Persuasions #12, 1990 Pages 6-7
Highlights of Our Annual General Meeting
‘Washington, Court Hotel,’
Washington, D.C., October 5-7, 1990
Concurrently with some of our conference sessions, the nation’s president began selectively to shut down the Federal Government because he and Congress were unable to agree on a way out of the budget crisis. The country’s financial crisis was terrifyingly fraught with danger and pregnant even with disaster to our country, and Jane Austen aficionados would have to be serious about this national problem; but not right then. They had convened for the purpose of celebrating their Jane. That’s what they did.
Of course references were made to the national crisis, for some of our speakers saw wry and bizarre aspects in the situation. For example, in his urbane and thoughtful keynote address (“Governing Principles in Sense and Sensibility: A View From the Potomac”), Henry Keller of the Washington Center for Public Policy Research had a dryly humorous way of pointing out what appeared to be Jane Austen’s ideas of sense and sensibility and what, alas, seemed on occasion to be those of the Federal Government. And at what must surely have been one of our best seminars, columnist Mary McGrory began her remarks with the happy observation that (I paraphrase) there was at least one place in Washington where, that day, a sensible discussion would take place. Getting on then to her announced subject (“Edward Ferrars: A Match for Elinor?”), Miss McGrory proposed that we should dismiss Austen’s ending of Sense and Sensibility and engage in “some husband swapping”: Elinor should marry Colonel Brandon; Marianne should marry Edward Ferrars for, though Edward was “a wimp,” Marianne “could make him over.” The audience loved it all.
Mary McGrory’s seminar was only one of the eighteen offered. A richness indeed! Interestingly enough, among all these inviting group-meetings were two presided over by our British cousins: there was Helen Lefroy, from Hampshire, who spoke on “The Family Connection” (Tom Lefroy was not in love with Jane Austen); and there was Susan Watkins, from London, who gave a slide lecture on “Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style.” I heard good reports of both seminars.
Perhaps JASNA News or this issue of Persuasions can report more details on the seminars, especially those not mentioned here. I can note, however, that the conferees with whom I talked or overheard talking seemed pleased with the various seminar offerings. Credit the seminar leaders, therefore; and credit Betty Woods, our Program Coordinator.
Further highlights: first, the Friday evening program, when we were bussed to Georgetown University for refreshments and then a viewing of the great Burke collection. It was a splendid collection, well worth seeing. As most of us know, Henry Burke was one of the founders of JASNA. Our conference was in fact dedicated to him and his considerable contributions to our Society were remembered and eulogized at the Saturday evening banquet.
At the banquet, John Glieber led us all in the traditional toast to Jane Austen. Great! (But why not, also, the usual toast to the Queen?!?) The excellent dinner was followed by the musical play (“Elinor and Marianne”) which deserved, and got, a standing ovation. The delightful “Generous to a Fault,” sung by Fanny and John Dashwood (in real life, Robert Maurer and Alane Mareo), was among the favorites that we heard. We thank our Paula Schwartz (for the book and lyrics) and Ned Moyer (for the music).
Next among the highlights: the Sunday “luncheon.” The speaker was JASNA president, Eileen Sutherland. Poised as she was, and calm and charming, nobody would have suspected that during this conference she had already presided over hours and hours and hours of meetings with her Board of Directors and with the JASNA Coordinators from all our affiliate groups in the various states and provinces. Anyway, there she was again at the podium, this time to tell us about “Dining at the Great House.” Obviously our speaker had thoroughly researched the subject of food and drink in the time of Jane Austen, and her address was replete with odd and charming details – “quirky lore,” my wife says – like the fact that the great houses of Austen’s time knew nothing of afternoons. Their mornings lasted until dinner time. I like that. Here’s another one: residents of the great houses discovered the pleasures of “promiscuous dining” at this time. Heretofore ladies had been seated on one side of the table; gentlemen on the other. Now they alternated around the table: a lady beside a gentleman. Thus the promiscuity. What fun promiscuity is!
Finally, data of various sorts: (a) Did I hear that about 350 people attended this conference? Joan Drexler and Nancy Miller, our expert AGM Coordinators, can no doubt give us the exact figure sometime soon. (b) John Gleiber, conducting the “Tad Poll” to find out which of the characters got the most votes as our favorite character in Sense and Sensibility, pleased everyone by seeming to discover that nobody won. It was the impression at my table, however, that we had won. We voted for the irrepressibly “droll” John Palmer. (c) Some of us missed Pat Latkin’s always interesting table of Jane Austen books at the Washington Book Mall. (d) Plans for conferences in Ottawa (1991), on the Queen Mary at Long Beach, California (1992); and at Lake Louise, Alberta (1993) go forward apace. (e) I was as usual impressed (astonished, even) by the enormous amount of advanced work and behind-the-scenes work that must be accomplished in order for a conference to go off as smoothly (at least it seemed so to those of us out front) as this one did. (f) The weather for this conference was sunny and warm. So was the conference itself.