“It was great! I’m so glad I went!”
That was my reaction to my first Jane Austen convention – the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting, held in Minneapolis last September. It’s now almost six months past, and I’m still living in the afterglow. So I thought I’d share some of my experiences, and perhaps it will inspire you to reserve your spot for this year ‘s convention in Montreal.
I flew out of Seattle on Wednesday afternoon (September 25) with book-laden suitcases and high expectations for all I would see and do over the next four days. My first goal upon arriving in Minneapolis was to connect up in baggage claim with my friend and roommate for the weekend, fellow Austen Variations author Susan Mason-Milks, who was also coming from Seattle on a different flight. What happened next was a sign for how the weekend would go. Before I could even find Susan, I stumbled across four other Janeites, whom I knew but hadn’t expected to see – at least not so soon! All six of us ended up piling into a van-style cab together.
At the hotel, these fun and fortuitous meetings just kept coming.
Next week shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend. (Jane Austen, a letter, 1798)
The first thing on my schedule for Thursday morning was a Bonnet Workshop, where I hoped to make something to wear the rest of the weekend as occasion required, since I hadn’t managed to fit my only other hat into my suitcase. Two hours and gobs of hot glue later (not period-correct millinery technique, admittedly), I had something I was reasonably pleased with. What do you think?
The rest of the day was filled with informative sessions (Regency Magazines, The History of Tea, etc.) and meeting with friends over meals.
Friday was a big day, the highlight of the morning being the Dance Workshop class I’d been looking forward to for months: an hour and a half with a bunch of other clueless students under the instruction of a dance master, learning some of the very same “country dances” Jane Austen would have performed herself! Despite knowing nothing when I started, I flatter myself that I did pretty well – better than Mr. Collins at any rate! Now I’m hooked, and I’d love to find a dance group near home so that I could continue, which might be possible. Far less likely, though, is that my husband will agree to go with me. That he would ever consent to dress in Regency costume for it? Impossible. *sigh* There goes that little fantasy.
Friday afternoon, plenary speaker John Mulland gave a fascinating talk entitled “Speechless in Pride and Prejudice,” expounding on the significance of silences and silent characters in the novel. For example, there are two important characters in the book that never actually say a word! It’s true. Neither Georgiana Darcy nor Anne de Bourgh has a single line of dialogue. Are you surprised to learn that?
Later in the day, I participated in the Author Signing – an array of about 25 authors with published books (fiction and non-fiction) related in some way to Jane Austen. I got to sign a few books and postcards, to meet some of my lovely readers, and also to visit with my fellow authors, including my tablemate – scholar, speaker, and author Emily Auerbach. During this session, I managed to snag a few autographs for myself as well.
Another special event followed on Friday evening – a dinner gathering together in person an entire community of folks normally connected mostly via the internet: authors, bloggers, and other JA enthusiasts. There were about 30 of us, and we very noisily took over one entire end of an English pub style restaurant for a couple of hours. Who knew that Jane Austen fans could be so rowdy?
More excellent and informative sessions followed on Saturday, leading up to the climactic events of the convention: the banquet, the promenade, and the Regency ball. This was the time to pull out all the stops and appear in your best period costume. I only had a “morning” dress to wear, not a proper ball gown. Where I fell a little short in the wardrobe category, however, I think I made up in enthusiasm. “I danced every dance!” as Lydia boasts in P&P’95. The only minor blight on the evening was the lack of enough gentlemen partner. We ladies outnumbered them at least 20 to 1, but that didn’t hold us back. This style of dancing doesn’t require the typical male/female roles. So, yes, I danced with girls most the night… and had a wonderful time!
“Perhaps by and bye I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones.” (Lizzy to Darcy at the Netherfield ball, Pride and Prejudice)
Unbeknownst to me, a cameraman from the TV show Nightline was also present at the ball, acquiring footage of the dancing for a planned segment on Jane Austen “Super Fans.” Watch it here, and keep a sharp eye out for my graceful moves in two brief appearances. (I’m counting this as my official television debut, btw!)
By Sunday morning, things were winding down. But the final event on the schedule was well worth staying for. It was a brunch meeting featuring a presentation by a panel of three from the team who created The Lizzy Bennet Diaries – a vastly popular online modern-day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which was presented as a series of episodic video blogs. This wonderfully innovative series has no doubt captured an entirely new audience for Jane Austen. And it’s not just for the under 30 crowd. It’s for anybody wanting a fresh way to get your P&P fix. I came to the party late (the live series having already wrapped up), which was just as well, because once I got started, I couldn’t rest until I had seen all of it. You can still view it here, episode by episode or in marathon fashion like I did.
I’ve got one more bit of fun to tell you about.
As I expected, the best part of going to the AGM was the chance to meet new people, as well a many I’d only known over the internet before – fellow Austenesque authors, other Janeites, and even a few of my fans! What I didn’t anticipate is that I’d also get to know a lovely author of whom I am a particular fan: Julie Klassen. I introduced myself to her at the author signing on Friday, and then we bumped into each other several times afterward. We even ended up as dance partners for a while at the ball and shared a late lunch (along with Abigail Reynolds) Sunday afternoon before I caught my plane home. Just the icing on the cake of a great weekend!
So there you have it – all the highlights from my trip to the AGM. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I sincerely hope each of you will have the chance to attend at least once too!