On May 5, in the Crystal Ballroom of Chicago’s Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel, JASNA-GCR (Jane Austen Society of North America, Greater Chicago Chapter) held its Spring Gala, Chawton Comes to Chicago, a day of excellent presentations, good food, shopping, meeting and greeting old friends and new.
Jeff Nigro, JASNA-GCR’s regional coordinator, welcomed everyone and enumerated the events of the day.
Elizabeth Garvie, long a favorite of Janeites as the “real” Elizabeth Bennett for her role in the 1980 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, gave a charming performance of selections from Jane Austen’s life and works, “Jane Austen Delights.”
I particularly enjoyed her reading from Lesley Castle (from the Juvenilia), in which the writer of a letter pleads with her correspondent for pity over her disappointment at having prepared a wedding feast which could not now be eaten as intended because the groom had been stuck down, completely ignoring the real tragedy. She thinks only of her own wasted expense and effort — and how they will ever consume the victuals she has prepared. The ironic humor of the passage has never before struck me with such vivid force.
Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul as Lizzy and Darcy
Clearly the audience’s favorite part of the performance was Ms. Garvie’s portrayal of Emma‘s Miss Bates. Every nuance of the lady’s overwrought arrival at the ball (Ch. 38) was perfectly articulated and left us all laughing and applauding. We could have listened all day! Despite the fact that Ms. Garvie has played innumerable characters by a wide variety of authors since her turn as Lizzy Bennet, we were all convinced of her special affinity for the works of Jane Austen.
Author Lindsay Ashford told the story of how she moved to Chawton and became immersed in the life and times of Jane Austen. As she learned more and more about the writer, reading in the very rooms in which Jane herself might have read, eating where she would have frequently dined, Ashford was more and more obsessed with Austen and her early death at a mere age 41.
Victoria Hinshaw and Lindsay Ashford
When she learned arsenic had been detected in an analysis of a lock of Jane’s golden hair, her imagination took flight. Could the author — – also beloved daughter, sister and aunt — have been murdered with arsenic? And by whom? Now Ashford has published The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen, a novel in which this is exactly what happens. Written from the point of view of Jane’s dear friend Miss Anne Sharp, once the governess to Edward Austen’s children, the novel has enjoyed considerable attention around the world.
Ashford is the partner of Steve Lawrence, CEO of the Chawton House Library. Below they are pictured in the costume promenade at last October’s Fort Worth, TX, JASNA AGM.
Following Ashford’s talk, Steve Lawrence brought us up to date on activities at Chawton House Library, showing pictures of the latest projects, such as the “new” 18th C. barn discovered nearby and rebuilt on the edge of the property.
It seems impossible that
the library is already about to celebrate it’s tenth anniversary. Where have all these years gone? On the other hand, it his hard to imagine the world in the village of Chawton, of Austen studies, or of on-line availability of many heretofore impossible-to-find novels without the library and its holdings. For more information, here is the website.
JASNA-GCR Program Chair Elisabeth Lenckos and Steve Lawrence
The luncheon was enjoyed by all, and featured short readings from works by four members of the organization — whose writings are “inspired” by Jane Austen.
Victoria Hinshaw read from her novel The Fontainebleau Fan
; Holly Bern read from her story “People of the Book” in Wooing Mr. Wickham
,” a collection of prize-winning stories chosen in a Chawton House Libary contest and edited by Lindsay Ashford; Elisabeth Lenckos read from her story, “Jane Austen 1945,” also a winner in the Wooing Mr. Wickham
collection; and Karen Doornebos read a selection from her novel Definitely Not Mr. Darcy
. Karen’s website is here.
Karen and Victoria with a Chawton House Library poster
Sandy Lerner, seated, and Diane Capitani, JASNA-GCR education outreach coordinator
Dr. Sandy Lerner, aka Ava Farmer, author of Second Impressions, related her experience fulfilling her long-held ambition of writing a sequel to her favorite novel, Pride and Prejudice. One of her motivations for assembling the collection of books which form the nucleus of the Chawton collection today was to immerse herself in the world and sensibilities of Jane Austen’s times, aimed at finishing that novel. It was published recently, and is available everywhere.
Dr. Lerner is the founder and benefactor of the Chawton House Library; all proceeds from the sale of Second Impressions are donated to the library. She told us of her many acquisitions of novels by early women writers whose work, while popular at the time, was never catalogued in libraries or preserved in any organized fashion. She particularly was interested in works such as letters and diaries which might never have been published but had been saved among family papers. Of particular note, she said, were accounts of travels in the 18th and early 19th centuries, often recorded for the enjoyment of family members.
Sandy Lerner; Marsha Huff, past president of JASNA; Elizabeth Garvie
Gail Murphy, Laura Whitlock, Debra Miller and William Phillips enjoy the program.
Tempting our pocketbooks were lovely items from Vintage Pine (http://www.vintagepine.com/), Figaro Interiors, and Jane Austen Books (http://www.janeaustenbooks.net/).
The lively and active JASNA-GCR group has recently updated its website, here. Please visit soon.