Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Jane Austen Society Annual General Meeting

I'm home from my wonderful trip to Canada for The Jane Austen Society of North America. It was a great experience, though it was so Jam packed with Austen goodness that I rarely had time to eat if the meal wasn't included in the convention with the time blocked out. I also rose around 6 and stayed up till at least 1 am each day, so I'm beat. On Friday night this was my fault for bringing a dress and gloves that still needed the little tiny buttons sewn on.
I drove up on Thursday afternoon, and after a little map confusion, arrived at the Hotel around 7:45. The first lecture was at 7:30, so I dropped my luggage in the room and when down for that hour, which was followed by another, smaller discussion group where people shared their favorite quotes from Emma.

In this room I recognized my roommate, and after the class was done she was heading down to the hotel lounge for a drink, so I decided I would go along to get a dinner of appetizers and a soda at 10:00 p.m.
The next morning at 9 was my 'reticule' class, where we sew by hand a cloth purse like they used over the turn of the 18th to 19th century. The kits were precut, linings and lovely fabrics, with trims and drawstrings in the packet. Some of them had beautiful antique lace or bead trims within the kit. Mine wasn't as fancy but I wanted one that matched my ball dress. Now that class had been an additional $35.00 fee, and I later saw a purse much like mine that a woman had bought pre-made upstairs in the Jane Austen Emporium for half the price it cost me to go to the class and learn to sew it by hand. Still, the class gave me a chance to sit with other ladies and get to know them as I was sewing, and I would do it all again.
Even thought the class was two hours, few people finished. I packed up my materials and put it all in a little gift bag so I could carry it around and sew during lecture classes. I finished, and this is the reticule you see me holding in the pictures.
About the speeches and breakout sessions- even though I love the information, class after hour long class of someone reading their presentation, even about Jane Austen, can get a little tiring. So the lighter side activities were, shall we say, SO REFRESHING! I’m not used to sitting still all day, and if I would have had more free time I would have taken a few laps around the block.
Quite a few ladies attended the entire conference in costume, and I wouldn't mind doing that if I had more of a wardrobe. It was very fun to see people dressed up.
Friday Night there was a play, “Mrs. Knightly Pays a Call: A Conversation at Randalls”. I went very early, skipping dinner so I could have a good seat. I have heard from many attendees that they didn’t enjoy the play because they couldn’t hear in the back of the room. It’s unfortunate. I really enjoyed it and the women who performed were great.
On Saturday during the lunch break there was a more informal play called “The Courting of Mrs. Elton”. My roommate went down early to hold a chair for me, and I arrived soon thereafter- thankfully, because the little room filled up fast and people were left out in the hall. I say this was informal, because the actors held scripts and read their parts as they acted them out, but it was a delightful comedy. I would love to report who was in the play, and can only say, having lost my flyer and being uninformed as I am, that the authoress acted the part of Augusta Hawkins, the future Mrs. Elton, and Juliet McMaster, to the intense delight of the crowd, played the role of Mr. Elton. This was one of my favorite events of the whole AGM. Worth missing lunch for and only eating a glass full of dry raisin bran from my room and a diet A&W to get me through till banquet time. I don’t mean for the lack of food to be a repetitive theme here. Perhaps it’s just to show you my dedication to Austen, opting to attend events rather than eat.
There were many good discussions and detailed interpretations of Austen's novels, and many people to meet and talk to while waiting for an event to begin. It is so easy to be friendly when we all have a common interest. As you know, I was matched with a roommate. My roommate and I got along well together and I think I did well in that department. I’m only sorry I left the light on so long on Friday trying to finish the sewing!

Saturday night was the feast and Regency Ball. The dining was wonderful. I had the roast pheasant, which was delicious. The Ballroom itself was a magical regency style ballroom with decorated walls and ceiling and three huge chandeliers. There was a large ornate stage at one end where the little orchestra was, and a dance mistress helped to guide us novices through the steps until we had caught on. There were several hundred people there, so often the dance formed three long lines. A lot of ladies danced with other ladies for a partner but it was fun because anyone who wanted to could give it a try.
I danced four dances. Each one probably went on for 15 minutes, and that would only get you halfway up the entire line of couples dancing. I’m told that a dance at a real ball would continue until the head couple has worked their way all the down to the bottom of the set and back up to the top again. So it is easy to see how one could go on till the wee hours of the morning.
We didn't do any dance for that long because they wanted to get through at least 8 and there were so many couples. Even so, we went until midnight and I was only thinking it was about 10:30. My favorite dance by far is the one seen in A&E's P&P at Netherfield, when Mr. Darcy first dances with Elizabeth. This dance is so beautiful. The couples mostly walk from place to place, weaving within their line, but at one point two couples join hands in a line facing the head of the room, and step forward for three, and back for three. The result over a whole ballroom is fabulous, because there is all this weaving and confusion, then all of a sudden everyone is lined up and the whole room moves forward in this wave, then goes back, then its all mixed up again. It really was a magical moment.
The very unfortunate name of that beautiful dance is Mr. Beverages Maggot. This afternoon I watched that section of A&E’s Pride and Prejudice to recognize the dance that I had learned. I was stunned, (though why should I have been surprised?) at how perfectly the dance was performed and how well choreographed their conversation was within the dance. I’ve always found it strange that Sir William Lucas stops to talk to Mr. Darcy during the dance, and Darcy is just standing there. Now I understand that they had reached the end of the line, and they wait out for a moment and join in again to head back up the set, turning from a #1 couple to a #2 couple. As they move back up the set they have less dancing to perform than they did at first, and more moments where they are just standing. This perfectly suits the agitated nature of their conversation and symbolizes the awkwardness of feeling by the time the dance is finished. I should have expected no less from the most perfect show ever to be seen on television.
Sunday morning I attended an Anglican church service across the street that incorporated texts written by Jane Austen. I checked out of my room after that, then attended the closing brunch, and finally a wonderful concert of music from the era of Jane Austen by Pro Musica, “A Jane Austen Parlor” It was simply beautiful!
Leaving my family for several days is a new thing for me. I think my trip was a success and I am already longing to go to another one. Next year is Chicago, then Philadelphia, but after that is Portland, so if I don't get to go sooner I will be planning for that on Oct of 2010.

See You there!

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