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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, November 1, 2010

My presentation to the JASNA AGM two days ago

The 2010 JASNA AGM is now complete, and I am headed out of Portland after a lovely long weekend which provided the Austen fix that every genuine obsessive Janeite requires now and again to carry us through the year. The Portland AGM, so ably staged by Mary Margaret Benson, Frank McClanahan, Susan Schwartz, and numerous others, was a huge success in every way. Most important of all, the quality of the presentations was very high, and I both enjoyed all the 5 breakout presentations I attended, and also regretted not being able to attend another 10 which were in scheduling conflict with the others or with my own. It is a reflection of the vitality of JASNA that there is such hot competition for the coveted privilege to give an AGM presentation, and I am so happy that I finally got a chance to do so, and had it turn out well.

I hope that my talk about Mrs. Tilney's mysterious fever will be included in the next Persuasions, but even if not, I will be including an expanded version of my talk in my book, so sooner or later it will be out there for all to see.

Although I enjoyed all the plenary addresses, my personal favorite was the one given by Juliet McMasters, which was her usual blend of profound insight based on encyclopedic Austenian knowledge; witty self-deprecating humor; and poetic whimsy and charm. My breakout session happened, by serendipity, to immediately follow her plenary address, and so I was thrilled when the last significant point she made in her address was that Catherine NEVER tells Henry any of the details of her Gothic fantasy about General Tilney's murderous actions. That was the perfect lead-in to my presentation, because that is an integral textual detail which undergirds my own interpretation of Mrs. Tilney's death in childbirth. So I was very lucky that Juliet's insight was still ringing in the ears of all the AGM attendees when I gave my talk.

Of all the breakout sessions I attended, my personal favorite was Janine Barchas's presentation about "The Real Bluebeard of Bath: A Historical Model for Northanger Abbey". Of all those besides myself doing cutting edge Austen scholarship these days, no one is doing it better than Janine. She announced that she has a book coming out which I am certain will be a revelation to all Janeites interested in her kind of creative historical/literary sleuthing. Her book surely will include expansions of her articles about the Hellfire Club and Sir Francis Dashwood and also her geographical analysis of Bath as embedded in Northanger Abbey.

Anyway, her talk, when aligned alongside mine, demonstrated very dramatically how Jane Austen LAYERED her covert allusions. Her talk included the identification of a real life Bluebeard with real life memorials to the dead, and puns on directionality, and SO DID MINE--except we were talking about completely independent real life sources!

In my book, I will explain some of the rich resonance generated by such layering.

A very close second was the AGM presentation by my friend Christine Shih, who spoke about the borderline personality hidden in the subtext of Austen's novels. I will not reveal more than that now, but Christine's work will, I think, prove to be very influential as time goes by, when her work is published.

And I was able to solidify my engagements to give one of my shadow story addresses to several JASNA chapters during 2011, and also had the pleasure to become part of the JASNA Regional Coordinators's community under the able stewardship of Claire Bellanti.

And finally, I also met Ellen Moody and Christy Somer in person for the first time, after all our interactions in the online groups, and that was a great pleasure, as we did not allow substantive disagreement about how we see Jane Austen to interfere with our warm and cordial interactions.

Anyway, that is a taste of how cool this AGM was for me.

More another time.

Cheers, ARNIE

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