Persuasions #3, 1981 Pages 17-19
SAN FRANCISCO: THE MEETING BY A PARTICIPANT
by Lorraine Hanaway
“Quite delightful!” “Charming!” Joyful!” members of the Jane Austen Society of North America were heard to exclaim during the whole of the October 9-11 weekend in San Francisco when they gathered to devote themselves to Sense and Sensibility at their Third Annual Meeting.
It was early in October when they set off for the west, the season was fine, and from seeing the place under the advantage of good weather, members received an impression in its favour which was of material service in recommending it to their lasting approbation. The situation of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel was good. Hills rose immediately behind and at no great distance on each side, and a cable car clanged romantically past the front door. While tea was serving in the lobby, Marilyn Sachs, Neff Rotter, and members of the Committee Elaine Cahn, Beverly Gherman, Margaret Kaufman, Susan Meyers, Dotty Myers, David Miller, Bette Pepper, Karen Rosenberg, Margaret Sand, Steve Sikora, and Peggy and Jerome Weidman, welcomed travelers with unaffected “sincereity,” handed out conference packets handsomely adorned with the calligraphy of Beverly Gherman, directed members to the special exhibit, “Jane Austen’s World,” at the antiquarian bookshop of John Howell, or answered their queries about sights of the city by the Bay. Meanwhile the Board of Directors met to carry out the Society’s business.
Registrants numbered 170 and included the three founders of the Society, J. David Grey, Joan Austen-Leigh and Henry G. Burke, and patrons Donald Greene, Juliet McMaster, Jane Nardin, Norman Page, Ian Watt.
Friday evening found members proving themselves excessively fond of a cottage, the charming San Francisco Carpenter’s Gothic cottage of Mrs. Simpson (Dotty) Myers, where a wine and cheese gala was conducted in the style of a complete party of pleasure. The numerous guests would have pleased Sir John himself for two groups had to be formed, the red double-deck bus conveying them by rounds to Mrs. Myers’ home. Conversation was not wanted for all were very chatty indeed, and upon departure the gift of a cup and ball gave every guest employment for the return ride. As it was moonlight and everybody was full of engagements, the free night was a short one.
“What good does talking ever do?” asked Professor David A. Miller (University of California at Berkeley) to open the Saturday morning session devoted to sense. Though Professor Zelda Boyd (California State University at Hayward) did not respond directly to that question, she did provide some other answers as she led members through a few of the intricacies of modal auxiliaries in Sense and Sensibility (modals echoed thereafter throughout the weekend).
Professor Edward Copeland (Pomona College) calculated the value of a competence in today’s dollars and cents, establishing the relative worth of Colonel Brandon, Willoughby and Edward Ferrars. Dr. Edward J. Shoben, Jr., clinical and consulting psychologist, enlightened members on the moral and psychological dimensions of Sense and Sensibility and on the imaginations of a teenage girl. There were said many witty things on the subjects of lovers and husbands, competencies, modal auxiliaries, and the imaginations of young girls, but Professor Miller concluded, “when Jane Austen is the subject, it is never safe to say ‘it is enough.’”
After lunch came sensibility and one of the noisier events: “A Great Debate on the Virtues of Marianne versus Elinor” between authors Neff Rotter (pro Marianne) and Jerome Weidman (pro Elinor), supported by vociferous partisans in the audience. Ms Sachs was moderator. Amanda Taylor, 15, the youngest member present, was asked for her vote and graciously gave it to Elinor, but who could have supposed that sense would prevail over sensibility by such a wide margin? So it was, however, when members favored as heroine, Elinor, two-to-one. Art historian Ann Bermingham Miller (University of California at Santa Cruz) then put everybody in a good mood with a brief slide talk giving “A Sense of Sensibility.” A romantic Gainsborough portrait of playwright Richard Sheridan’s wife, she said “could have been Marianne. One with nature, she has left the trappings of society – the hat, gloves and cloak – behind, no doubt with Elinor.”
At the business meeting, members learned of proposed changes in the bylaws, re-affirmed their desire to support St. Nicholas Church in Steventon, voted to increase their yearly dues (although those opposed had an articulate proponent in Ms. Austen-Leigh who voiced unutterable opposition to such a move), and cast ballots for officers and board members.
The promise of a great deal of conversation with good company was fulfilled when members assembled at the Century Club, a private women’s club founded at the turn of the century by Phoebe Apperson Hearst; the club was large and handsome and bespoke equal hospitality and elegance, a fitting ambience with cocktails by the fireplace (live chamber music in the background) and a dinner of poached chicken breasts with Duxelles sauce and apple tart. Arrangements of pink, purple and white staice with gypsophila centered the white linen covered tables. A lucky member at each table won the flowers. Mr. Grey read out the names of the newly elected officers and board members and introduced Joseph Costa, new President, who proposed a toast to our beloved Jane Austen. On behalf of the members at the meeting, Ms. Austen-Leigh presented a silver compote engraved “J. David Grey, Founder and President, Jane Austen Society of North America, 1979-1981,” to the outgoing president.
Professor Ian Watt (Stanford University) spoke on “Comedy and Aggression in Jane Austen: the Case of Sense and Sensibility.” No shameless want of taste or boisterous mirth attached to the evening, which members spent in sharing delightful sensations.
By 10 o’clock the next morning the whole party were assembled at the hotel where they were to breakfast. They had the pleasure of sitting down nearly 150 to table, all in high spirits and good humour, eager to be happy, and made immediately so on discerning a Jane Austen quiz, courtesy of Margaret Sand, at their places. To help members keep the Austen relationships straight during her talk on “Our Aunt, Jane Austen,” Ms. Austen-Leigh distributed copies of an “Austen Pedigree.” Mr. Burke reviewed Lawrence Lerner’s talk at Chawton in July 1981, before introducing Ms. Austen-Leigh.
This was indeed the season of happiness as members gave themselves up wholly to their interest. It is to be hoped, however, that they lived for the weekend in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance.