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Austen Chat: Episode 9

March 7, 2024

Jane Austen & Her Genius: A Visit with Juliet McMaster

Image of Dr. Juliet McMasterProfessor Juliet McMaster, grande dame of Austen scholarship and one of the founding members of JASNA, joins us for a wide-ranging discussion about the genius that is Jane Austen. We touch on all six of her published novels, dip our toes in her teenage writings, and take a stroll down memory lane with Juliet as we chat about the early days of JASNA and how it's evolved over the past 45 years. 

Juliet McMaster is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Alberta, a founding member of JASNA, and a frequent presenter at JASNA AGMs. As a scholar of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English literature and a specialist in Jane Austen, she has authored a number of books on Thackeray, Trollope, Dickens, and, of course, Austen, including Jane Austen, Young Author. She is also co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen and The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf. In 1994 Juliet founded Juvenilia Press, which publishes the early works of well-known writers. Her most recent book, James Clarke Hook, Painter of the Sea (2023), is a biography of her great-grandfather, the Victorian painter James Clarke Hook.

Show Notes and Links

Many thanks to Juliet for appearing as a guest on Austen Chat!

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

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Listen to Austen Chat here or on your favorite podcast app: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other streaming platforms 

Credits: From JASNA's Austen Chat podcast. Published March 7, 2024. © Jane Austen Society of North America. All rights reserved. Music: Country Dance by Humans Win.


Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

[Theme music]

Breckyn Wood:  Hello, Janeites, and welcome to Austen Chat, a podcast coming to you from the Jane Austen Society of North America. I'm your host, Breckyn Wood from the Georgia Region of JASNA. My guest today is a grande dame of Austen scholarship and one of the founding members of JASNA. Juliet McMaster is a now-retired professor of English at the University of Alberta and has authored books on Thackeray, Trollope, Dickens, and, of course, Jane Austen, including Jane Austen on Love; Jane Austen the Novelist: Essays Past and Present; and most recently, Jane Austen, Young Author, which focuses on Austen's teenage writings. Juliet's interest in Austen's juvenilia is well known. She is the founder of the Juvenilia Press, which publishes the early works of well-known writers, and has illustrated a number of the press's editions of Austen's teenage writings, including The Beautifull Cassandra, in which Juliet portrays Cassandra as a delightfully mischievous little mouse. Juliet says she has inherited her artistic talent from her mother's side of the family. Her great-grandfather was the distinguished and prolific Victorian painter James Clarke Hook, and her most recent book, just out and available from Jane Austen Books, is James Clarke Hook, Painter of the Sea. It comes amply illustrated with his luminous seascapes. Welcome to the show, Juliet.

Juliet McMaster:  Thank you. It's great to be here.

Breckyn:  Okay, let's begin with our "Desert Island" segment. You're stranded on a desert island, and you can only have one Austen character as your pen pal. Who do you choose and why?

Juliet:  Well, I suspect that a lot of people will have chosen the same person. I'm choosing Emma.

Breckyn:  No one has said her yet!

Juliet:  No? Really? Okay. Because Emma has stories to tell. She is an imaginist, and she is going to be meeting people and figuring out whom they're going to get hitched with and so forth. And she'll probably get it wrong, but you're going to be enjoying the process of going wrong with her and then finding out with her that she's really made a mess of things and that you would have made the same mess, et cetera. So, those are the letters I would enjoy getting. And I know that she's very good about paying attention to what people say and the way they say it. She's a bit of a parodist of people like Mr. Elton who say "exactly so" all the time. So, I think she's going to be a very entertaining writer.

Breckyn:  Well, that's fun. Yeah, that is the first time anyone's chosen Emma. A lot of people—multiple people, have said Elizabeth Bennet.

Juliet:  Glad to be original. Yes.

Breckyn:  Of course. Okay. So, Juliet, as you know, the next two Annual General Meetings have themes that focus on Austen's genius. So, as a Jane Austen scholar, what is it about her writing that first captured your interest and made you think, "This woman is a genius"?

Juliet:  Well, "this woman is a genius" is a kind of epiphany moment, and I didn't have one of those. I did, over years, learn that that's the case, but it wasn't a sort of big revelation at the time. I think it's something about the fact that each time you read the novel, you find something new—whichever novel it is—and sense that it's not diminished but amplified by each reading.

Breckyn:  Definitely.

Juliet:  That somehow epitomizes her. But it's the wonderful verbal control . . . plus the delight in character for its own sake. Those are the things that I especially enjoy.

Breckyn:  I really like the Virginia Woolf quote about of all great writers, that Austen is one of the hardest to catch in an act of greatness. And I think that you've kind of said the same thing: that Austen definitely rewards rereading over and over again different times in our lives. Certainly, when I was younger, when I was in high school and college, I was identifying with the Mariannes and the Elizabeth Bennets. And now I'm older, I'm a mother, and I'm like, "You know, just give Mrs. Bennet a break. She's trying her best." All these poor mothers who just need to marry off their daughters so they don't starve. She does such a great job of capturing real people, and so, you can identify with them at different stages.

Juliet:  Yes. And she knows which ones are really irritating and that you jolly well better be decent to them, even if they do irritate you. Like the Miss Bateses of the world; they try your patience, but you jolly well ought to be nice to them.

Breckyn:  So, for our listeners who are just starting their Austen journey, what aspects of her novels do you think show her genius? You mentioned character, but what set her apart from the writers who were her contemporaries that we're not really reading anymore?

Juliet:  I do think it's the verbal mastery that does it. And it's not just about clever use of words, but everything completely right and balanced. And those are things that it's hard, as Virginia Woolf says, to catch her in the act of greatness, but that is what we're feeling—that it is so absolutely apt and exact. It may not be world shaking, but it is so intimately gathered and kept. That's all I can say, really. Then she writes intelligent love stories. We enjoy the love story as a love story, but we just also enjoy the finesse with which it's all done.

Breckyn:  Yeah. It's so lovingly, carefully done.

Juliet:  Yes.

Breckyn:  So, I thought it might be fun to play a kind of word association game with Austen's published novels. I'd love to talk with you about every single one of them. We could go on forever, of course, but maybe just first impressions that come to mind. First impressions like Pride and Prejudice's original title. When I mention Sense and Sensibility, what aspect of the novel comes to mind first?

Juliet:  I think it's about learning that emotion is subject to fashion. The whole issue of sensibility, which was suddenly—it was the mode to have your sensibility: to faint, to sigh, to gasp, and to show your emotions and to wear your heart on your sleeves. That all of that—it was a revelation to me because the whole sensibility fashion has gone out of fashion—but to learn about it as a fashion of the late 18th century, and that Marianne, for instance, would think herself very guilty if she was able to sleep a wink the night after Willoughby has left. She's doing it by the book. And that notion was new to me and really caught my attention. And then, of course, later on, I learned about sensibility and the history of the development of all of that and the kudos that belong with dropping the silent tear—all of those things—but just the notion that, okay, I've got to learn how—not only how to feel, but how to express those feelings and how to do it relatively visibly and elegantly. All of that seems to be built into the sensibility issue.

Breckyn:  It's almost like Marianne is watching herself be a tragic heroine, right? That heightened level of self-awareness. So what specific aspects of Austen's talents or skills do you think Sense and Sensibility illustrates best?

Juliet:  Well, Marianne doing her sensibility things, and her passion for dead leaves, and the sorts of things that she gets satirized for. Yes, so all of those over-the-top things, and also the artistry that goes along with the notion that we see Marianne from the outside, and there she wears her heart on her sleeve. But we don't see Elinor in the same way at all, because she is not demonstrative. But we see Marianne through her eyes, and we have to look back towards the viewer to recognize what Elinor is like. And I think of that as a wonderful artistic achievement of that novel.

Breckyn:  There are so many layers. There are so many things going on at once. So, let's do the same for the other novels. What do you think of first when I mention Pride and Prejudice?

Juliet:  I came to Pride and Prejudice quite young. We did it at school, and I became actually— to begin with, I thought I'd really got this, and I could knock off an exam and do well in it. But then I got this exam back again, and it said I got 47%, which is not what I was used to getting. I thought I'd nailed it. So then I checked up with it. What had I done wrong? Well, I had—in a question about character, for instance, I'd said, Yes, this is Elizabeth's character. Among other things, she has a sense of humor. And I thought that was enough. But no. The teacher got back and said, "No, but you didn't say how you know she has a sense of humor." So then you kept—"Oh, well, for instance, when everybody gets excited about the coach stopping outside the Hunsford parsonage, she says, 'Oh, I thought at least that the pigs were got out of the barn.'" So if I said that, I'd have got a better grade. Anyway, it was a very good training for me as an English prof., as I became many a year later, because, yes, demonstrating not only that you've got something, but being able to say where you got it from, is necessary.

Breckyn:  To cite your sources.

Juliet:  Indeed. Well, not the sources in the sense of whom Jane Austen was copying, but how you know that Elizabeth has a sense of humor, for example—those things. And that was a good literary training for me.

Breckyn: S o, what about Mansfield Park?

Juliet:  Just before we leave Pride and Prejudice, something that I did notice from the beginning. There are moments in Pride and Prejudice when I just want to stand up and cheer. For instance, when here comes Lady Catherine with all her massive authority and wants to bully Elizabeth, and Elizabeth absolutely keeps her cool. And when Lady Catherine says, "Oh, you will be slighted by all his relatives, everybody." "Well, these are heavy burdens, but anybody who marries Mr. Darcy will have compensations." That's not exact, but it's roughly what—it's just that she keeps her cool, like some wonderful athlete over against some blundering dragon. Or the moment when Mr. Bennet, after Elizabeth has been seen: "If any young gentlemen come for Mary or Kitty, send them in, for I'm quite at leisure." I just love that moment.

Breckyn:  Yeah, she has so many of those zingers.

Juliet:  Indeed.

Breckyn:  That's funny that you use that phrase, "stand up and cheer," because a couple episodes ago, we had a member, Betty Parker Ellis, share one of her favorite quotes from Pride and Prejudice, and she said the exact same phrase: that sometimes Elizabeth's speeches just make her want to stand up and cheer.

Juliet:  Oh, really? Interesting.

Breckyn:  Yeah, she used the same phrase. So, Mansfield Park, a lot less "light and bright and sparkling" than Pride and Prejudice, but it's still one that I really like and appreciate. What do you think of when you think of Mansfield Park?

Juliet:  Well, first I think of how brave of her, of Jane Austen. After having a heroine like Elizabeth, who carries all before her, to go to this powerless, creepmouse figure, Fanny. You had to have guts to do that. And she pulled it off. And there are people who find Fanny just awful and can't stand her, but—

Breckyn:  I know. I love her, though.

Juliet:  But I think it was so brave. And then you start paying attention to Fanny and all that she pulls off, and she is a kind of sponge that takes in everything. And then Mansfield Park absolutely needs her by the end. So, I think of that as a great artistic achievement, among others.

Breckyn:  She's the real moral center of that book.

Juliet:  Indeed.

Breckyn:  A very necessary character. Okay, so Emma. Emma's the next one on the list. What do you think of when you think of Emma?

Juliet:  Oh, yes. When I first read it as a teenager, I went along with Emma, and I was totally convinced by everything she saw and thought.

Breckyn:  Were you?

Juliet:  I was, completely. Because I was naive and so forth and, "Oh, wow! So, Mr. Elton really loves Emma, not Harriet after all." And I was bowled over by that surprise, as Emma was herself.

Breckyn:  That's wonderful.

Juliet:  Going along with Emma and making all the mistakes she made and then having her kind of revelation, I thought was sort of artistically a great achievement of Jane Austen's. So, I was just a teenager; I wasn't aware enough. Later on, I'd have said, "Oh, that's a bit fishy about courtship being for Harriet, not Emma," even though it talks about her "ready wit." Later on, I got that, and Emma gets it immediately. But just the notion of being led along with Emma. And, of course, it doesn't matter if you come back again and read it again, because something of the same process still happens. You are, to some extent, carried away, or you are paying attention to exactly what sort of misinterpretation she's making.

Breckyn:  I don't remember who first said it to me, but someone described Emma as almost like a mystery novel. Like, there are these little clues that are interspersed throughout in Miss Bates's speeches and in the letters, and you know, all these things. I remember I had read it multiple times when I finally realized that when Frank Churchill goes to get his hair cut in London, he's ordering the pianoforte. She never tells you that. You have to deduce it.

Juliet:  And the fact is that you need to learn about its being Valentine's Day, which you don't get from in the novel, either. Somebody else has done the scholarship that says, oh, yes, it's February the 14th.

Breckyn:  Yeah.

Juliet:  Indeed. And she has played those kind of games. And she doesn't necessarily explain things in a painstaking manner.

Breckyn:  Right.

Juliet:  You can find out.

Breckyn:  Do you think she's doing it for her own amusement as the author? Or do you think that she thought her audience was intelligent enough? Or what do you think her motivations are for withholding some of that information?

Juliet:  She said she doesn't write for such dull elves as have not a great deal of intelligence themselves, or whatever that exact quote is. She does expect the reader to be on the job.

Breckyn:  And I think she also leaves room for us to sort of participate in the novel, right? If everything is spelled out for you, then there's no fun in that. Okay, so let's get to the two that were not published during her lifetime. Northanger Abbey. What sticks out to you about that novel?

Juliet:  I like to think about it as there's Henry Tilney and there's Henry Higgins, and both of them teach their heroines a new language, and it is, in a way, creating a new identity for them. And it's the language aspect of Northanger Abbey, and Henry Tilney, with his corrections of Catherine's careless kind of locutions, that stays with me because the mind is there anyway, but you need the right kind of tools to express it. And having a decent language and an exact language matters. And he is telling Catherine that, and he's telling the rest of us. Jane Austen is telling the rest of us the same thing. So the language aspect of Northanger Abbey is what stands out for me especially.

Breckyn:  Yeah, and that's when they mention Dr. Johnson and Blair, right?

Juliet:  Yes.

Breckyn:  So that's when you get the hint that maybe Austen has also been reading those dictionaries and those grammar guides, and maybe they're important to her as well.

Juliet:  I just had a letter very recently from a friend who talked to somebody who had said, "This was a very nice novel." And she said, "My English teacher said you don't use "nice" for anything except something you enjoy eating." And I thought, "No, Henry Tilney would get on your case about that one, too," because "nice" actually means fastidious, you know, finely discriminating. It doesn't mean about good food at all. So we've still got those things going.

Breckyn:  Sure, of course. And English is this hodgepodge language that is evolving constantly. Okay, so the last one, Persuasion, what is it that sticks out to you for that novel?

Juliet:  Well, it's wonderful that it's a novel about a second chance, and that makes you feel good, because Anne gets her second chance and so on. I also like it for the feminist aspect. It's the most explicit about, "The pen has been in your hands" and so on. But also the fact that Wentworth has a lot to learn from Anne. And the previous heroines, you know—Emma and Mr. Knightley, she has a lot to learn from Mr. Knightley, but it's Wentworth who has more to learn from Anne. And I quite like that different structure, and that stands out for me, as well as it being a more moving novel than the others. And poor Anne, with her perpetual estrangement from Wentworth, as she thinks it—it really comes through.

Breckyn:  What do you think that Anne has to teach Wentworth?

Juliet:  Have some faith. Don't just go bitter. And that lovely scene with the hazelnut. "Here is a hazelnut to exemplify." That he uses this emblem, and Anne is overhearing, and presently we are going to have him overhearing her talk with Harville and have a new understanding of what happened in their previous relationship. So those little artistic ploys I think she pulls off wonderfully there. And I like her—there are people who've said Jane Austen doesn't use symbolism, but she uses emblem very interestingly. And there's a wonderful example. Another one is about Darcy and Elizabeth at the piano. You know, Elizabeth saying, "My fingers don't move on this instrument as expertly as I see some people's do. But I've always thought it's my fault for not practicing more." And then, you know, he gets it wrong. He said, "Oh, yes, we neither of us perform for strangers." And he didn't get that point.

Breckyn:  It's a metaphor. He didn't get the metaphor.

Juliet:  And he also says, "Nobody listening to you would think anything wanting." But when it comes to his first proposal to her, by gum, she finds something wanting in that one.

Breckyn:  It's brutal. It is difficult to watch.

Juliet:  It's just that he should have listened to the lesson she was giving him, and he didn't, and he paid for it. But that's another of her emblems, and I think she does those emblems so well.

Breckyn:  Yes. She does it a lot more subtly than, I would say, her contemporaries. That she doesn't do it very often, but when she does, it's very much to the point. So, Austen's teenage writings are very different from the mature novels. They're filled with murder, scandal, drunkenness, violence, over-the-top humor. But when you look at what she wrote as a teenager, what links do you see to her adult writing?

Juliet:  Well, there are useful plot links. For instance, in Henry and Eliza, there is this formidable duchess—spelled with a D-U-T-C-H-E-S-S—who has a son who is engaged—her son, Cecil—and then the girl she's adopted, Eliza, promptly pounces on this eligible proposed husband for the duchess's daughter and elopes with him, leaving that message about "We are gone and married" and signing, "Eliza and Cecil." So, that is exactly Lady Catherine de Bourgh, right? And Elizabeth. That one seems to me a nice little plot parallel, but I think there's already the wonderful control of language in Jack and Alice. For instance, that comment of Alice's, "Oh, cruel Charles!" She's just heard about his—he sets a mantrap for the women who keep besieging him in this place.

Breckyn:  Oh, right.

Juliet:  And Lucy gets her leg caught in the mantrap, and Alice says, "Oh, cruel Charles, to wound the hearts and legs of all the fair." This sort of mixture of the poetic—the fair—and then this practical notion of mantraps on your estate to catch the women who are stalking you—it seems to me, verbally, just brilliant. There's lots of that in the juvenilia. And also, I'm glad to see that back then she could do these violent and outrageous things, which she chooses not to do later on. I mean, she doesn't do the clash of nations, as Scott was going to be doing, and so on. But in the juvenilia, she has people committing murders and getting hanged and things like that. She has done all that. We know she could do it. But all the sort of anti-Jane Austen people who say, "Does anything ever happen in Jane Austen that's more exciting than a tea party?" Well, yes, she is able to make the tea party really interesting. She's already done the bouncy, violent stuff.

Breckyn:  Yeah. And there's so much going on beneath the surface.

Juliet:  That's not what she's wanting to do as a mature writer.

Breckyn:  No, definitely. And like we said with Emma, there's so much going on between the lines. There's so much to figure out, to engage an intelligent reader. She doesn't need the drunkenness and the violence to capture our imagination and our attention.

Juliet:  Indeed.

Breckyn:  Okay, so I want to talk to you a bit about JASNA, since you have such a long history with it. You played a part in its founding in 1979, correct?

Juliet:  I was there. I was a founding member, yes. I had been in correspondence with both Jack Grey and Joan Austen-Leigh beforehand. I wanted to tell you, actually, about some years beforehand, 1975, which was the bicentenary of Jane Austen's birth, of course. So things were happening. Jane Austen things were happening. And there were three events that I think of as important to the founding of JASNA. First one was a conference on Jane Austen in the University of Victoria, which is western Canada, like the University of Alberta, my university. And the conference—I was invited to be a speaker there. So was Ian Watt, who was a very big name of the day. He and I locked horns on the feminist issue at the time, but he became a friend. But important for me was the evening entertainment. It was called Our Own Particular Jane, and it was a play with lots of fragments of Jane Austen—little bits of the novels built into a whole. And it was by none other than Joan Austen-Leigh, who called herself Joan Mason Hurley at that time, her married name. So that was when I got to know Joan, and we were not in the same city, but we did visit each other, and we got to know each other and become friends.

So, the next event of that year, I was not present at. But it happened at Chawton, the Chawton meeting on that bicentenary year. And Joan Austen-Leigh talks about what happened there. She met a guy who was dressed in a blue coat like Mr. Bingley, and that was Jack Grey. And so they got together there, and they formed a bond, clearly. And she wrote about that in her little piece about Jack when he died. But then the third event was the conference I organized myself, which was Jane Austen Bicentenary Conference. We had big names of the day, like Walton Litz and Lionel Trilling and Brian Southam. So it was quite a big event, intellectually speaking. But really, the important stuff was happening not so much among the papers given but as among the people coming, because there we had Jack Grey, Joan Austen-Leigh, and Henry Burke. So those three founders got together at that conference. And since then, after that, they proceeded to do their planning. And I know that both Jack and Joan had other things they'd really rather do than create a Jane Austen society. Joan was busy with her novel called Stephanie, and Jack, I believe, was working on a bibliography of Jane Austen.

And, so, they just had other things to do. But I think it was Joan's husband, at least, this is what she told me, that it was Dennis Mason Hurley, who said, "Come on, do it. Get on the job, do it." And I heard from both Jack and Joan ahead of time, before 1979, about all they were up against and why they would rather be doing something else instead and so forth. So I would have that correspondence. And it was very intriguing to see how they were going. I never—unfortunately, never did get to know the third founder, but I was in correspondence with both Jack and Joan at the time. And when we had the Williamsburg conference, there was a 40-year little celebration at that one. And I handed out copies of the letter that came to us Jane Austen people inviting us to come to the 1979 inaugural meeting of JASNA. And I'd still have copies of that, but I handed all those records over to Juliette Wells, so she has it at Goucher College.

Breckyn:  Wonderful.

Juliet:  Those were leading up to that foundation in 1979. It was very exciting, and not altogether done enthusiastically by Jack and Joan, but Joan finished her novel, and Jack handed over his bibliography. And so it went.

Breckyn:  We're grateful for their sacrifice.

Juliet:  1979 happened, and so did JASNA.

Breckyn:  And where did it start? Was it in New York?

Juliet:  Yes, it was in the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York.

Breckyn:  Okay. And then quickly, did they start popping up?

Juliet:  I think the very next I missed, and I think it was at Goucher College. So our third founder was the one organizing it, among other people. But Goucher, of course, has a lot of Jane Austen archives now—JASNA archives—with Juliette Wells looking after them.

Breckyn:  And Joan, she—I mean, I'm assuming from her last name, she's a descendant of Austen, right?

Juliet:  Yes. Descendant of James Austen, the eldest. Yes. And also who wrote the first biography of her. I'm sorry, James Edward wrote the first biography. So, his son James Edward was also her great-great-great something or other. So, she directly descended from James and James Edward and down the line.

Breckyn:  Well, I would definitely take the Austen name back on if I was starting an Austen society.

Juliet:  Indeed.

Breckyn: So, what are some of your—do you have favorite memories or stories from the early days of JASNA?

Juliet:  Let's see. Well, there was one that stood out for me, 1987. That's the one that Jack organized in New York, at the—not at the Gramercy Park, at the Waldorf Astoria, which is, of course, a rather elegant hotel. But he threw himself into it, and he wanted to do it on the juvenilia, because he has been an admirer of the juvenilia since way back. He used to say that there are two artists who did world-class work before they were adults, and one was Mozart and the other was Jane Austen. I've quoted that apropos of the Juvenilia Press because it is worth hearing. So it was specialized to the juvenilia, and there was a dramatic performance of Lady Susan and so on. But also what he instituted was the first time people were invited to come in costume to the evening of the banquet. So that was the beginning of that one, and I also—that was the first time I borrowed a guy's outfit from my drama department at the University of Alberta and went as a guy. And I remember walking down the corridors of the Waldorf Astoria, which is lined with mirrors, and I thought, "Oh, my God, I look weird." I look something like an 18th-century guy, but not very much like. And I just ducked back into my room and took a drink. I felt the need.

Breckyn:  Did people like it? I'm sure they loved it.

Juliet:  Then I was part of the gathering, and here we were all in costume, and Jack looked at me. "Oh, God, Juliet," he said, "I've got a prize for the best guy, and I've got a prize for the best gal, but I've got nothing for the transvestites!" All the girls wanted to dance with me, I'd have to say.

Breckyn:  Of course! Yeah. At these gatherings, especially at the balls, there are usually—gentlemen are scarce, and there's more than one young lady sitting without a partner.

Juliet:  That's right.

Breckyn:  So, if the occasional girl dresses as a guy, I think it's probably welcome. I've heard that you are quite the fencer. Does that ever come up at any of the AGMs? Have you ever done, like, a fencing demonstration?

Juliet:  Oh, yes! When we had Sense and Sensibility, I did a paper on the duel, and I actually came with my 18th-century sword and could demonstrate a few moves. Unfortunately, I believe that the Willoughby-Brandon duel must have been with pistols. I mean, so far as I can figure it out from the text. Neither of them is wounded, and I don't think that you would have stopped a duel with swords unless and until somebody had drawn blood, if not killed. So, I think that the evidence is it was probably with pistols. But all the same, in the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, they did swords. The swords are much more glamorous, aren't they?

Breckyn:  Sure, yeah. Much more exciting. Much more romantic.

Juliet:  Yes.

Breckyn:  So, you were also the coordinator for the 1996 AGM in Lake Louise, which I hear many members still consider one of the best ever. So what was it like organizing that conference, and what do you think made it so special?

Juliet:  Well, of course, the scenery is stunning. Our scenery was right at the doorstep. And in fact, on the Thursday of the conference—I mean, we knew it was very risky to be doing this. For one thing, Lake Louise is a long way away from a major airport, so the whole transport issue was complicated. But for another thing, the weather is very dicey in October in Alberta, and we thought, you know if we have serious bad weather, we're going to be stymied. Besides the fact that lots of people may not be able to make it, for it's a long way and it's high up and so on. When we got there, I drove there with some other people attending the conference, and it started to snow on us, and it was snowing quite heavily by the time we got there, the Wednesday night, and my heart sank. And then Thursday morning, this magnificent view that we'd been advertising was not visible.

Breckyn:  Oh, no!

Juliet:  You couldn't even see there was a lake beyond the window and never mind mountains beyond the lake. It was just awful. And that was the whole day of Thursday, being the registration day. And I'm not actually a religious person, but I did a lot of praying at that time. And Friday morning I woke up, rushed to the window, and there was brilliant new blue sky, fresh snow on the mountains, fresh snow on the trees, and it wasn't so cold that the snow had accumulated on the trail. So, the trails I led people on that morning were still available. It was absolutely stunning, as we'd advertised and hoped it would be. And it was. But there were quite a lot of risks involved. And my co-convener, Bruce Stovel—he and I really faced quite considerable financial problems if we didn't live up to all the rooms that we'd booked. But in fact, we had 600 people, which at the time was more than any previous one. So it was a big success. And we did take people on hikes, and I led the hike that Friday morning. Helen Lefroy was there, who is a descendant of, as you know, Ben Lefroy and so on. And it happens that another Lefroy had been the governor general of Canada. And there's a mountain right there called Lefroy Mountain with a cabin underneath it. And I led this hike there, and I was able to say, and this is Helen Lefroy in Lefroy Cabin. And they said, well she'll get lunch on the house.

Breckyn:  Oh, great.

Juliet:  So, we had a little bit of the connection of the history of Lake Louise with Jane Austen.

Breckyn:  And what was the theme? Was it a specific book?

Juliet:  It was Persuasion, yes. And Paula Schwartz wrote a musical called An Accident at Lyme. So, we had a full production of that. And it was a big success. We had, you know, a good Edmonton director who did it. We had a couple of shows in Edmonton first and then two shows that came to Lake Louise. So, it was quite complicated because we had to bring the cast and accommodate them and all of that. And accommodating people at the chateau of Lake Louise isn't cheap. But, you know, the delegates would have been paying their own way, but we had to pay for the cast. But, no, we had full, successful performances of An Accident at Lyme. It was terrific, and people enjoyed it very much. We also had a little book called—I had suggested a theme for a little Persuasion spinoff, and I suggested, what about the correspondence between William Walter Elliot and Mrs.—oh, what's her name?

Breckyn:  Price? No, no, Clay. Clay.

Juliet:  Clay, Mrs. Clay. Thank you, that's what I was looking for. Anyway, I suggested that correspondence, and one of our Edmonton people wrote it, and she did good research. She went to Bath, and she found out who was playing at the concerts at the time for the concert scene in Persuasion. She really did her stuff, and she wrote a very charming story, and I illustrated it, and we gave that away as a giveaway at the conference.

Breckyn:  Wow.

Juliet:  So, we felt we were doing good things, and I was on the committee called the Freebies Committee, and one of the freebies was going to be a package of seeds of mountain flora. And we had lots of things like that that were particular to the local scene.

Breckyn:  That's lovely.

Juliet:  So, it was lots of fun, that one. Oh, yes, buses that came from the Calgary airport—I mean, even the wildlife was performing for us. The bus paused because there was a bear with two cubs going up a tree. So, all those delegates got this particular thrill of coming there.

Breckyn:  Yeah, that sounds beautiful. That sounds fantastic. So, since you've been with it from the beginning, how are some ways that JASNA has changed in the past 44 years since its founding?

Juliet:  Well, Jack's initial thing of doing the costumes in 1987— that is largely developed. Now, it's not just at the ball; it is every day for many people and lots of different outfits, and the guys are doing it too. All of that has hugely developed that way. And of course, we've become—I haven't learned yet how many people we have here in Denver this year, but I'm sure it's a large number, and not to mention the ones who are doing it virtually as well. So it's become much bigger. But I think the fact of its being bigger also means that we have more confidence. There's more happening in the way of the merchandise, more happening in the way of movies, spinoffs, and all of that— the whole Jane Austen culture, which has been hugely developing in these years, hasn't it?

Breckyn:  And the contests, right? They've got the Essay Contest and the Young Filmmakers Contest.

Juliet:  Indeed. Lots of things that JASNA is doing. And JASNA has supported many great enterprises too. And I suppose we don't have to be apologetic. "Oh, here's just a little spinster who wrote courtship novels in the early 19th century." We can say, "This is Jane Austen! You better know who that is."

Breckyn:  Definitely, yeah. "If you don't know her, then you're out of the zeitgeist!"

Juliet:  Absolutely.

Breckyn:  Yeah. Well, Juliet, thank you so much for talking with me today.

Juliet:  It's been very pleasant, Breckyn.

Breckyn:  Where can our listeners go to learn more about your books and other work?

Juliet:  Oh, I think I'm on Wikipedia. But look, they're around. It's easy to find them. If you're at the conference, come to the Juvenilia Press table and chat to me, please.

Breckyn:  And do you know the website for the Juvenilia Press?

Juliet:  We have a website for the—yes, it is managed by Christine Alexander, who now runs the press. I'm the founder, but I ceased to be the general editor some years ago. And Christine has done wonders with it, and we've hugely increased the number of our authors and so on. But of course, Jane Austen remains a big standby for the Juvenilia Press. Hence this is our best selling venue too.

Breckyn:  Right. And we'll include a link to that in the show notes as well. But, yeah, like Juliet said, at every AGM, there is a table where you can see all the works displayed. Well, thanks so much, Juliet.

Juliet:  Well, thank you, Breckyn.

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Breckyn:  OK, Janeites, we have some exciting news to share with you today, especially if you're a student. In fact, it's such a doozy that we asked JASNA President Mary Mintz to join us today and tell you about it. Thanks for coming on the show, Mary!

Mary Mintz:  Thank you, Brecken. I do have big news. I'm delighted to be here and happy to have this chance to share JASNA's exciting news with all of our listeners. As many of you know, in 2025 we'll all be celebrating Jane Austen's 250th birthday. It's a huge milestone, and JASNA is already gearing up to mark the anniversary with special events and activities next year. But we're also starting this celebration early with a special offer for students.

During the remainder of 2024 through December 31, 2025, we're offering one-year digital memberships free of charge to students enrolled in a course of study that will lead to a high school diploma, a college or university degree, a trade or professional license or certificate, or the equivalent of any of these. We're excited about this offer because it supports JASNA's mission to foster the study, appreciation and understanding of Jane Austen's works, life and genius. By offering free memberships to students, we hope to introduce a new generation to the wonders of Austen's novels and inspire future scholars and fans.

Breckyn:  That's exciting. Mary. Where can students go to learn more and sign up?

Mary:  I'm glad you asked to sign up. Visit the membership page on our website at jasna.org/join. You'll find information there on all our memberships, as well as a link to a special page with a full description of the free student membership offer. I encourage students everywhere to take advantage of this opportunity to stay up to date with the latest on Jane Austen and her works and connect with others who share your admiration for this beloved and influential author.

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Breckyn:  Now it's time for, "In Her Own Words," a segment where listeners share a favorite Austen quote or two.

Felicia Berhman:  Hello. My name is Felicia Berhman from the JASNA New Mexico Region. Here is my quote.  “By such he was perceived to be an enthusiast on the subject of Sanditon, a complete enthusiast. Sanditon—the success of Sanditon as a small, fashionable bathing place, was the object for which he seemed to live. A very few years ago, it had been a quiet village of no pretensions, but some natural advantages in its position and some accidental circumstances having suggested to himself, and the other principal landholder, the probability of its becoming a profitable speculation, they had engaged in it, and planned and built, and praised and puffed, and raised it to something of young renown; and Mr. Parker could now think of very little besides.”

I decided on the Sanditon quote because I have been thinking about it quite a bit for the last two years. I am a fan of the MASTERPIECE television series, specifically the second and third seasons. I went on Sanditon Twitter after season two aired and found a great community of Austenites, and those relationships persist to this day. It is a shame that Austen was not able to complete this work, but at least I have a lovely adaptation to watch.

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Breckyn:
Well, that's it for this episode. Thanks for listening, Janeites. If you're interested in joining the Jane Austen Society of North America or learning more about its programs, publications, and events, you can find them online at jasna.org. That's J-A-S-N-A dot org. Join us again next time, and in the meantime, I remain yours affectionately, Brecken Wood.

[Theme music]

 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Pride and Prejudice