PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.29, NO.1 (Winter 2008)

“Formed for [an] Elegant and Rational Society”: Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line



Susan Allen Ford


Susan Allen Ford (email: has been Editor of Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line since 2006.


A meeting focusing on “Austen’s Legacy: Life, Love, & Laughter” provides the opportunity for many kinds of reexamination.  My own thoughts on Jane Austen’s legacy turned, at least for a time, to the Jane Austen Society of North America:  “‘It is such a happiness when good people get together . . . ,’” Miss Bates reminds us (175).  One way good people—both members of JASNA and the larger Jane Austen community—get together is through JASNA’s journals, Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line.  As Henry Austen wrote of his sister, “[S]he was formed for elegant and rational society, excelling in conversation as much as in composition” (5).  So, too, Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line extend the conversation to the elegant and rational society of Janeites around the world.


But Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line represent a more complicated legacy than that bequeathed by Jane Austen alone.  Joan Austen-Leigh, one of JASNA’s founders, was its journal’s founding editor and served in that capacity for many years.  In 1979 the fledgling organization issued a 32-page (stapled) newsletter entitled Persuasion.  A member’s error—the addition of an s—was seized upon.  As Joan Austen-Leigh acknowledged, “we thought how much better a title that was” (9).  As the journal grew, subsequent issues (Nos. 2 through 8 and 10 through 19) were edited by the team of Joan Austen-Leigh, Lorraine Hanaway, and Gene Koppel; Juliet McMaster edited No. 9. 

In 1998, when Laurie Kaplan became editor, Persuasions was reinvented in a larger format.  With funding from the Sonia Raiziss Giop Foundation, Margaret Re, then Assistant Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, created the elegant design:  a complex typographical layout that reflects, as Laurie Kaplan suggested, the Regency’s “focus on variety, energy, and symbolic complexity” (9); extra-wide margins designed to encourage readers’ marginal notes; the yellow-gold color of the cover evoking both the fashionable yellow morocco binding for magazines during Austen’s day and “tradition as well as harmony” (10).  JASNA’s members may have noticed some variation in that color over the years.  According to Jon Quay, who for many years oversaw the journal’s production at the Stinehour Press, yellow is “the most fugitive” of colors—difficult to capture, quick to fade.  (For more on the design, see Laurie Kaplan’s Editor’s Note in Persuasions 20.)

Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the cover of Persuasions is the letter by Jane Austen that wraps around it.  Although Laurie Kaplan disclaims any particular significance to the letter used (by kind permission of the Pierpont Morgan Library), it seems worth pausing over.  Written to Cassandra from Lyme on 14 September 1804, it’s both mundane and characteristically witty.  Jane inflates the minor disappointments of Cassandra’s trip to Weymouth—a missed view of the royal family, no ice to be had in town—into “vexation” at such a “shocking place.”

My dear Cassandra,

I take the first sheet of this fine striped paper to thank you for your letter from Weymouth, & express my hopes of your being at Ibthrop before this time.  I expect to hear that you reached it yesterday Evening, being able to get as far as Blandford on wednesday.—Your account of Weymouth contains nothing which strikes me so forcibly as there being no Ice in the Town; for every other vexation I was in some measure prepared; & particularly for your disappointment in not seeing the Royal Family go on board on tuesday, having already heard from Mr Crawford that he had seen you in the very act of being too late.  But for there being no Ice, what could prepare me!—Weymouth is altogether a shocking place I perceive, without recommendation of any kind, & worthy only of being frequented by the inhabitants of Gloucester.—I am really very glad that we did not go there, & that Henry & Eliza saw nothing in it to make them feel differently.—You found my letter at Andover I hope yesterday . . .

The matter of this letter is comprised of the news itself as well as the experience of writing and receiving letters.  Austen’s mention of the paper on which she writes is a conventional enough opening, but it also reflects a particular satisfaction available from the written word—a material satisfaction in reading, in fact, that our own journal, with its elegant paper, offers. 

In addition to such material pleasure, this letter reveals Jane Austen’s thrifty habits and their intersection with the personal connections a letter conveys.  Even—or perhaps especially—when using such fine striped paper, she economically finds room for what she can’t fit on page 4 by turning the paper upside down and filling the space at the top of page 1:

I need not say that we are particularly anxious for your next Letter, to know how you find Mrs Lloyd & Martha.—Say Everything kind for us to the latter—The former I fear must be beyond any remembrance of, or from, the Absent.—Yrs affect:ly


These sentiments convey her thoughtful concern for her friend and her friend’s mother, seven months before Mrs. Lloyd’s death, shrinking the space that separates members of this community.  And then, later, with still more to say, she crosses over the first page of the letter, creating the kind of “‘chequer-work’” that Miss Bates’s loving eyes must decipher for her mother (157):

Friday Eveng.—

The Bathing was so delightful this morning & Molly so pressing with me to enjoy myself that I believe I staid in rather too long, as since the middle of the day I have felt unreasonably tired.  I shall be more careful another time, & shall not bathe tomorrow, as I had before intended.—Jenny & James are walked to Charmouth this afternoon;—I am glad to have such an amusement for him—as I am very anxious for his being at once quiet & happy.—He can read, & I must get him some books.  Unfortunately he has read the 1st vol. of Robinson Crusoe.  We have the Pinckards Newspaper however, which I shall take care to lend him.—

In one way, this added paragraph seems mere chat—on the bathing, the walks about Lyme, the happiness of the servants, a mention of the books and newspapers about the house.  But as with other scraps of Austen’s writing, it’s enough to define the concerns of a life, the workings of a mind, and to suggest even the range of concerns of Persuasions itself.

In a 1993 tribute to one of JASNA’s co-founders, J. David Grey, Joan Austen-Leigh recalled that in the early days the work of the editor “included pasting up, paging, and stuffing, stamping and addressing the envelopes, and taking the finished product—many sacks—to the post office” (10).  Fortunately, JASNA and its journals have grown so that the editor is no longer responsible for all that!  Some work is done by the printer (for many years the Stinehour Press, in the future Capital Offset).  But the burdens of the business of distribution are also borne by others—currently JASNA’s Publications Secretary Lee Ridgeway, Membership Secretary Bobbie Gay, and Vice-President for Publications Sally B. Palmer.  JASNA’s President, Marsha Huff, offers support of varied kinds, including legal expertise and occasional proofreading.

No consideration of this dimension of Austen’s legacy would be complete, of course, without the mention of Persuasions On-Line, a mode of publication surely not envisioned even by JASNA’s founders!  Beginning in the summer of 1999, under the editorship of Laurie Kaplan and with the technical know-how of JASNA’s Web Manager Carol Medine Moss, Persuasions On-Line has provided the opportunity for expanded publication as well as for a variety of special issues, most recently on the 2005 Pride & Prejudice and on Global Jane Austen.  In addition, JASNA’s website and the efforts of its hardy volunteers have made possible the posting of past (and often out-of-print) issues of Persuasions.  Each month, thousands of visitors to JASNA’s website from around the world access essays from both Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line.  Carol Moss, Publications Secretary Lee Ridgeway, and JASNA–Canada Treasurer Renée Charron have made these valuable extensions of the Janeite community and its conversation possible.

Two other groups are central to the integrity and the vitality of this community.  The members of the Editorial Board of Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line spend many hours reading, considering, and responding to submissions to the journals.  They are listed on the title pages of the journals, but it’s worth celebrating them here as well:  Elaine Bander, Inger Sigrun Brodey, Julia Prewitt Brown, Edward Copeland, Celia A. Easton, Jan Fergus, Laurie Kaplan, Juliet McMaster, Susan Morgan, and Laura Mooneyham White.  And our contributors—Janeites of many stripes—truly keep Jane Austen’s legacy alive.  Perhaps Austen’s most significant legacy is the community dedicated to admiring, analyzing, discussing, and growing in appreciation of her work and her world.  These generous readers and writers make possible for us all, to borrow Laurie Kaplan’s elegant phrase, “the triple pleasures of writing and reading and intepreting” (9) that Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line provide.

This particular issue of Persuasions On-Line celebrates Austen’s Legacy in the multiple ways I’ve attempted to suggest here.  The essays growing from the conference so imaginatively designed by William Phillips, Elisabeth Lenckos and Rita Shafer define that legacy variously—from its Victorian and Edwardian manifestations up to its present definition.  Three essays from AGM participants explore very different and exciting ways of teaching Jane Austen.  The essays in the Miscellany, whether focusing on adaptations or on the novels themselves, also attest to the hardiness of our consuming interest in all things Austen.  As always, the capable and cheerful efforts of Carol Moss made this issue possible.  Lee Ridgeway kindly helped sharpen and balance a number of the images used in this issue.  Susan Hines, Director of Instructional Technologies at Delta State University, offered some much needed technical help and instruction.  And Celia Easton, in addition to her efforts on the Editorial Board, not only created and filled a very long table in Word but then most generously took on the task of converting it to html.

Even as we hasten toward the felicity of launching this issue of Persuasions On-Line and look forward to the spring publication of Persuasions 30, there’s delight in imagining the future issues of both journals and all the elegant and rational conversations those issues will provoke.



Works Cited


Austen, Henry.  “Biographical Notice of the Author.”  Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  New York: Oxford UP, 1969.  3-9.

Austen, Jane.  Emma.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  New York: Oxford UP, 1933.

_____.  Jane Austen’s Letters. Ed. Deirdre Le Faye.  3rd ed.  New York: Oxford UP, 1997.

Austen-Leigh, Joan.  “The Founding of JASNA.”  Persuasions 15 (1993): 7-13.

Kaplan, Laurie.  Editor’s NotePersuasions 20 (1998): 9-11.

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