Dear friends and readers,
I’ve taken care of writing how our cats fared this time; and Yvette has so aptly and suggestively described what Montreal was like if you tried to explore it from the Le Sheraton Centre Hotel on foot and by metro, as well as if you took one of the several (many) tours conceived of as part of the yearly JASNA AGM ( she went to the Botanical Gardens); that I have little to add. I went on no tours because I was there for the sessions and papers, and while there was (as last time) too much time between sessions (while at session time at least 8 on at once), there was not enough to race out and see Montreal.
I have seen it with Jim twice before: once at an ASECS, we stayed an extra day to go to the grand Olmstead park on the top of a hill, and go a kind of Kennedy/Lincoln Center cultural place (for plays, operas, concerts, music). Jim had a way of shielding me from the realities of life and it was only this time as Yvette and I tried to find some food to eat for breakfast and lunch and supper at reasonable prices and coming to and from the airport by cab that I began to live in another realer Montreal: I confirm there are a lot of homeless people in the streets of Montreal. Amid the two seasons of winter (and needless corrupt) construction, I saw abandoned buildings. The Sheridan Centre Hotel would gouge you for air if it could. To say our wifi worked intermittently would be untrue: like the phone we were to use to get service downstairs, wifi didn’t work just enough to prevent us from calling for help. At one point the phone to the lobby didn’t work and a JASNA person on the elevator confirmed that her wifi and phone didn’t work either.
A friend told me it’s said to be one of the coldest (if not the coldest) of the major world cities: Montreal people were wearing heavy autumn clothes, fur-lined boots much in evidence, heavy-sweater tights. And much smoking — the kind of repression of smoking that has become common in US streets in cities has not occurred in Montreal.
Was it really in 2010 that Izzy and I went to our first JASNA, at Portland, with the theme JA and Northanger Abbey at the JASNA, and Burney and the Gothic in the accompanying conference. Since Jim died and the whole world was transformed for me, it seems more years, but yes just 4 years ago. Now I can see the outline of the event stays the same. People begin to gather as early as Tuesday and by Wednesday, there are many people in the chosen hotel. (It is usually in a large hotel to accommodate everyone.) The sessions and lectures occur from late Wednesday night (one light one) to Saturday night or Sunday morning. This time the speakers were chosen for their rank, who they know, what is their function in the Austen world (director of this, or running that Austen site), whether they have published a book that is respected on the topic of their talk, and how their topic functions in an overall scheme of covering the theme of the conference and showing different approaches to Austen. It’s said some attention is paid to how good a speaker they are. Tours begin on Wednesday, continue through Thursday and early Friday morning, and then resume on Sunday (together with prayers at a church for those with religion) and Monday (just the tours). So for many this is a holiday or vacation time, a week long time away perhaps with friends.
I again saw a number of mother-and-daughter pairs. It did not seem this time that as many people were dressed up in the 18th century outfits, but perhaps it’s because I was less startled by them. What I noticed was among many a lack of pretension, a dressing down except on the night of the banquet and ball. This occurs on Saturday night and then a large percentage of people do put on 18th century garb — some go to great lengths, making lovely dresses, carrying reticules, wearing slippers, or being seen (mostly the men) in accurate male outfits, wearing wigs, the right shoes and so on. There were three plenary lectures (as last time) with the addition of a fourth (masterly, by Juliet McMasters, on which much more in a blog on Austen Reveries). One of these was Sunday morning on the Royal Navy. The conference proper (the academic part) ended with that and an accompanying brunch.
One night of the “academic time” three nights was again given over to a lighter subject; this time a staged playlet by Diana Birchall and Syrie James: A Dangerous Intimacy, a dramatization of parts of Mansfield Park in comic mode (mostly about the acting of Lovers Vows and it included lines from Inchbald’s play). The players were all volunteers, most of whom had had to learn their parts in a couple of days, and wore costumes: some of these were funny — providing humor for the piece. There was a huge audience. The players had worked hard enough to project their characters. Diana herself came out in a squared green curtain with a rod in her back (as Mrs Norris). Afterwards at 9 was an hour-long glee.
I’d like to single out this glee hour as for me the best moment of the JASNA as a general meeting or social experience. Most of the people left the ballroom hall which was used for the plenaries as well as the banquet and dancing, so maybe there were 50 left. They gathered round a piano played by a professor of music, Kathleen Dibdin, and after some minimal description of what a glee was and minimal instruction, read and sang the three songs together. Those who know Mansfield Park will remember that one night at the park while Fanny and Edmund are star-gazing and Fanny becomes poetically meditative, over on the other side of the room Mary plays on the piano and the rest of the Bertrams and Crawford sing a glee. This draws Edmund from Fanny to join them and she is left sadly not even alone, but subject to the corrosive tongue of Mrs Norris. But I could see no Fanny near this group; the people like myself sitting up front near the circle had xeroxed copies of the songs and music and were silently reading along or quietly singing (like me who have only a tiny bit of musical training since taking the piano). It seemed a moment free of vanity, vexation, scurrying for position, no urges to assertion of status which mar much human intercourse even in a conference like this where there is at least an attempt to bypass this sort of thing.
Here’s harmony! …. Here’s repose! … Here’s what may tranquillize every care … (Fanny’s musings transposed from MP, I:11).
If I should have a reader who was at the JASNA and with their trusty cellphone took a snap (as so many were doing across the conference), I’d be grateful for one photo, and place it here.
The good moments for me were when I connected with some friends. I put at the head of this blog my meeting with Arnie (we hugged and talked) and sitting with Diana and he while the ball got started — a lecture on the picturesque and Gilpin was on at the front of this room. I met Elaine Pigeon at long last, twice (!) and learned that in person she is as fine as she is as a writing friend. She says I am tiny — I have lost a lot of weight since Jim died — she is a youthful woman “d’un certain age” and despite the noise of the restaurant and shortness of time for our coffee on Saturday, we began another level of friendship. She has written a perceptive account of the JASNA in the mode Yvette (Izzy) did: combining the social aspects with the academic papers.
I can’t say I had other conversations beyond with Yvette — we poured over the first chapters of Mansfield Park which she downloaded onto my ipad after I heard Juliet McMaster’s transformative thesis about why Mrs Norris so fiercely loathes Fanny Price. People smiled at me and some came over to talk a little now and again or I went over to talk to them and they obliged by talking of their work or paper and experiences were shared.
I and Izzy ate at the banquet with Elvira Casal and her husband (renewed old friendship) and Eric Nye who did all the work and logistics of marshalling a group of judges to read and evaluate student essays on “silence in Mansfield Park.” Afterwards he showed real patience and generosity when he became my partner for two long dances — we went up and down a set as a first and then a second couple, and we did a circle dance together. I had not dressed in 18th century costume as he had — he looked elegant in his stock, breeches, shoes, stockings. I did want though want to dance as I love dancing these patterns dances and enjoy the 18th century music to them, and obviously hardly get any chance to.
Yvette was shut out of the dance workshops (she did try to get into one she was supposed wait-listed for); and, unlike me, did not meet with a partner who was willing to allow her to goof and push her through the paces until she got them herself. And she has not the stamina to mill about and pass time talking here and there and then just sitting and watching. I went back and forth from the lecture to the dancing, up and down the escalator. We have decided that the next time we will try to buy an 18th century costume for her and I will buy a corset (you have to purchase them in sex shops), for without that she (like most women) does not look well. It is presented that what one must do is be online at the moment registration opens, and register not just for the conference, but dance workshops and tours. Yvette works full-time as a librarian (at the Pentagon) so we will still not be there like horses at a sprint the moment the thing opens. Not that I am naively thinking that everyone is treated the same.
Here is a photo of me taken by Diana during the ball. I know I look gaunt, let’s be frank, dreadful, but it is how I look since my beloved died. I register on my face and body all I have known for the last year and a half. I find it exhausting being alive without him. Like Cassandra, when Jane died, the gilding of my life (comfort, joy, meaning, fun, is the way I’d put it) vanished. I am like a shorn cat.
While I had many pleasant moments and was stimulated and interested by many papers (was prompted to buy a book even by Marie Sorbo on the film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park) intermittently it was simply another hard endurance experience.
I wish I could think of more to say about the aspect of the JASNA (as well as the Burney conference) outside the content of the papers and lectures. If I do, I’ll come back and add some more. I’m glad I went. Yvette and I will be at the 2016 Emma here in DC where we hope to meet my friend Elaine again.