Here we are, almost entering the year 2017, two hundred years on July 18 since Jane Austen died at the terribly premature age of 41. Hard to believe the woman who wrote such celebrated literature lived only a smidgen above four decades. Her legacy will live forever.

I am fortunate to attend two Jane Austen Society of North America Birthday events each year, one in Chicago and one in Milwaukee. Both are joyous occasions in beautiful venues with excellent programs, fine food, and rooms full of delightful companion Austen-lovers. Since JA’s birthday falls in mid-December, we always celebrate amidst seasonal decorations adding to the festivities.

The Great Chicago Region held our Birthday Tea on Saturday, December 3, at The Fortnightly, just north of the Magnificent Mile.

One of The Fortnightly’s many Christmas trees.

This year, Dr. Diane Capitani presented a talk on Emma and Motherhood, exploring the many aspects of maternal activity — or lack of it — in the last novel Austen published in her lifetime.  As always, Dr. Capitani drew us deep into her subject with provocative interpretations inspiring lively discussion. Four leading characters in the novel are “motherless” – Emma, Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, and Harriet Smith. Other characters give us a variety of potential (or actual) maternal behavior: Emma herself in regard to her father, Miss Taylor/Mrs. Weston, and the deliciously offensive Mrs. Elton, for example. The resulting conversation was only stopped by the temptations of The Fortnightly’s sumptuous tea.

Diane Capitani
Dr. Capitani is a professor at the Garrett Theological Seminary of Northwestern University, and the Education Outreach Director of JASNA-GCR.

On Saturday, December 10, the Wisconsin Club in Milwaukee was the scene of JASNA-WI’s Birthday luncheon. The bright sunlight outdoors almost stole the sparkle from their huge dining room tree.

JASNA-WI Regional Coordinator Judith Beine (left) concluded her two terms as RC, turning the reins over to Kim Wilson (right) as the newly elected RC.

Following the delicious luncheon, we shared birthday cake, a timely reminder of the real source of our celebration.

After quite a few years as JASNA-WI Recording Secretary, I was delighted to turn over my records to incoming RS, Sara Bowen,  Thanks Sara!  And many thanks also to Judy Beine for presenting me with these charming reminders of Wellington’s great victory in 1815’s Battle of Waterloo: antique statues of Napoleon and his Josephine.

A large crowd enjoyed fellowship and the best of all events: a delightful presentation on Jane Austen’s life and times.

Speaker of the day was the always-popular Professor Jeffrey Nigro of the Art Institute of Chicago and Newberry Library, in addition to his recent terms as JASNA-GCR’s Regional Coordinator and presently as the Program Director.
Jeff Nigro
Jeff presented Divas in the Drawing Room, or Italian Opera Comes to Highbury.  The popularity of Italian Opera in the London Society of Jane Austen’s era, augmented by the well-publicized competitions among the prima donnas, was reflected in Austen’s Emma.  
Madame Catalani

 Emma admires the abilities of Jane Fairfax, her replacement as the leading performer in Highbury (it’s prima donna?), but Emma is also very envious.  Less important, but amusingly noted, are the continual claims of Mrs. Elton to performance excellence, even though she deftly deflects invitations to illustrate her ability.  Including some soaringly-lovely examples of Italian vocal technique , this lecture brought everyone a new appreciation of Emma — and of Jeffrey Nigro! 
 One reminder for the upcoming new year.  You need to order your 2017 Jane Austen Calendar!

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