Persuasions #15, 1993 Pages 16-20
JASNA Meets at Lake Louise
When lightning struck our plane en route to Calgary, we knew excitement was ahead! And so it was. Though drizzle and mist shrouded our drive from the airport, nothing could dampen our spirits on the way to a JASNA meeting. When a barrier halted us at the entrance to Banff National Park, and we paid the entrance fee (was this our first meeting in a National Park?), we knew we were edging closer to Lake Louise. But first the excitement: Elk! Huge, majestic, antlered super-deer, munching grass beside the road. A photo opportunity not to be missed; we spotted Linda Duckworth snapping a picture, too. We had both moved closer for a better view – closer than we ought we learned later, for it was rutting season!
The scenic road, lined on either side by neat rows of frosted spruce, finally led us to the Chateau, where a young woman, spruce, green and smiling welcomed us to Lake Louise, at the same time hoisting the largest of the large bags from the car trunk. And there we were in JASNA World! We felt a little like Anne Elliot with every thing to do at once – greet fellow Janeites, check into the hotel, pick up our conference packet, rush to Pat Latkin’s Jane Austen Book Store to search for bargains, find out the events for early arrivals, and see the Lake, find the mountains.
Imagine a talk on local flora, fauna, and geology by a guide from Parks Canada. So enticing, but although we arrived early, we had to be elsewhere. And consider the hard-working Board for whom meetings consumed all of Thursday evening into the night and all of Friday morning into the afternoon.
For me the conference really began at about 11 a.m. on Friday when the sun came out; fortunately for all of us, it stayed for the rest of the weekend. We were inside a picture postcard! This was Shangri-La! Nay, it was better than Shangri-La: the glories of the Himalayas – the snow-covered high peaks, the massive stone mountains in the foreground, the Lake, and the “remarkable situation” of the Chateau, the principal walkway “almost hurrying into the water.” And why was the Lake so green? Someone said particles in the melting glacier are suspended just beneath the water’s surface catching the light in a certain way; we also heard that the color changes with the seasons. Here were footpaths waiting to be explored, well-worn, wide, inviting. Oaken benches provided “the happiest spot for sitting in unwearied contemplation.” Is it any wonder that this year’s AGM drew the largest number of JASNA members ever to attend a conference – 585 – and together with those who came along for the scenery, more than 600 were of the party, making this no doubt the largest gathering of Janeites ever to assemble in the history of the world. Oh Joan! Oh Jack! Oh Denis Mason-Hurley! What a train of events you set in motion.
We noticed Bill Hanaway ready to take advantage of the trails; we heard later that several intrepid walkers not only reached their goal, the teahouse at the Plain of the Six Glaciers, but also hiked on to a higher viewpoint, thence to a second teahouse in the vicinity of Agnes Lake, and down another way, completing a nine-mile loop back to the hotel. Poor Lizzie Bennet – you were in the wrong novel! Think of the fields you might have crossed at a quick pace, the puddles sprung over with impatient activity!
We admired Freydis Welland arriving with husband, Michael, and their canoe. She invited us to join her for an outing. Fancy us in the middle of a lake surrounded by the Canadian Rockies, chatting with the great, great, great, great niece of Jane Austen! Alas, the schedule didn’t permit it.
The Friday reception brought our first glimpse of members in costume. Three very fine ladies caught our eye and we learned that they were Mrs. Allen, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Elizabeth Bennet, at other times known as Camille Moore, Ann Sturken, and Helen McKendell of Oakland, Danville, and Orinda, California, respectively. We also learned that this was but the first of three ensembles each lady would wear before our gala weekend ended; each period piece was designed and executed by the ladies themselves, but principally by Ms. McKendell, niece to the other two. We hurried off to line up for “An Accident at Lyme,” – not the world premiere of the musical based on Persuasion – that had come Friday afternoon while we were tasting the sweets of autumn with a walk beside the Lake – but the second performance, and Eileen Doudna had told us it was not to be missed. We heard Paula Schwartz, who wrote the lyrics, confess to feeling like Moss Hart – thrilled at seeing so many people lined up for her very own play! Neil Moyer confessed that he had composed most of the music while commuting to work in an office.
For the next two hours, we suspended disbelief and allowed ourselves to be delightfully entertained. The audience being invited to help the cast strike the set, we stayed on to do what we could and saw Joan Brantz deleting bolts that had actually held together walls, Pamela Delville-Pratt and Ron Sutherland moving furniture about. Bruce Stovel seemed to understand best what to do next.
Saturday morning opened with a memorial to J. David Grey to whom the conference was dedicated. Joan Austen-Leigh spoke for all when she said “he greatly enriched my life.” Many moving tributes followed.
After an official welcome from JASNA’s President, the co-coordinator of the conference, Bruce Stovel introduced Elaine Showalter, who said many clever things about “Retrenchments.” Her paper and other scholarly contributions to the weekend may be read elsewhere in this issue.
Next began the break-out sessions with nine speakers to choose from – actually there were three segments offering nine choices each so we had 27 speakers of whom we could hear only three. How could we listen to Jan Fergus and Deborah Knuth and Inger Thomsen when they all spoke at 10:15? Or Lorrie Clark and Gene Koppel, both at 11:30? After fortifying ourselves with a quick bite of lunch at an attractive “tavern” downstairs in the hotel, we did hear Ed Copeland’s fascinating examination of buying and buying power in JA’sday. A pound then would be worth $100 today – according to Mr. Copeland’s calculations. (That means that The Reverend George Austen’s income reckoned in this way would be $60,000 in today’s money.) Everybody bought the same stuff in those days – the same quality – the rich just bought more of it, Ed said. There were credit, credit limits, finance charges for delinquent payments, and trouble if you were really a deadbeat. To make it all clearer we were given a handout reproducing some 1794 accounts of Ring Brothers in Basingstoke, a “full service store,” where the Austens as well as their lordly neighbors at Kempshott Park shopped.
Nora Stovel called us all to order with great delicacy and aplomb so we could hear Margaret Drabble read a short story which she had created just for us. It was a kind of sequel to Persuasion and we were entranced with the adventures of “Bill Elliot” and his contemporaries.
The annual business meeting came next. As a backdrop, banners of the Regions were arrayed against the wall. We noticed a new one from Maine. Robert Hunting told us it was created by a lobsterman-Janeite. We also saw Eastern Pennsylvania’s replica of Jane Austen holding Emma, the only one of her novels published in North America in her lifetime, issued in Philadelphia in 1816 (only four copies are known to exist today). At the AGM Treasurer George Brantz revealed the astounding fact that JASNA spent $30 for every member last year, yet members paid only $15 in dues. Murmurs of “retrench!” were heard.
Next came the autographing party, a JASNA favorite event, when the very obliging authors sign their books for JASNA members. We saw Joan Austen-Leigh at work over copies of Mrs. Goddard, Mistress of a School, and Juliet McMaster, pausing from her duties as conference co-coordinator long enough to put her name to her view of Jane Austen’s The Beautiful Cassandra. We also learned about Julia Barrett – really a pseudonym and not a person at all, but two persons, Julia Braun Kessler and Gabrielle Donnelly, who together wrote Presumption: An Entertainment, which is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice.
At 7 p.m. we found ourselves in the banquet hall, realizing that we were in what only that morning had been a “classroom” and the night before a “theatre.” Only the gigantic head of a moose looking down on us from his vantage point midway up a massive stone fireplace seemed to remain the same! It was an evening of amusements and entertainments. The first thing to catch our eye were the “medicine stones” and packets of Alberta wildflower seeds placed on the tables as favors. We were seated near Karys Van de Pitte, the dedicated secretary-treasurer of the conference, who admitted that her life had not been ordinary for some weeks past.
Martha Caprarotta of the Dayton, Ohio Region made a presentation of Jane Austen cameos framed in gold filigree to “five women of superior abilities”: JASNA’s President, Garnet Bass (who later made a speech and gave the toast to Jane Austen), Eileen Sutherland, Lorraine Hanaway, Joan Austen-Leigh, and Juliet McMaster. One spouse was heard to declare to his wife, “You deserve a medal!”
The evening brought out a splendid array of period costumes with ribbons, bows, lace, feathers, parasols, bonnets, caps, reticules, fans, all much appreciated if one can judge by the applause offered during a promenade following dinner. The way was cleared for “The Dance at Uppercross” which had such names as “Hole in the Wall” and “Bath Assembly.” Pat Barton, who said that there were different dancers at every one of her three rehearsals, cheerfully called out the directions “loud and clear.”
Wait! Nearly two whole days have passed and we have not yet told you about the good things we found inside the conference packet, first to hand being a copy of His Cunning Or Hers, A Postscript to Persuasion, “created with apologies to Jane Austen,” a small hardcover book about the dimensions of an index card and just the thing for quick bedtime reading. June Menzies wrote it, Juliet McMaster illustrated it. We also found a postcard of Lyme Regis, and replicas of a page from Debrett’s Baronetage, a leaf from the Navy List, and excerpts from The Bath Chronicle. And of course the quiz, but I am getting foolishly minute.
One word must be said, however, about the Goucher College Guide to the Jane Austen Collection in the Julia Rogers Library, an exquisite little booklet with sage green covers decorated with a peacock. It is a catalog of the collection at Goucher formed for the most part by a JASNA co-founder, Henry Burke, and his wife, Alberta. A JASNA grant aided publication of the catalog, which was made available at the conference.
On Sunday morning when a porcupine wanted to come to the brunch, it was not easy to convince him that he belonged elsewhere. With the encouragement of JASNA members, however, the hotel staff banished the creature. He had loitered about in an anteroom, no doubt in hopes of something good.
A JASNA tradition is to announce the winner of the quiz at Sunday’s brunch and this year’s best paper was by Susan Z. Diamond of Melrose Park, Illinois, who was warmly congratulated. Many expressions of congratulations and appreciation then followed for the conference convenors for an exceptional AGM, exceptional speakers, exceptional setting, an appropriate introduction to the grand finale of the weekend. Sandy Lerner related how lengthy negotiations had gone on for Chawton House, and finally, she said, “I bought it!” Warm applause greeted her statement. She plans to convert Chawton House into a center for the study of early women writers including Jane Austen.
Ms. Lerner introduced Isobel Grundy who told us first off that she had been writing her paper for fifty years. It proved worth waiting for. “Persuasion, or, The Triumph of Cheerfulness” was an appropriate note on which to close the conference.
With barely time to put on our boots, find a warm coat and wrap up well we were in a bus and on our way to the Columbia Icefield, and a ride in a “snowcab” onto the famous glacier. Others went to Lake Louise village and Banff. And still others opted for a four-day tour to all the highpoints of the area, all excursions that had been arranged ahead of the conference.
Saying goodbye is always hard. There was Lily Van Pelt having a last look at the Lake. “I’m the luckiest woman in the world,” she said. “I’m 86 and here I am in the most beautiful spot in the world!” Lucky all of us to have been in “the most beautiful spot in the world”!
And at a JASNA conference.
Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies, site of the 1993 meeting