A Day with JASNA-GCR

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.
Elizabeth Garvie
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. 

Jane Austen's 236th Birthday December 16, 2011

On Saturday, December 10, the Wisconsin region of JASNA celebrated Jane Austen’s birthday with a gala luncheon. 

Marylee Richmond and Susan Flaherty at the registration table.
Suan and Diane Judd made individual souvenirs for all participants, a series of stunning silhouettes (as below).  What an acomplishment!

We dined on individual Beef Wellingtons or Quiches, followed by delicious desserts not to be believed. (Remember, desserts is stressed spelled backwards.) 

Below, Sara Bowen and Jane Glaser have a chat before the luncheon.

Above, our Chicago colleague, William Phillips, gave the annual toast to our favorite author’s birthday.
Below, Jeff Nigro, Regional Coordinator for the neighboring Chicago group,  as he presented his talk on “Austen and the Beauty of Place.”

Jane Austen did not write a great many long descriptions of locations in her fiction.  Sometimes, Nigro said, when characters spoke rhapsodically, their fawning images illustrated the superficial nature of the speaker, such as Mr. Collins talking of Rosings (Lady Catherine’s estate) or Mrs. Elton in Emma with her inflated images of Maple Grove.
Above, Chawton House and Church, by an unknown artist

Austen favors descriptions, such as that Edward gives in Sense & Sensibility, of a landscape that unites beauty and utility.  An excellent example would be the view of Wivenhoe Park by John Constable,  1816, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., below.

Among the best known of Austen’s landscape descriptions comes from Emma:    “It was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.” 

Nigro went on to compare such images from Austen to sets and locations used in various movie and television series based on the novels, sometimes finding the film version less than accurate.

Instead of trying to define a universal standard of beauty, he concluded, Austen raises queries about what constitutes true  beauty;  more than just a nice view, she finds perfection is based on a complex web of emotions that we bring to our personal images  — of home.  Thank you, Jeff, for your stimulating talk!

Above, Sue Zimmerman and Victoria Hinshaw

bsp;          Liz Cooper with Beverly Levin

The Wisconsin Region invites you to its website, here.
The renowned calendar prepared by Liz Philosophos Cooper and Kim Wilson has even more entries on the activities of Jane Austen, her family, and her characters to fill almost every day.  This year’s pictures are all on color, some of everyone’s favorites from the Brock Brothers. To order, contact Liz Cooper at
or click Merchandise on the website.

Below, a sample page (October 2012)

JASNA Birthday Tea in Chicago

The Greater Chicago Chapter of JASNA celebrated Jane Austen’s 236th  birthday with toasts to Jane and tea at the Fortnightly on Saturday, December 3, 2011.  The Club was festive with Christmas lights and set a perfect atmosphere for our afternoon.

The speaker for the program was Mona Scheuermann, a professor at Oakton Community College in Illinois, whose topic was “Jane Austen and Making Do.”  Of particular interest to her was the morality of the choice of plays chosen to be performed by the young people in the novel Mansfield Park. The choice of “Lover’s Vows,” an adaptation by Elizabeth Inchbald of a German play by von Koetzbue, defined each character and gave us a strong insight into their views.

Jane Austen, according to Scheuermann, did not believe that this play, with its theme of redemption after a  illicit affair, was a proper vehicle for the young, unmarried participants in the Mansfield Park dramatic effort.  Fanny Price, of course, refused to participate, and Edmund also balked, placing them in the forefront of good behavior, always a value to Jane Austen.

The Club’s lovely silver urns for our tea.  Our favorite winter beverage was accompanied by an assortment of savory sandwiches and sweets, as shown.

Above, the required watercress and cucumber sandwiches.  Once we are all served and reassembled, it was time for the annual birthday toast to our Jane. Leading us in extolling our favorite author was Karen Doornebos, author of the new novel, Definitely Not, Mr. Darcy. Look for more information on Karen here.

After we raised our champagne glasses to the memory of Austen, Karen posed with JASNA GCR regional coordinator Jeff Nigro.

Another debut author showing off her new work was Elizabeth Lenckos of the University of Chicago, who is a contributor to the volume entitled Wooing Mr. Wickham, a collection of stories inspired by Jane Austen’s heroes and villains, from the Jane Austen Short Story Award 2011 entries, sponsored by the Chawton House Library.  A total of 20 authors are included in a wide variety of formats and approaches.

Elizabeth’s story is based on the wartime experiences of her family in Berlin at the end of World War II.  It is a poignant story that shows just how deeply the love of Jane Austen can dwell within our hearts, even at the worst moments of existence.

Above, Elizabeth Lenckos speaks to the JASNA AGM in Ft. Worth, TX, in October 2011.

So now you have two books to add to your list for Santa this year.  And I have another Jane Austen Birthday Celebration to attend soon.  Hurrah!! Regardless of various kerfluffles about murder charges and newly-discovered portraits of somebody or other, our essential love of and admiration of Jane Austen remains indiminished.

Report from Ft. Worth, The Book Launch

On Friday, October 14, 2011, many of the JASNA AGM attendees and other book lovers got together for a book launch at a nearby Barnes & Noble Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth.  Three novels were introduced to the eager audience.
Carrie Bebris introduced the latest in her series of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, The Deception at Lyme.  Take a look at her website here.  Below, Carrie autographs her books for her fans.

In this story, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy meet Captain Wentworth and his new wife, the former Anne Elliott in the seaside town of Lyme.  When murder raises its ugly head, Darcy and Elizabeth identify the culprit, as they have in Pride and Prescience, Suspense and Sensibility, North by Northanger, The Matters at Mansfield, and  The Intrigue at Highbury. In each novel, the Darcys encounter other characters created
by Jane Austen. 


Janet Mullany’s Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion brings the Damned to the village of Chawton. Janet’s website is here. The story is a sequel to her 2010 novel Jane and the Damned.  Janet’s voyages into Jane Austen and the paranormal follow other “straight” regencies she has written for several publishers. Born in England, Janet now lives in the Washington DC vicinity.

Though Jane is hoping to make progress on her latest novel, the arrival of the Damned brings her a whole host of problems — including conflict with a former lover.

Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor and creator of a recently published antholodgy of original stories inspired by Jane Austen.  Both Carrie Bebris and Janet Mullany are among the 24 authors who contributed to Jane Austen Made Me Do It.
  For more information, click here.  Below, Laurel meets fans. In the red bonnet behind her is Syrie James.

Below, Margaret Sullivan, Stephanie Barron, and Syrie’s big red bonnet!

Book Launches are always fun, especialy when they are attended by so many fans — and BUYERS!!

The Bicentenary of Sense and Sensibility

Here we are, exactly two hundred years from the day that Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published. Wheeeee!!!  Hurrah for you, Jane.

Last April, the 25th to be exact, I blogged here about Miss Austen’s work in April, 1811, correcting proofs for her first novel, the work she could no more forget “than a mother can forget her sucking child.” In that letter from London to Cassandra at brother Edward’s estate of Godmersham in Kent, she hoped to see the published book, if not in June, then soon thereafter. But it was delayed until the very end of October.

If you are a published author, or if you know of one, then you are well aware of the excitement with which Jane Austen must have viewed the first advertisements for her novel, then to see it for sale and hold it in her hands.  Speaking for myself (Victoria here), such experiences were among the highlights of my life. And every author I have known felt the same way, so the sucking child analogy resonates, as so many people say these days (when did all these resonances become so widespread?) 

Jane Austen was back in Chawton by June 811 and we have no more of her letters until October 1812, so we cannot say what her reaction to seeing — holding — clasping her first novel was specifically. We have to use our imaginations. I see her holding the volumes high and spinning around the room in high excitement — but not in front of anyone.  All by herself. Perhaps only to Cassandra did she confide her delight.  Or perhaps went into the garden and just stared at that title page.  Sense and Sensibility, A Novel in three volumes, By A Lady.

Or perhaps, if the day it arrived in her hands was sunny, she skipped over to the walled garden of Chawton House and found a ripened apple to eat while she turned the pages of the finished product.  Once when I was at Chawton (it was 2003), the gardener gave some of us a tour and he pulled some apples from the old gnarled trees, assuring us that these were the exact trees from which Jane would have picked.  I felt like I was eating something VERY special.  I forgot to ask the last time I was there in 2009 whether they had successfully grafted shoots from these ancient apple trees onto younger stock as the Head Gardener was planning.

This anniversary has been celebrated all over the world and I am delighted to add my tuppence to the cheers I can hear all the way from your computer to mine.  Congratulations, my dear Jane. I feel a personal camaraderie with you today. Three cheers!!! Or, rather, several hundred.