April 2016: JASACT attends JAFA (Pt 2)

April 20, 2016

Prepared by members Anna, Sue and Cheng

Here are our reports of the last three papers of JAFA’s Chawton Years Symposium. (You can read our summaries of the first three, here)

Katrina Clifford: “Suppose we all have a little gruel”: the importance of food in “Emma”

Katrina Clifford, in a humorous, well supported paper, began with the hypothesis that in Emma Jane Austen creates a more detailed picture of how food worked in a small town than in any of her other novels. Her analysis of the novel revealed that Austen uses food as both an indicator of character and of the social/class structure.

Mr Woodhouse’s obsession with gruel for instance, a staple food of the poor, is a strange choice given he employs a cook, Serle, who the name suggests is probably both male and French and therefore a considerable status symbol. When Mr Woodhouse invites guests, he is equally obsessed with controlling what they eat. Given that his guests are usually poorer people like the Bates, his insistence they have “small” eggs, “little” pieces of apple pie and “half” a glass of wine to preserve their health conflicts with the rules of hospitality. Meanwhile Emma ensures everyone has enough to eat without him noticing.

Mr Woodhouse has the power to deprive others. For example sending the asparagus back when it hasn’t been cooked enough, without considering the impact on his poorer guests. Equally Mr Woodhouse tries to control how the Bates will cook the pork he sends them as charity. Emma makes certain they are sent a full hindquarter, rather than the smaller, leaner cuts her father proposes. The Bates acceptance makes them dependent. Jane Fairfax, however, sends back Emma’s gift of arrowroot, thus rejecting the social structure her aunt has accepted.

Austen uses Mr Knightley’s fondness for beef to emphasise his masculinity. He is also unique among Austen’s heroes as he is a farmer, he grows food. He too gives food to the Bates, sending them his last bushel of apples, indicating his generosity of spirit. As a result, Austen shows that Emma and Mr Knightly are a good match because pork and apples go together perfectly.

Marcus Adamson: The ever absolute Miss Austen

It wouldn’t be a stretch to describe psychotherapist-ethicist Marcus Adamson’s paper as the most challenging of the Symposium, but I’ll do my best to summarise his main points. The Symposium program described his subject as being “What is the real motivation for our attraction to Jane Austen’s novels?” He commenced by referring to E.M. Forster’s image of Janeites as enjoying her novels simply for their “small ‘r’ romance”.

However, drawing on philosophers and thinkers from the ancient Greeks to contemporary times, Adamson argued that Austen’s novels have a serious moral vision, that she asks the big Socratic question, “How should I live my life?”. He suggested that this is not always recognised because of her novels’ bourgeois setting. (Don’t we all know people who discount Austen because she’s just about well-off people and their desire for marriage and money?) On the contrary, Adamson argued, calling on Plato and his ilk, Austen’s novels present moral truths and certainties, or moral absolutes, that are innately “known” to us all. In arguing this, Austen’s moral value, Adamson was preaching to the converted. (The converted did, however, have to work hard to glean the argument from a highly academic paper that he abbreviated on the fly, due, it seems, to a misunderstanding regarding timing).

The main point was that he addressed his argument to current thought and behaviour. Our current individual-focused world has, he said, resulted in the individual becoming “unshackled from society”, and thus losing, if I understood him correctly, a moral mooring. He quoted former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating’s observation (1997) that “today there seem to be no certainties or absolutes.” Nothing, in other words, is certain anymore, everything is open to doubt, and the consequences, Adamson believes, are “catastrophic”. Austen’s novels might masquerade as entertainments, he said, but they do in fact present a serious moral vision which can work as a “corrective” to this dilemma. It is this, not “small ‘r’ romance”, that is their attraction and worth.

John Potter: Royal Navy in the Regency Period

18th-early 19th century British naval dress

18th-early 19th century British naval dress

The final paper of the Symposium was given by John Potter, in full naval uniform and accompanied by dashing armed officers and sailors in historically accurate kit. His presentation covered the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) when Britain depended on the navy for protection from invasion and for supporting the army’s European campaigns. It cost up to a quarter of the nation’s total budget and was considered superior to all other navies. Yet despite the huge number of men and ships involved, the administration staff was astonishingly small – the opposite of what happens today!

He explained the classification of ‘ships of the line’ (i.e. the fighting line). A ‘first rater’ had 100 guns + 1 Royal Marine per gun. Fifth and sixth raters were frigates for patrolling and scouting duties. Unrated ships were sloops and ketches. Their armaments were main guns and canonades (the latter were known as ‘smashers’). Then came the small arms: muskets, pikes, axes, cutlasses, swords, dirks and pistols. His ‘crew’ obligingly displayed each weapon.

JAFANavalHat‘Captain’ Potter listed the ranking of men: officers and midshipmen (usually from the middle class), warrant officers, master and commander, captain, commodore (which could be purely temporary, just used when leading a number of ships), admirals (often gained by attrition) and also mentioned the Royal Marines who would be aboard. How many of us knew that Cook was a lieutenant, and only called Captain because he was appointed to be in charge of the Endeavour? The navy was much more a meritocracy than the army – a point that Jane Austen made clearly.

How prize money was shared, what 1/2 pay meant, and the impress service (i.e. press gangs) were explained as was the fact that the principle fleets were named by the bases from which they operated, e.g. Irish and Channel and West Indies. Uniforms followed civilian dress styles and we all appreciated being able to ask questions about the various examples on parade.

Following the more academic talks of the day this was a refreshingly practical and down to earth way of understanding more about the life of Jane Austen’s naval characters – Admiral Crawford, Marine Officer William Price, Admiral and Mrs Croft, and Captains Wentworth, Harville and Benwick. A great way to end the day!

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April 2016: JASACT attends JAFA (Pt 1)

April 19, 2016

Prepared by members Sue, Cheng and Anna

As has been our practice for three years now, we did not schedule an April meeting, to cater for those members who wished to attend the Jane Austen Festival Australia.

Symposium on The Chawton Years

Two JASACT members chat in the Hyatt's lower foyer between speakers

Two JASACT members chat in the Hyatt’s lower foyer between speakers

This year all 6 scheduled speakers for the Symposium turned up, which made for a full but very enjoyable day. Although focused on Jane Austen’s Chawton Years, that is, those years from 1809 to her death in 1817, the papers ranged widely in content and style, from historical to literary to philosophical in content, and from descriptive to analytical in style. There was, we’d say, something for everyone in what is a rather diverse Festival.

To make our report manageable to read online, we have divided it into two parts. Here is Part 1.

Judy Stove: Edward Austen Knight and his legacy at Chawton

Judy Stove was one of JASACT’s early members, before moving away. We were therefore thrilled that she was one of this year’s JAFA presenters. Her paper, on Edward Austen Knight and his legacy, set the scene beautifully for the day. Edward is the brother who inherited the Chawton Estate and provided accommodation – Chawton Cottage – for his mother and sisters, Cassandra and Jane, after the death of their husband and father. If our Jane had not had this secure base in her adult life, would we have had the books we now love?

Stove took us through a well-constructed argument concerning Edward’s legacy. Starting with the familiar – Austen’s early family history and how she ended up at Chawton – Stove moved on through the family after Austen died. She described Edward’s world, demonstrating that he was a “man of the world” with wide cultural interests, and tracked the history of “Austen lore”, that is, how Jane Austen became a cult, starting in the 1860s, not long after Edward’s death.

This cult, she argued, has culminated in an emotional attachment to “things” Austenian, such as the lock of hair bought by American Austen collector Alberta Burke in 1948 and the turquoise ring bought by American singer Kelly Clarkson in 2012, both of which caused uproars in Austen circles. Clarkson’s purchase of the ring was brought to the notice of Britain’s Export of Items of Cultural Interest legislation, which lists three criteria that could prevent export. A Senior Curator, at the Victoria and Albert Museum objected to the export of the ring under the third criterion – that it was of outstanding significance for the study of Jane Austen. In the end the committee deferred granting an export licence under the first criterion, which is that the item must be “so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune”.

What does “misfortune” mean, Stove asked? How significant is a ring that no-one knew existed until 1959? How much does the ring add to an understanding of Austen when we can see from her novels that material objects were not important? Would Edward Austen Knight, who, Stove argued, did not enjoy personality-focused museum exhibits, tombs, statues, and the like, have approved his sister’s life being lauded this way? Stove proposed that the hair and ring stories show an attitude to cultural nationalism that allows emotion to over-ride rational thought. Fortunately, there is more to Edward’s legacy than this. In 2003, American philanthropist Sandy Lerner, who had earlier bought Chawton House, established there The Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing, 1600-1830! Now, that’s a legacy!

Gillian Dooley: “My Fanny” and “A heroine no one but myself will much like”: Jane Austen and her heroines in the Chawton novels

Devoted readers inevitably look for parallels and sympathies between the ‘real’ Jane Austen and her characters in an effort to answer the question: ‘What was she really like?’  Gillian Dooley examined the Chawton novels – Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, Sanditon – for clues about the degrees of distance between their heroines and their author.

With a liberal selection of well-chosen quotes from her characters and from Jane Austen herself, Ms. Dooley prompted us to explore just how closely the author was in sympathy with her leading ladies and whether any of them can be said to speak for her – to embody her own beliefs and opinions. Mary Crawford is said to most share Jane Austen’s own kind of wit. Why should this disturb us? Is it because the thought jars with the sanitized biography of the author promoted by the Austen family after her death?

Fanny Price, often condemned as an evangelical moralist, has those principles undercut by glimpses of her jealousy and by the asides of the author. Fanny’s moral world is not that of Mansfield Park’s and the narrator is obviously considerably more worldly than Fanny. When Jane Austen referred to her as “My Fanny – happy in spite of everything”, she increased the difference between Fanny and herself.

As to Emma, we hear her and see her through her own interior monologues when she reports her personal flaws and secret thoughts. But can we really align points of similarity in her and Jane Austen? Anne Eliott’s (Persuasion) self-absorption, her reflections and internal grieving, have led to the most varied interpretations by readers. Austen allows us to be inside Anne’s skin – to be sympathetic to her feelings.

This was a most thought-provoking, well argued presentation, and undoubtedly we each had our own personal ideas on which of these ladies most resembles the real Jane. Gillian Dooley’s conclusion was that none of them does.

Julia Ermert: Marriage in Mansfield Park 

Proposing that Mansfield Park is not a ‘stuffy’ story, Julia Ermert’s paper explored all of the different marriages in the novel, placing them in their social context.

The novel begins with the marriages of the Ward sisters: Miss Maria who “had the good luck to captivate” Sir Thomas Bertram; Miss Francis, who “married to disoblige her family; and Miss Ward, “obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr Norris”. The question was asked, “Did Sir Thomas bribe Mr Norris to marry his sister-in-law?”

In the next generation, Maria Bertram marries the wealthy Mr Rushworth (richer than Mr Darcy with £12,000 a year) to escape her strict father, Julia Bertram elopes while cousins Fanny and Edmund marry at the novel’s end. Can first cousins marry? Yes, because it hasn’t been illegal since the reign of Henry VIII.

The Crawford siblings create ripples of sexual unease within the Bertram family leading to the ruin of Maria Rushworth and a fate worse than death, having to live with her Aunt Norris in the country. Maria is the only character not to have a happy ending. There was no second chance.

Such divers topics as courtship in the ballroom, adultery, divorce, gossip, breach of promise and details of the marriage ceremony at Gretna Green were covered in this interest filled paper.


April 2015: JASACT attends JAFA

April 26, 2015

Prepared by members Sue and Cheng

As last year, we cancelled our April meeting, as many of us had attended, the weekend before, sessions of this year’s Jane Austen Festival Australia.

 Symposium on Jane Austen’s Men

According to the original program there were to be 6 speakers in the Symposium, but on the day we had four. The same thing happened last year, and both years it was the two male speakers who didn’t turn up. Coincidence?

Janet Lee: “Oh what a Henry”: the brothers of Jane Austen

Edward Austen Knight, c. 1788

Edward Austen Knight, c. 1788

Janet Lee’s presentation primarily comprised brief biographies of Austen’s brothers:

  • James, b. 1765: went to Oxford at 14. He wrote poetry, and edited the Loiterer magazine. Lee told us of the theory that an article in this magazine by Sophia Sentiment was in fact written by Jane Austen, and that this would then be her first published work. His daughter was Anna.
  • George, b. 1766: had some form of disability, possibly epilepsy, and did not live with the family.
  • Edward, b. 1767: adopted by a wealthy distant cousin, made formal in 1783, when he took on the name Austen-Leigh. He didn’t go to Oxford, but did a 4-year Grand Tour. His daughter was Fanny, and it was her son Lord Brabourne who found the Jane Austen’s letters.
  • Henry, b. 1771: was the first child born at Steventon. He went to Oxford, joined the regimentals. He had various careers: militia officer, banker, minister. He was the brother who got into the most scrapes, including bankruptcy, but for Jane was the popular can-do-no-wrong brother.
  • Frances, b. 1774: joined the Navy when he was 11 years old. He rose to the position of Admiral of the Fleet. He married the family friend, Martha Lloyd, when they were both 63.
  • Charles, b. 1779: joined the Navy when he was 12 years old, becoming Rear-Admiral. He was one of Jane’s first readers.

Cassandra was born in 1773, and Jane 1775. Lee made the point that given the number of children and the large age range, they did not spend a lot of time all living together, but they wrote letters and visited each other, demonstrating the importance of family. Un­married women had to be supported by brothers, as Edward did for his mother and sisters after their father died. After Jane died, Cassandra owned the copyright, while Henry negotiated the publish­ing of her books.

Katrina Clifford: Friendless, brotherliness, openness, uprightness: Naval men in ‘Persuasion’

Clifford commenced by reminding us of Louisa’s enthusiastic speech on sailors to Anne at Lyme. She:

burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy: their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.

Anne’s reaction is quieter, more rational, but no less positive about these people who “would have been all my friends”. Clifford argued that this group of sailors is unique in Austen’s novels. We see how they live, work and think, at home, not at war, as the novel is set during the so-called False Peace of the Napoleonic Wars. The naval community was, Clifford said, often accused of clannishness during Austen’s times.

Lyme, she said, is where we see this naval community the most, and where Anne becomes most aware of the community she lost in rejecting Wentworth (just as visiting Pemberley enables Elizabeth to see the life she’d rejected). Property in Pride and prejudice, becomes community/company in Persuasion. Naval company, Anne sees, is more warm than her father’s dinners of display.

Persuasion conveys much about the character of naval men, in particular:

  • Brotherliness: kinship terms are used to describe the community, such as “brother-officers”. Henry V had used the term “we band of brothers” but Clifford argued that Admiral Nelson used it to convey a caring for the well-being of all, including the family, which is what we see depicted in Austen’s naval community. An example is the care taken of Captain Benwick after the death of his fiancée. Clifford also mentioned the “fraternity” catch-cry of the French Revolution, but said that Austen’s concept of “fraternity” included women. “We” says Mrs Croft. Anne and Captain Harville, she said, speak like siblings.
  • Blurring of gender expectat­ions: Clifford argued that Persuasion “dismantles gender boundaries”, blurring distinctions between masculine and feminine. Harville talks of the role of women in society, and Wentworth in the navy; Harville speaks on how men feel, demonstrating a female-like emotional openness. The naval community is depicted as a meritocratic community in which woman are recognised for their abilities: Mrs Croft’s intelligence, Mrs Harville’s nurturing skills, and Anne’s ability to hold her head in a crisis. The Navy is shown to support a genuine attachment to family and an interest in home: Captain Harville made the home livable, and Benwick has feminine qualities and yet is not seen as effeminate. Men at sea must do domestic work, and women at home need to do practical things. Women who found themselves on board during battle would take on various duties, including being nurses, and powder monkeys for canons.

Clifford suggested that Austen was proposing that the Navy might present a model of how Britain could move forward as a nation, that she is presenting a framework for society.

Heather Nielson: Suitors in ‘Emma’ and ‘Persuasion’

Nielson commenced by referring to the final scene in the 1995 film version of Persuasion which showed Anne on board with Captain Wentworth. While this is not in the book, she said, it is a fair extrapolation.

Nielson quoted Gore Vidal’s statement:

Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps twenty players, and Tennessee Williams has about five, and Samuel Beckett one – and maybe a clone of that one. I have ten or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.

… and proceeded to look at some similarities in Austen’s characters across the novels. Anne (described by Harold Bloom as having “rational perceptiveness”), for example, shares an ability to see logical consequences with Fanny Price and Elinor Dashwood, while the “eroded and abraded” Elizabeth Elliot presents a vision of what Emma might have become without the presence of Mr Knightley. Then, she said, there are the upstarts, such as Mrs Elton and Mary Musgrove.

Nielson then moved on to look at the suitors in Persuasion – Captain Wentworth, William Elliot and Captain Benwick. It’s Captain Wentworth, she argued, who needs “persuasion”.

Anne is, she argued, initially attracted to William Elliot – to his knowledge of the world and his apparent warm heart – but she’s uncertain. She’s learnt to distrust Lady Russell’s advice. She also distrusts his sudden interest in their family, and finds him, perhaps, too agreeable. This shifts him from being a credible suitor, like Captain Benwick and Pride and prejudice’s Colonel Fitzwilliam, to being more like Wickham and Willoughby. These, and Henry Crawford, she described as “chameleon suitors”.

They are chameleon because they exude “excessive agreeability”, while being something quite different. Yet, while honesty is good, people do also need to temper forthrightness. She exemplified this by the scene in which the Mrs Musgrove expresses sadness about her late ne’er-do-well son who had served under Captain Wentworth:

There was a momentary expression in Captain Wentworth’s face at this speech, a certain glance of his bright eye, and curl of his handsome mouth, which convinced Anne, that instead of sharing in Mrs. Musgrove’s kind wishes, as to her son, he had probably been at some pains to get rid of him; but it was too transient an indulgence of self-amusement to be detected by any who understood him less than herself; in another moment he was perfectly collected and serious, and almost instantly afterwards coming up to the sofa, on which she and Mrs. Musgrove were sitting, took a place by the latter, and entered into conversation with her, in a low voice, about her son, doing it with so much sympathy and natural grace, as shewed the kindest consideration for all that was real and unabsurd in the parent’s feelings.

True gentlemen and women, in other words, must be able to discriminate, but manage their expression of it. Jane Austen’s dedication of Emma to the Prince Regent is an example of Austen’s “social palliation” (or, “civil falsehood”, as we JASACT audience members muttered to ourselves), given what we know to be her attitude to the Prince’s treatment of his wife.

Continuing with Emma, Nielson contrasted the plain, English Mr Knightley, with the “dandified, continental” Frank Churchill (as he is described by critic Darryl Jones).

Gillian Dooley: Men and music

Dooley presented her thesis that in Austen music does not “confer good character” on men and that, generally, Austen’s heroines should beware men who make music with them. The heroes tend to be those who appreciate music, who listen and turn pages, rather than practitioners themselves.

She commenced her discussion with Sense and sensibility, pointing to Marianne who had to have a man who concurred with her in taste. Willoughby’s “musical talents were considerable” we are told. By contrast, Edward Ferrars appreciates Eleanor’s playing as a lover not a connoisseur. Similarly, Colonel Brandon appreciates Marianne’s playing early in the novel:

Colonel Brandon alone, of all the party, heard her without being in raptures. He paid her only the compliment of attention; and she felt a respect for him on the occasion, which the others had reasonably forfeited by their shameless want of taste. His pleasure in music, though it amounted not to that extatic delight which alone could sympathize with her own, was estimable when contrasted against the horrible insensibility of the others …

Dooley went on to look at other novels:

  • Pride and prejudice:  Darcy listen to Elizabeth intently at Rosings, and fosters his sister’s musical ability
  • Mansfield Park: Mary Crawford is a good musician, and Edmund and Fanny her listeners
  • Emma: Jane Fairfax and Emma both play but Emma “knew the limitations of her own powers too well to attempt more than she could perform with credit” while Frank Churchill “was accused of having a delightful voice, and a perfect knowledge of music; which was properly denied; and that he knew nothing of the matter, and had no voice at all, roundly asserted.” Frank, the deceiver, can sing! Music plays a significant role in the novel’s plot machinations. Emma misses Mr Knightley’s jealousy regarding Frank, and Frank’s interest in Jane.  Mr Knightly on the other hand appreciates music with a moral discernment.
  • Persuasion: Anne mostly plays for herself: “She knew that when she played she was giving pleasure only to herself; but this was no new sensation. Excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste. In music she had been always used to feel alone in the world”. Captain Wentworth, was of course, that “short period in her life”. He was, Austen tells us, “was very fond of music”. Dooley sees Captain Wentworth as one of Austen’s best male characters – and he likes music, but is not a musician.

Keynote Speech. Gemma Betros: Jane Austen’s Waterloo

Britain was just emerging from 22 years of war (1793 – 1815) with France and Dr. Betros first gave a succinct outline of these wars and the politics of the period.

Jane Austen lived most of her life during war-time and, like many of her fellow countrymen, did not refer to it very often in either her letters or novels. It was “like permanent bad weather” that was to be faced stoically.

Yet the results were inescapable in her daily life. Her own naval brothers’ activities, Henry Austen’s militia duties and later his bankruptcy, the presence of French emigres such as her own cousin Eliza, were events close to home.

Over 1 million British men fought and the wounded and disfigured returned soldiers were to be seen everywhere in the streets.

The fear of invasion was constant – in 1807 the entire nation was mobilised for war and a mock invasion was practised. Recruiting and taxes must have seemed never-ending.

Newspapers gave conflicting reports and were often delayed. The news of the victory of Waterloo on the 18th June took several days to reach London and was only confirmed by Wellington when he returned on the 21st.

Jane Austen was a war novelist, a uniquely sensitive one. Her works are suffused with war.

Dr. Betros listed many examples of characters and events in her novels related to the wars – General Tilney, Lydia and Brighton, William Price and Admiral Croft.

In Sanditon was the only use of the word ‘Waterloo’, when Mr. Parker regretted having named his house ‘Trafalgar’ rather than Waterloo House.

Persuasion illustrates the social changes during and after war and the character of Anne Elliot, waiting, evokes the troubles of war.

The common belief that Jane Austen’s supposedly sheltered life led her to ignore the realities of the age was very effectively refuted, for indeed the history of those times infused that of her novels.

Dr. Betros’ recommended reading list:

  • Brian Southam, Jane Austen and the Navy
  • Jenny Uglow: In these times: living in Britain through Napoleon’s wars, 1793 – 1815
  • Jocelyn Harrris: A Revolution almost beyond expression: Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’
  • Mary Favret: “Everyday war”, English Literary History, Vol. 72, No. 3 (2005)

 


Jane Austen Festival Australia’s Symposium on Jane Austen’s Men

March 1, 2015

The volunteer-run Jane Austen Festival Australia, which was first held in 2008, is back again in 2015, and will run from Friday 10 to Sunday 15 April. Organiser Aylwen Gardiner-Garden describes it as “a living history event”. This means it includes historic reenactment, costume, music and dance of the Regency and Georgian eras, as well as presentations on Jane Austen and her novels and on the social and political history of the times.

The 2015 Festival’s theme celebrates:

the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, which is generally credited as Napoleon Bonaparte’s final defeat; – a significant event in European history that deeply affected the lives of every Englishman and the World. Bonaparte would soon surrender his troops and abdicate the throne, ending a seventeen year conflict between Britain and France, and other European nations.  Jane Austen had very little to say about the Battle of Waterloo or any aspect of the Napoleonic War, however, one novel does use war centrally as part of the frame: Persuasion. (from the About page)

The full program is available on the website, and tickets can be purchased on-line. Day tickets and full conference tickets are available.

Events that might be of particular interest to JASACT members are:

  • Symposium on Jane Austen’s Men, on Friday 10 April at the Albert Hall. A Day Ticket for Friday costs $50. The program comprises 6 speakers: Janet Lee, Katrina Clifford, Will Christie, Heather Neilson, Marcus Adamson and Gillian Dooley. Will Christie’s talk is on Mr Knightley which fits well with our study of Emma this year. Looks as interesting as last year’s Mansfield Park Symposium was.
  • Keynote Speaker, on Saturday 11 April at Albert Hall: Dr Gemma Betros’ “Jane Austen’s Waterloo”. Dr Gemma Betros is Lecturer in European History at The Australian National University. She holds a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and in 2012 was a Visiting Fellow at the Chawton House Library in the United Kingdom,which is now Centre for the Study of Early English Women’s Writing, 1600-1830. She is currently writing a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Mr Bennet’s Bride, play by Emma Wood at Theatre 3, on Saturday 11 April at 7.30pm, and Sunday 12 April at 9am and 2pm. Attendance at the Sunday morning session is included in the program for full ticket holders, but tickets ($35/$25) for any of the three sessions can also be purchased from Canberra Rep, Tel 6257 1950 OR at http://www.canberrarep.org.au.

May 2014 meeting: Jane Austen Festival Australia Discussion

May 30, 2014

Prepared by member Cheng

Canberra’s 2014 Jane Austen Festival Australia, held from 10-13th April at University House, was the topic for discussion at JASACT’s 17th May meeting. Most members attended the Sunday Symposium, however, one member had also spent Friday at the Festival and she enthusiastically regaled us with her adventures and personal impressions. After the amusing saga of discovering the route to the Stanner Room, she described Tony Miller’s brilliant lecture on Josephine as being so good that she forgot to take notes. Nevertheless, we still heard some extraordinary facts and anecdotes about the Empress. Our member declared it her favourite session of the Festival!

Afterwards she had watched, in awe, the Country Dancing class led by John Gardiner-Garden and decided that she would have needed a brain programmed by IBM and the constitution of a de Castella before she even stepped into an 18th c. ball room. Just to browse through the ten tomes of historic dance patterns on sale was exhausting enough. Despite her being one of the few not clad in Regency garb she still felt that she was made welcome and found it easy to chat to those who were costumed – they were just as willing to explain the construction of their gowns as she was to admire them. It was definitely a family event with young people of all ages participating in the dancing with their parents and a really friendly atmosphere.

The Jane Austen Festival Book Club lead by Alison Goodman was a lively discussion of Mansfield Park, with a surprising range of opinions. As we have already studied this novel thoroughly at our meetings, she found it interesting to listen to some fresh ideas and gained a couple of possible areas for future research.

Lunch was a treat for her because as a vegetarian she is accustomed to having to forage at most public gatherings but on this occasion different diets had been catered for and she grazed gratefully. It was a good example of the care and thought that Aylwen Gardiner-Garden lavishes on the Festival. If only all conferences handed out booklets at Registration containing useful information on every facet of the event! (Though perhaps next time it could contain a map…..to that shy and elusive Stanner Room…) The Market Tables drew lots of attention during the lunch break and Festival goers had a diversity of temptations from which to choose.

John Potter’s talk on the Napoleonic era Canadian-American War of 1812 was the last session that our member attended that day and we learnt many odd facts about the NSW Corps which had re-formed into the 102nd Regiment of Foot and participated in this war. The chief one being that an Australian, Andrew Douglas White, the son of naval surgeon White, had enlisted and gone on to become the only Australian present at Waterloo! Another member had just returned from a holiday in Toronto, Canada and was able to tell us about Fort York and battle sites relating to this war that she had visited.

Mansfield Park Symposium

The Sunday morning Symposium started with apologies from the two male speakers, Markus Adamson and Will Christie, which disappointed many of the attendees. However, the four female lecturers were so engaging that everyone felt well satisfied and even wondering whether the scheduling of six might have pushed us into overload.

Janet Lee spoke on the importance of letters and letter writing in Mansfield Park. With liberal examples she drew our attention to the many instances of Jane Austen’s using letters to drive the plot. In fact, Jane Austen used them in this novel far more than in any of her others to inform both the characters and the reader.

“Mansfield Park and Education” was the subject for Heather Neilson’s talk and it overlapped and complemented that of the following speaker, Gillian Dooley’s “No Moral Effect on the Mind: Music in Mansfield Park”. Our discussion tended to blend both talks and covered the contrast between an education that produced a character of true moral worth and that which resulted in merely sophisticated, superficial ‘accomplishments’ – the difference that was illustrated by the moral intelligence of Fanny versus the cleverness of her cousins and the Crawfords and that eventually had to be acknowledged by Sir Thomas Bertram. We particularly appreciated the musical examples that Gillian Dooley used and wished she’d brought more. It was an interesting point that musicians in Mansfield Park were seen at a disadvantage. The characters with musical accomplishment having serious personal flaws. So was Fanny’s want of emulation a sign of her strength? One of our members had been surprised to discover that a harp cost five times as much as a piano, or the same as employing a housemaid for 10 years or buying a house in London.

The final talk, “Mansfield Park and Landscape Gardening” by Christine Alexander was the one of most interest to our group because we had recently researched this subject with reference to Gilpin and the concept of the Picturesque and the Sublime. Improvement of the estate and the country house ideal are strong themes in Mansfield Park. In both literature and poetry of the times there was the town life versus country life debate – the longing for a return to nature. Whilst London was the home of liveliness and gaiety, social manners and graces, it was also a scene of debasement and filth. Fanny’s situation in Portsmouth was described as ‘alien to proper moral growth’, whereas her love of Cowper was a sign of her embracing his belief in the natural world of the countryside bringing peace of mind with free and luxurious solitude. The natural landscape could inspire virtue. Accomplishing this transformation on one’s estate was usually done with the aid of a landscape gardener such as Repton. However, Jane Austen subtly sketched the difference between respecting ‘the genius of the place’ and imposing upon it a ‘naturalistic’ vista. That Sotherton’s chapel had fallen into disuse revealed the loss of the family’s, and therefore the house’s, solid spiritual basis that no cosmetic landscaping could replace. At Mansfield Park, on the other hand, it was Fanny’s presence and values that brought integrity and true worth back to the property.

Our meeting ended with the usual swapping of ‘show and tell’ items, a round of quotes and a devilishly hard quiz. Yes, we did indeed enjoy the April excursion to the Festival and look forward to attending it again next year, perhaps with even a full day Symposium?

Congratulations and sincere appreciation go to the dauntless Aylwen Gardiner-Garden and her team of volunteers for such a successful weekend. That gleeful Friday attendee of ours has even been glimpsed fingering frock patterns…….