The 2018 annual general meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America in Kansas City focused on Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last and most poignant novel. The AGM featured numerous insights into both the book and issues related to it, including my own talk on the influence of Jane Austen’s naval brothers on the text.
Hazel Jones gave a fascinating lecture on Steel’s List of the Royal Navy and the Naval Chronicle. These were the publications that people at home would follow as to the location, leadership, and activities of naval vessels during the long war with France. Frank and Charles, the naval officers who were Jane’s brothers, show up from time to time for their exploits and postings.
Jones also showed several notations, including the loss of a sloop, that would have rated the bare mention that Captain Wentworth speaks of, had he gone down in the weather-beaten, nondescript Asp. I’d wondered before why the Royal Navy allowed so much information to be published about its warships, as it provided the French—and later, Americans—detailed description of military dispositions. It was not until 1813 that the Navy got wise and began to reduce its public information.
Janine Barchas gave a well-illustrated talk on the importance of the cheapest and most overlooked editions of Jane Austen. Most of these were printed under new and sometimes garish covers with the general idea of “new and improved!” But most of them went back to Richard Bentley’s early editions, using the same plates, and sold for much less than the “authoritative” editions. The cheap offspring would sell for three to six shillings—eventually even less—compared to eighteen to twenty-one shillings for a “proper” book.
Bentley’s page plates lasted as the source for most Austen editions for at least fifty-eight years! The takeaway from Barchas’s talk was that the cheap editions were in fact responsible for Austen’s growing popularity, as they were the source for most of the books that the general public read. And also that various editions can be traced back to the original plates by the wear shown on the printed pages. Like fingerprints, each of Bentley’s plates suffered unique wear and each printed copy was traceable to its source.
So Jane Austen was a major part of the original pulp fiction.
John Mullan gave his usual charming, funny, and innovative take on a particular topic. His plenary was about the self-delusion shown by all the characters. Sir Walter deludes himself about his self-worth, but Anne also deludes herself—at least, suppresses herself and her reactions to the world, and Wentworth. The Captain, of course, deludes himself at first that he no longer has any feelings for Anne.
James Nagle provided all that anyone would want to know about prize money for naval captains, including a fact I did not know—that if someone died, his share went not to his family but to the Crown for a naval hospital.
The most emotionally satisfying talk was not by a scholar but by an actress–Amanda Root, who played the quintessential Anne Elliot in the 1995 movie of the novel. First there was a filmed interview of her by Gillian Dow of Chawton House (in case Amanda could not attend because of her work schedule), then there was Amanda herself. She read some of the most memorable excerpts from the book as well as her own journal from the 1995 filming, when she would write, as Anne, responding to things Austen had written in the novel. In between, she answered questions from the audience.
Amanda in person came across very much like Anne Elliot–thoughtful, self-effacing, and quiet (until she laughed). The conference was proclaimed as the largest JASNA AGM in history. It was certainly a very well-organized event under Julienne Gehrer and her team. The hotel conference area was sufficiently large but reasonably compact, so that it was easy to move from session to session. The emporium was also in one room, which was nice for the shoppers and vendors both.
The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, which traces love from a charming courtship through the richness and complexity of marriage and concludes with a test of the heroine’s courage and moral convictions, is now complete and available from Amazon and Jane Austen Books.
The Trilogy is also available in a single “boxed set” e-book.