Jane Austen is usually thought of as a quintessentially English writer, what with all those landed estates, rural rectories, and mannerly courtships. But her family had ties to the enemy country across the Channel, and the political and intellectual radicalism of the French Revolution may have left its mark on Austen’s work.
The French influence on Austen’s life and times is the subject of a two-day virtual conference coming up this weekend – “Jane Austen’s French Connection,” cosponsored by the New York and New Jersey regions of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Tickets cost $25, and registration is required in order to get the Zoom links. (I’m the secretary/treasurer of JASNA’s New Jersey region, but I had no hand in organizing this event.)
The program, which starts at 10 am (Eastern) on Saturday and Sunday, includes eight speakers discussing a range of topics, from the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft to the jewelry of the Regency. Three JASNA-NJ members will offer a virtual walking tour of New Jersey locations with links to Regency-era France, and a silhouettist will be on hand to cut portraits of attendees, for an additional fee.
I’m especially looking forward to hearing biographer Paula Byrne talk about Austen’s cousin Eliza de Feuillide, whose aristocratic husband was guillotined during the Revolution, and Eliza's influence on the character of amoral Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park. But there's something here for every taste, from academic lecturers to historical re-enactors.
The weekend promises to take an interesting look at a side of Jane Austen that we don’t often see. Vive la France!