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.

Report from Fort Worth, part two

At the JASNA AGM, by Saturday, October 15, I have to admit I was becoming overwhelmed. The plenaries and break-out sessions were outstanding.  I was enjoying every minute but I was having a very hard time deciding among the many options for sessions. I luckily overheard a suggestion from some anonymous know-it-all and thus enjoyed the delightful presentation of Margaret Chittick and Vera Quin: “S&S is Full of Surprises.”

Claire Bellanti, Margaret Chittick & Vera Quinn

Carrie Bebris  spoke on “Gunsmoke: Dueling in Jane Austen’s Time” giving details about the Code Duello, the rules and the equipment, as well as stories about actual duels.  The only duel in S&S occurs off-stage and is referred to only briefly, but it was a clear indication of the seriousness with which Col. Brandon dealt with the wayward Willoughby — a matter of the highest honor.

Here is Carrie, costumed later for the ball, with her parents Jane and Jerry Morris

My good pal Nina Davis came over from Dallas to spend some quality time at the JASNA AGM.  We spent a lot of time in the Emporium, where the temptations almost overcame us.

Nina and Vicky at the promenade
One of the highlights of the meeting was the talk by Andrew Davies, British screen writer of several Jane Austen adaptations including Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth version, 1995), Emma (Mark Strong version, 1996) and Sense & Sensibility (BBC, 2008), among many others.  Not only was Mr. Davies’ presentation well received, he was a perfect guest, willing to pose for pictures with many of us, only a few of which I managed to record.
Andrew Davies and Victoria Hinshaw
Andrew Davies and Amanda McCabe
Andrew Davies and authors Amanda McCabe and Jane Mullaney
Below is the conference logo reproduced in white chocolate for a fitting denoument to the banquet.

Following the banquest, many of the costumed attendees promenaded around the hotel and the neighborhood.

Sue Forgue of Chicago, proprietress of the Regency Encyclopedia

Unidentified stroller on the left, with Steve Lawrence of the Chawton House Library and Mrs. Lawrence.

Kathy O’Brien and Judy Beine of JASNA-WI
Strollers in costume
More delightful costumes

                    In the foreground, Judy Beine, Kathy O’Brien, Sara Bowen and Kim Wilson

                                                             Lori Davis and  Kim Wilson

Liz Cooper wore appropriate Texas attire to escort Andrew Davis on the promenade

After the brunch on Sunday, Nina and I — along with lots of other Janeites — visited the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth for the newly-opened exhibition on Caravaggio and His Followers.

For more information on the Kimball Art Museum, click here.

And here is more information on JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America.

Watch for another post on the gala book launch held in Ft. Worth, comuing soon.

Next year, the JASNA AGM will be held in New York City, Brooklyn to be precise, October 5-7,. 2012where the topic is “Sex, Money and Power in Jane Austen’s Fiction.”

For your video invitation, click here.

Report from Fort Worth: The JASNA AGM 2011

Victoria here, back from five wonderful days at the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America, held this year in Ft. Worth, Texas.  Many thanks to all the wonderful volunteers who organized the meeting, led by Dr. Cheryl Kinney and Rosalie Sternberg. 

The topic was, of course, Sense & Sensibility, marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s first published novel.  The festivities started on Thursday with a few special presentations, including mine on “The Sensible Regency Wedding.”

Above, I am posing on the stage with Jinger Heath who spoke on “Regency Cosmetics and Esthetics: A Look to Die For” immediately preceding my talk on Thursday night, October 13. Jinger told the audience about some of the dreadful facial concoctions used by regency-era women to whiten their skin, substances containing lead and other poisons. She also told us how some of their formulas — such as rosewater and various oils — were quite beneficial.

Kathy Yank (left, above) introduced me. Using power point, I talked about the usual simplicity and low-key nature of regency weddings, using particularly the examples of Jane Austen’s niece Anna’s wedding to Ben Lefroy in 1814, as described by Anna’s half-sister Caroline Austen, and Annabella Milbanke’s wedding to Lord Byron in 1815, the latter recounted by John Cam Houbhouse (later Lord Broughton).

I also talked about royal weddings (and one non-wedding of the Prince of Wales to Maria Fitzherbert), including the ceremony that united Princess Charlotte of Wales to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. I covered a number of other topics, like courtship, the weddings in Jane Austen’s family and in her novels, the laws governing marriage, the ceremony itself, and so on.  I concluded by speculating on whether Jane Austen yearned for a wedding of her own.

Musing on the remark made by Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance,” I asked: “Was Jane Austen’s happiness a result of chance? Happiness in her literary success was the result of talent, wit, hard labor, and perseverance. Jane Austen’s satisfaction with her accomplishments left nothing to chance.” 

On Friday, Dr. Elisabeth Lenckos (above) of Chicago led us in an examination of whether our dispositions are more like Elinor’s or Marianne’s. I seemed to hear about a 50-50 split among those sitting near me.

 Dr. Joan Ray presented the North American Scholar Lecture at the opening plenary session. She analyzed “Sense & Sensibility as Austen’s Problem Novel,” citing various difficulties readers, particularly her students, have with the characters and plot.  Perhaps most obvious among these problems is whether or not Marianne will find happiness as the wife of Col. Brandon.  Dr. Ray, in her charming and humorous manner, convinced us by reading from the text some perhaps-overlooked aspects of Marianne’s and the Colonel’s behavior and opinions  that emphasized the empathetic nature of their personalities. Their essential compatibility, she assured us, would bring them happiness.

As always at JASNA AGMs, it is difficult to chose among the wonderful break-out sessions offered by dozens of well-spoken presenters with a variety of  intriguing topics.

My good friend Elizabeth Philosophos Cooper of Madison talked about “Jane Austen, Publisher: Writing Herself Into Money and Longing for More.” Liz documented the publication process for each of Austen’s novels, from early unsuccessful attempts through her various methods of reaching publication to the actual funds she received for some of her work, some during her lifetime, and more after her death.

Jeffrey Nigro, Chicago Regional Coordinator, spoke on “The Iconography of Sensibility,” illustrating how artists and poets extoll
ed the beauty and drama of the emotional expressionism of the era.

William Phillips, also of Chicago, counted down from the least egregious of the nasties to the worst of the examples in Sense & Sensibility in his talk “Meaner than a Texas Pole-cat: Present day Perspectives on Austen’s Largest Cast of Nasties.” It wasn’t easy to chose the worst among some of the revolting people in S&S, like John and Fanny Dashwood, Mrs. Ferrars and her son Robert — but of course the nastiest of all was the vindictive and sly Lucy Steele.

I will report further on the activities at Fort Worth — from an exciting book launch, to the brilliant ball, to the outstanding talks by Andrew Davies and Deirdre Le Faye — in my next posts.

Stay tuned for much, much more.

The View from Downshire Hill

Through the courtesy of Hester Davenport and Jo Manning, I have read the little book of memoirs published by the late Elizabeth Jenkins (1905-2010), The View from Downshire Hill, a collection of reminiscences and vignettes of some fascinating personalities.  Miss Jenkins published many novels, biographies, wrote for the BBC, and was one of the founders of the Jane Austen Society. As a matter of fact, she was the last of the original group who first organized to save the cottage in Chawton, Hampshire, where Jane Austen lived from 1809 to just before her death in 1817. It was saved, and the society has grown and flourished, a model for many more Austen societies in North America, Australia and elsewhere.
Elizabeth Jenkins was born on October 31, 1905, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, and died ast the age of 104 last September. She studied at Newham College, Cambridge, beginning in 1924. Through the head of her college, Pernel Strachey (Lytton Strachey’s sister), Jenkins met Virginia Woolf. After Cambridge, Jenkins settled in Bloomsbury, London, and worked on her first novel. She was invited to visit Mrs. Woolf and her huband, Leonard, a visit repeated many times. 


 Jenkins found Virginia as fascinating as we imagine she must have been.  To quote the Telegraph’s obituary, published 6 September, 2010, Jenkins “found the famous writer ‘very beautiful’ and the ‘ineffably distinguished’ company ‘enough to take one’s breath away’. But after a few months she found herself frozen out of conversation, or addressed in ‘contemptuous and mocking’ tones. Scorned, she did not seek to meet Woolf again, even after the Bloomsbury figurehead subsequently inquired after her and described Virginia Water (1928) as ‘a sweet white grape of a book’.

Jenkins’ first novel was published by the first publisher she contacted, the famous Victor Gollancz who himself was a leading literary figure in the London of pre- and post World War II.  Of course this is the kind of situation, the lack of any rejection, that stirs some of us to great envy.  But even with considerable literary success, Elizabeth Jenkins had many boring and unfulfilling jobs in dull offices. Nevertheless she never stopped writing. And publishing.  Gollancz (1893-1967) also published Ford Madox Ford and George Orwell, among others. He was knighted in 1965.

In addition to novels, Jenkins wrote many biographies, the first being of Lady Caroline Lamb, a wild young woman whose shocking behavior with Lord Byron and whose society connections in regency England made her a perfect subject for a life story.  Jenkins followed this work with a still-admired biography of Jane Austen in 1938. Two years later, she was a co-founder of the Jane Austen Society, as mentioned above. Today, the rescued cottage is known as Jane Austen’s House Museum and has an excellent website.

Probably the most admired novel by Jenkins is The Tortoise and the Hare. The Telegraph wrote, “…tales of human intrigue were to recur throughout Elizabeth Jenkins’s fiction, notably in her best-known novel, The Tortoise and the Hare (1954), about the gradual collapse of an apparently perfect marriage. The title refers to the two women competing for the affections of a wealthy barrister, Evelyn. His beautiful wife, Imogen, seems to have little to fear from a stout, capable neighbour, Blanche. But as her own insecurities overwhelm her, Imogen can only watch as Blanche’s dull charms win the day. Like her other works, The Tortoise and the Hare relied on Elizabeth Jenkins’s subtle portrayal of complex human relationships. By the end of the book, the author makes it clear that though Imogen is suffering, she has collaborated fully in own her pain. “

Another great author and friend of Jenkins was Elizabeth Bowen, whose novels and short stories are admired. I have to admit I have not read many of them, but I have alsways wanted to add them to my TBR pile, along with Elizabeth Jenkins’ novels and nonfiction.

Though I am eager to read more of Elizabeth Jenkins’ life, we are fortunate indeed to have this fine book, The View from Downshire House, random recollections which really whet our appetites. In fact, I can quote Jane Austen’s Emma:  “It was a delightful visit – perfect, in being much too short.”

Elizabeth Jenkins 1905-2010

I feel sure that Elizabeth Jenkins would have liked the headline on her New York Times obituary: “Woman of Letters.”

Fun with Sense and Sensibility

Victoria here.  At a meeting of our Jane Austen Book Group, re-reading Sense and Sensibility, we tried a new technique.  Since all of us had read the book many times, MANY times, we decided to forego a general discussion and have each member share her favorite passage. Austen lovers probably won’t be surprised that several of us chose similar passages.

The excerpt that at least five or six chose appears in volume I, chapter 2.  Fanny Dashwood talks her husband, John Dashwood, out of fulfilling his deathbed promise to his father to take care of his step-mother and three half-sisters (Elinor, Marianne and Margaret). 

At first John Daswood decides to give them three thousand pounds, but Fanny is able to shave this down to an occasional gift of game from the Norland estate. This scene was beautifully scripted by Emma Thompson and acted by Harriet Walter and James Fleet in the 1995 film version of the novel. But we concentrated on the written word. 

At one point, John D. considers giving his mother an annuity, an annual payment. Here is the specific sentence that captivates lovers of Austen’s dry wit. Fanny points out, “People always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them.”

Though she, her husband and her son are turning the Dashwood ladies out of their comfortable estate of Norland and allowing them to move to a smaller cottage several counties away, Fanny resents their retention of some of the china and silver.  And, to justify her parsimonious view, she says, “Their housekeeping will be (cost) nothing at all  — they will have no carriage, no horses, hardly any servants and will keep no company. Only conceive how comfortable they will be!”

KateWinslet as Marianne

When Marianne is saying goodby to her home, the Norland estate (I, 6), she emotes upon the house — and the trees.  “Dear, dear Norland…perhaps I may view you no more! And you, ye well-known trees!…No, you will continue the same: unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade! But who will remain to enjoy you?” typically, Marianne is overly emotional. Several chapters later (I,16), Marianne notices the autumn leaves and recalls Norland with fondness.

“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”

“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensations have I formerly seen them fall!…Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”

“It is not everyone,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.”

Hugh Laurie as Mr Palmer

My personal favorite passage is another that involves some of Austen’s wonderful minor characters who give such richness to her novels.  Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, the sister and brother in law of Lady Middleton — and daughter and son in law of Mrs Jennings — provide many moments of delightful comic relief.  In I, 20, Elinor, observing Mr Palmer’s usual ill-humor, thinks: “His temper might perhaps be a little soured by finding, like many others of his sex, that through some unaccountable bias in favour of beauty, he was the husband of a very silly woman; but she knew that this kind of blunder was too common for any sensible man to be lastingly hurt by it.”

Winslet (l) and Emma Thompson as Elinor

Another favorite scene is the discovery (III,1 aka 37) by the emotional Marianne that Elinor had been keeping secret  the fact of Edward Ferrars’ engagement to Lucy Steele.  Marianne berates herself for her self-indulgent outbursts…and then wonders how Elinor could have been so calm instead of giving in to her sorrow.  Several passages are cited to show Marianne’s regrets and Elinor’s disappointment, and underline the contrasts in their two personalities.

All of us at our Jane Austen Book Group agreed that Sense and Sensibility deserves its two hundred years of admiration.  Jane, we decided, would be pleased.

The JASNA AGM on the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel will be held in Ft. Worth, Texas, October 14-16, 2011, at the Renaissance Worthing
ton Hotel.
Hope to see you there!!