, the thing shared (here Austen and her era):  if nothing original, you hear a lot of development and get the feeling of what people are thinking and feeling this year, and this year we are all pro-gothic.  For Prof McMasters the gothic is an awakening experience; for many the other side of the real.  You are in for conning of course (maybe not so much in a JASNA but in some conferences where there is intense competition) and have to figure out what's valuable and what hype, what personal aggrandizement sheerly and what of genuine interest

Then there is the occasional great moment:  the illuminating paper, film, encounter. For me this time the moment was the close of Juliet McMasters' paper and hearing & seeing that Gillian Dow had come to precisely the same conclusions I had and facing up to how she had put it across much more persuasively than I had and appreciating why and how.


P.S. Gentle reader, about 4 months ago now my ability to get down the form of Pitman stenography precisely and quickly as people speak went from me.  It takes me too much time to make the forms clear; if I try to do it quickly, they don't come out right. I can try to make them bigger and then they come out clearly but that too takes time. Meanwhile the person is talking on. I have lost my hand-eye coordination when I write in long hand-writing too nowadays: my forms don't come out the way I mean them to, letters disjointed, the wrong ones sometimes.  So from here on in only the jists of talks and what I can remember.  

Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with'ring Life away...
                ---Samuel Johnson
Tags: costume drama, female archetypes, jane austen criticism, jane austen films, jane austen novels, jane austen sequels, jane austens letters, jasna

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