Jane Austen Society of North America
2005 Annual General Meeting
October 7-9, 2005
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The theme of the 2005 AGM, “Jane Austen’s Letters in Fact and Fiction,” encompasses two fascinating topics. The conference will examine the most significant primary source material in existence concerning Austen’s life and work—her own correspondence. And, for members who feel that no AGM is complete without a focus on the novels, the program will also look at Austen’s use of letters in her fiction and her place in epistolary literature.
Letters in Fact
I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth; I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.
—Jane to Cassandra, January 3, 1801
The 1995 publication of the definitive edition of Jane Austen’s Letters (Oxford University Press), edited by Deirdre Le Faye, has led to a renewed interest in Austen’s correspondence. Read in conjunction with Le Faye’s notes, the letters represent both autobiography and sparkling entertainment, written with the wry humor and narrative voice found in the novels. They provide insight into Austen’s personality, writing techniques, and relationships. This will be one of the few JASNA conferences offering a forum on Austen herself—sister, daughter, and friend, as well as author.
Letters in Fiction
What do you think of my wife’s style of letter-writing?—delicate—tender—truly feminine—was it not?
—Willoughby to Elinor Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility
The program will also examine Austen’s prolific use of letters in her fiction—from Lady Susan, told entirely in letters, through Persuasion, whose ending Austen revised to include Capt. Wentworth’s soul-piercing letter to Anne Elliot. Courtship and proposals proceed by means of letters; plots are twisted, fates determined, and characters assassinated and rehabilitated in correspondence.
Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice probably both began as epistolary novels, in the 18th century tradition. When, as a mature writer, Austen revised them for publication, she rejected the old form and created instead a tight narrative structure that makes strategic use of letters without relying exclusively on them to tell the story. The AGM’s focus on letters in Austen’s fiction will provide a deeper understanding of her art and the innovations she introduced in the English novel.