Thirty-nine years ago, during my first semester of college, I took the train from New Haven to Philadelphia to attend my first Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting—the fifth JASNA AGM, centered on Emma. At seventeen, I was the youngest Janeite there.*
I adored every minute of the weekend. As far as I was concerned, all the scholarly lectures were brilliant, all the group discussions were stimulating, and all the food was delicious. On Sunday night, I returned happily to my dorm, in time for a study group meeting on Plato.
In the years since, I have attended eleven more AGMs, if you count the online meeting during the 2020 pandemic year. The conferences have grown more elaborate over the years, with the addition of balls, costume parades, sales emporiums, and a far larger number of attendees, but I’ve never grown tired of JASNA’s uniquely delightful mixture of the high and the low, the seriously literary and the gleefully pop. The AGM that officially kicks off tomorrow in Victoria, British Columbia--my thirteenth--is going to be something special, however: For the first time, I have a speaking slot.
This year’s conference focuses on Sense and Sensibility, and my breakout session (scroll down), which will take place tomorrow afternoon, is a defense of the much-maligned Edward Ferrars, the hero lucky enough to win the hand of Elinor Dashwood by the end of the novel. Well, it’s mostly a defense: My talk is called “Two Cheers for Edward Ferrars,” so you get the idea.
Thirty-two presentations will be offered during the AGM’s five breakout slots on Friday and Saturday, and given the wealth of fascinating alternatives available in my timeslot, it’s possible that I will address a nearly empty room. But I don’t care! By Friday night, I’ll be able to cross one more item off my bucket list.
* Oh, wait: did someone have a baby along, as well? My memory is hazy. In any case, the baby didn’t contribute much to the conversation. Not an Emma fan, I guess.