The Burney Society in Portland, Oregon

Victoria here, just back from the meetings of The Burney Society and the Jane Austen Society in Portland, OR.  We went out a day early in order to take in the Columbia River Gorge.  Sadly, it was raining, but not very hard. In fact, it reminded me of most English rain, not quite a mist but not a downpour either.  At right is Multnomah Falls, most spectacular of the many waterfalls along the gorge.
Fanny Burney (1752-1840) was the daughter of a celebrated musician and composer Dr. Charles Burney.  Her half sister, Sarah Harriet Burney, was also a successful author of seven novels.  Fanny Burney grew up in a household that often hosted brilliant circle of artistic and literary leaders. She kept a famous journal throughout most of her life and wrote four novels, many plays and other works.
Our friend Hester Davenport, (see our posts about visiting her in Windsor last June) is a leading member of the UK’s Burney society and the author of Faithful Handmaid, which relates the story of Burney’s position as a Keeper of the Robes for Queen Charlotte from 1786 to 1791.  The position, while prestigious, gave Burney little time to pursue her writing career. We reported on our days with Hester Davenport on July 16 and 18, 2010 posts.

At left is my picture of a plaque on the castle wall in Windsor commemorating the lives of Mrs. Delaney (see our posts of  9/30 and 10/6/10) and Fanny Burney and their roles in the royal court.
The Burney Society was proud to dedicate a window in Westminster Abbey to Frances Burney a few years ago.  Our president for sixteen years has been Paula Stepankowsky (see photo below), whose leadership has been outstanding. This year the society has grown large enough to separate the UK and North American branches. Click here for more information on the McGill University  Burney Center.
For information on the North American Burney Society and the upcoming meetings of the group, click here.   Fanny Burney’s first novel might be her most famous, the coming of age story of Evelina, a delightful tale with incredibly detailed accounts of late 18th century life in Britain. My favorite is Camilla, perhaps because I read it first and loved every page. All this is a long way of introducing the conference in Portland. The subject was “Burney and the Gothic.”  Many speakers adressed aspects of this fascinating subject in Burney’s novels, finding many gothic references where I had entirely missed them! But viewed in the context of the popular genre of gothic novels in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, of course all of these arguments made obvious sense (not to mention sensibility!).
Our intrepid leader, Paula LaBeck Stepankowsky, president of The Burney society for 16 years, has been a true inspiration to all of those who love Burney, from reader/writers like me, to fond fans, to academic specialists in 18th century fiction. Paula is leaving her office and everyone was both disappointed that she will no longer be our active leader, but happy that she completed so many years of service and is moving on to a new role, which she promised would definitely include her love of Frances Burney.


Portland Public Library
addition to her role in guiding the Burney Society, Paula has amassed a stellar collection of first editions and memorabilia of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, many displayed at a special exhibition at Portland’s beautiful public library, a short walk from the conference hotel.

Works of Mary Robinson, 1st edition

Letters of Frances Burney,  Madame D’Arbly
First editions of Emma and Mansfield Park beside a shawl,
of linen, according to family tradition, embroidered by Jane Austen

Emma, a first edition, in the collection of Paula LaBeck Stepankowsky

Above, copies of three of Paula’s fascinating collection of Regency-era prints and charicatures by James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson.

What a marvelous two days. Soon, I will tell you about the following days at the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting: Jane Austen and the Abbey: Maystery, Mayhem, and Muslin in Portland.  Stay tuned.

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