The Jane Austen Society

In this seemingly endless moment of pandemic and political news blaring from every corner, I needed to calm myself. I turned, not to the bottle or another slice of sourdough bread, but to Jane Austen.

I joined the Jane Austen Society of North America. A timely decision, as it turns out, because last weekend, October 9-11, JASNA held its annual conference. A virtual event this year, it still managed to engage and be joyful. I learned about elections in Jane Austen’s time, about daily life in her era, and about the Juvenalia, Jane’s childhood, and teenage writings.

Cook that I am, I enjoyed learning from chefs about food in Jane’s time, just as I treasure my Jane Austen Cookbook, by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye. (British Museum Press, 1995).

As a writer, though, the most interesting session for me was a talk on “Collecting Jane Austen”, in which Mary Gaither Marshall showed how the books were physically put together when first published.

Jane Austen’s prose is timeless, though rooted in her particular moment in history. It is comforting to remember that she wrote her books in a time of great political uncertainty, danger, and war. While some deride her as a chronicler of domestic trivia, her books center on relationships, which remain the most important thing, despite external events. Last weekend, in this group of readers devoted to these classics, I found some sense of peace.

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