Persuasions #6, 1984                                                                                                                                            Pages 2-3





In 1975, my husband, Denis Mason Hurley, and I attended the Bicentennial festivities at Chawton. It was not the first time we had been present at a meeting of the Jane Austen Society in the famous tent, or had sat upon the tin chairs in anticipation of the speech about to begin. Very seldom, however, had we exchanged any conversation with our neighbours whose British reserve seemed not to permit them to vouchsafe a remark to strangers, and Canadians at that.

But in 1975 something different occurred. The person sitting next to me actually spoke! She was lively and charming and very well informed on Jane Austen. We soon found ourselves chatting away with “so much spirit and flow” I began to feel that like Elizabeth Bennet I “had never been half so well entertained in that room before.” My new acquaintance told me she was an American spending a year in England. While her husband taught Persian at Oxford she availed herself of the opportunity to be every possible moment in the Bodleian Library, devouring all she could lay her hands on about JA.

When the meeting was over, she suggested we repair to the Wheatsheaf Pub near Steventon to meet Joseph and Joyce Bown of Bassett’s Farm (warden of St. Nicholas Church). There we sat on red cushions at a table by a mullioned window and listened to Denis’s absurd proposal that we should form our own JA Society! The next day Denis went back to Canada and the day after that I went to the Steventon Costume Ball, (held at Oakley Hall where JA had once called and eaten “sandwiches all over mustard”). At the ball I met another American, a man from New York, also a keen devotee. In my whole life I had almost never met anyone who cared about Jane Austen as I did, and now I was finding two such individuals in as many days! Immensely did I enjoy their company, and immensely did I regret that in all probability I would never set eyes on them again. For they lived on the east coast of the U.S.A. and I lived on an island off the west coast of Canada. How could we possibly imagine that in four years’ time we would all be deeply involved in implementing Denis’s preposterous suggestion? By such casual remarks in an English pub do mighty societies grow! And now you will want to know who were these people. They were: our founding president, J. David Grey of New York, and Lorraine Hanaway of Philadelphia, JASNA’s newly elected (St. Louis, 1984) president. To conclude this improbable (but true) tale, were Lorraine to go researching in the Bodleian Library today, there she would find the Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

We do not have the venue, the authentic house, or the sacred ground upon which Jane, herself, trod. But we do have devotion and dedication, we have conferences that are both convivial and scholarly. That our members enjoy these gatherings is beyond dispute. But here is a letter from a professor who gave a paper in St. Louis.

“ … the conference made for one of the happiest meetings I have attended in many years. I keep telling my colleagues here – perhaps to their discomfort – that the conferences of our various academic organizations can't hold a candle to JASNA’s for sheer delight and fellowship.”

And another, from a member in Florida.

“ … what I appreciate most about this issue: [Persuasions, 1983] the feeling of being there. Not really there, of course. Mingling with those enthusiastic, dedicated Janeites was something I shall always remember, especially as it becomes more and more probable that the Baltimore meeting was my once-in-a-lifetime experience. With Persuasions in hand I can conjure up the friendly faces and the good times. It’s a boon to be able to read what you all did, and saw, and heard.”

Great credit goes to Shirley Bassett, co-ordinator of the St. Louis conference, and her committee for arranging a particularly enjoyable and successful weekend. If anyone reads these words who has not been to an annual meeting, may this be encouragement to attend.

JASNA has lately been receiving some rather unwelcome attentions from the press. In order to make a news story more interesting, we have been depicted in more than one instance as a band of rednecks carrying tote bags, dressed in tracksuits bearing slogans, and in general “exhibiting” in the manner of Mary Bennet. It has even been suggested, by a reporter on the CBC radio in a broadcast originating in Chawton, that this craze for Jane Austen is a passing fad in North America! Since most of us have been reading JA for the past 20, 30, 40 and even 50 years, we are able to judge just how transient is the craze. Moreover we trust we are not so wanting in “a sense of propriety” or “delicacy of feeling” as to bring discredit upon the name of our beloved author.

Henry Crawford might well remark that Persuasions “has grown two inches, at least …” It is our object to print a variety of pieces both entertaining, informative, and (from the Conference) academic. If you especially enjoy an article, do write to the author and express your pleasure – thereby conferring it. If you have any suggestions about what you would like to see in the future, or what you have not liked in the past, please make your views known.

Joan Austen-Leigh

“ … this tribute of gratitude … ”

from us all is due to Joe Costa who has served this society as president for three years, during which time he has not only turned his, and his wife, Sally’s life over to JASNA, but has written, and by hand, too, thousands of letters. We shall look forward to seeing Joe and Sally at future conferences when we hope they will be able to relax and enjoy themselves. Our thanks go also to Diane Heim Levine, membership secretary, and Jane Kemp, secretary. It is the unselfish hard work, the hundreds of hours of unpaid dedication of people like Joe, Diane, and Jane, and our treasurer, Susan Schwartz, which keeps this society operating smoothly and causes it to grow in numbers every year.

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