Dear friends and readers,
My accomplishment in getting myself to West Chester, Pennsylvania, from Alexandria, Va, by car by myself (well, with printed out Mapquest routes, and with my trusty simple GPS device, a garmin, by my side), and now home again (about 3 and 1/2 hours each way) has been vastly superseded by my having been honored by the Leland D. Peterson award of the East Central division of ASECS. For once I am hard put to find words to articulate precisely the grateful emotions I feel upon being so recognized. It was unexpected, wonderful to me, and yet (dare I say this) felt so good to be appreciated.
The words on the plaque: it was in “recognition of her years of participation and service to our society. She is to us a most cherished friend and colleague, one who epitomizes such valued eighteenth-century virtues as friendship, study, and congeniality.” As an 18th century kind of person I loved the quoted passages:
But the mind never unbends itself so agreeably as in the conversation of a well chosen friend. There is indeed no blessing of life that is any way comparable to the enjoyment of a discreet and virtuous friend. It eases and unloads the mind. clears and improves the understanding, engenders thoughts and knowledge, animates virtue and resolutions, soothes and allays the passions, and finds employment for most of the vacant hours of life.” (Addison)
L’amitié est le seul movement de l’âme où l’excès soit permis (Voltaire)
I was told ahead of time by this year’s president, Sandro Just, who understood Mr Knightley’s objection to surprises (Emma Ch 26, II:8) and I was able to scribble down and say a few coherent words:
I am honored. Brevity is usually best. So let me say how much I have learned over the years. Coming these last 3 times has been difficult so I would like particularly to thank everyone for their support and real friendship without which I couldn’t have kept up. I’m so glad I do, and hope to be here next year again.
A beautiful moment in my life.
A couple of people mentioned my blog-reports of our conferences. “It’s service.” So now I will be sure to do what I can to convey accurately the gist and salient details of those papers I heard.
[Added the next morning]: I’ve been asked what my award was for — a more precise explanation: my guess is I have been asked what the award was for: my years of activities in the EC/ASECS. Since 2000 I’ve gone to every society meeting: twice I came only for a day because I had a conflict, but I was there. I’ve given many papers, recently I’ve begun to write CFP for panels and organize these. My panel this time went very well and my paper was well-received. I’ve a number of published articles in peer-edited journals (though not that many of this type in the 18th century, more Trollope, film adaptation, some Renaissance, women poets), growing list of reviews (these are predominantly 18th century), and maybe most of all my blogs, my conference reports (especially on the 18th century), my presence on online.
And I what I said in my brief speech: I enjoy going and being with these people enormously, and learn a lot. This morning I was thinking about one of the presentations: it was about an attempt to computerize the correspondences of the enlightenment and count features of these letters (alas what was used were only letters edited by universities in recent ‘respectable’ editions — partly because otherwise the task would be overwhelming): I first fell in love with 18th century texts in my late teens when I came across (in used bookstores) translations into English of the letters, journals, diaries of French women of the later 18th century. I just loved these and still do. My paper this time was based on two women: one, Anne Macvicar Grant left us 5 volumes of letters (available in a good facsimile edition originally compiled by her one surviving son): I just love these still. Among other things in these books of letters we find a world of friendship, companions, intelligent and passionate thought, comedy too, and of course rivalry, melancholy, people doing mean bad things, being people. So there’s that, strongly in what is learned from studying the 18th century.
West Chester University has a spread-out (over a few blocks) construction model, it has some beautiful new buildings; its library has a splendid central reading room (with remarkable carved ceiling), signed editions of the finest authors. The look of the university fits into the surrounding small city. Driving by myself I found myself so aware of how Pennsylvania in parts I drove through it is not an alternation of middling and/or luxury elite in houses with cars which they drive into towns dead except for the boutiques (what I’ve seen so often in the venues of conferences). Instead West Chester is another of many small cities and towns, all strung out with many sorts of people intermingled, much greenery. I had two meals out (a dinner on Friday evening with a friend, and lunch on Saturday with two more), in comfortable and dinner-like restaurants, better meals than I had in most of the places I went to while in Europe and England too.
Next year the theme is the familiar and strange, and I’ve already thought of a panel proposal: Henry Fielding and Tom Jones (or Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones): what could be more familiar? and yet rereading it again after 25 years (when there’s been this revolution in thinking superseding Battestin, the great Fielding scholar) what more strange?
Miss Drake (keeping my pseudonym up too)