As one of 150-plus first-time attendees to the 2015 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), I found the event to be as educational as I had hoped and more charming than I expected. Here are a few of my JASNA reflections.
The AGM was hosted by the Louisville, KY, region, led by Alana Gillett and Bonny Wise, who put on an event that drew the largest number of newcomers and, according to old-timers, a record turnout of people dressed in period clothes. There’s something about Southern culture that encourages locals put on their Sunday best when nice people come to town.
My main interest in attending was the seminars, particularly those related to health, medicine, and childbirth. These topics play an important role in the second and third volumes of “The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen.” The seminars ended up spanning talks by Albert Roberts, on the work of a naval surgeon; Sharon Lathan, a nurse (RNC) and novelist, on medical practice and practitioners; mathematician Dr. Jo Ann Staples on household remedies of the day; and Kelly M. McDonald on childbirth in Regency times, with examples involving Austen’s own relatives.
Some of the medical treatments, including surgery without anesthetics, were brutal. A modern person cowers at the knowledge that Austen’s fellow author Fanny Burney underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer without anesthetic—and lived another thirty years. Other treatments, such as medicines containing mercury, were dangerous. Laudanum—opium dissolved in gin or wine—was the day’s equivalent of aspirin.
The medical practice of every era will suffer from historical perspective. Two hundred years from now, people will consider us barbaric for cutting open people—even with anesthetics—to heal them, and for dumping poison in their veins to stave off cancer.
My convention-going days have involved business—meetings with partners, customers, the press—and the typical attendee was a burned-out yuppie. It’s refreshing to see people who enjoy working the booths, and people in the hallways who are conversing with others because they want to, rather than have to. And to attend seminars out of genuine interest–in addition to a business imperative.
For a newbie, there were not as many opportunities to meet others as I would have liked. Everyone was friendly, but the singleton had to push forward, usually into long-time friends, to make connections. It was worthwhile, to be sure. I met a number of fellow authors, and members of regions outside of Oregon whose interests ranged from the erudite to the fun. It would have been nice to have meetings specifically designed to introduce people to those from other parts of the country.
Of course, I declined the one social event I might have joined in, the Saturday evening ball. Too concerned that the dance steps would be too complicated, though from what I then saw from the sidelines the more experienced dancers were quite patient and encouraging to the newcomers.
I learned that the card game Speculation was as popular among the Rogers clan (explorers of the Ohio valley and the Great Northwest) in Locust Grove, KY, as it was among the Bertrams in Mansfield Park, England. I could not claim, as Fanny Price did, to be a mistress (master?) of the rules within three minutes, for the youngest lady at the table roundly trounced me in the half-dozen hands I played.