A first time JASNA AGM attendee reminisces, part one

The night before I was to leave, I was bemoaning to my husband my decision to attend the 2011 JASNA Annual General Meeting in Fort Worth, especially as I was anticipating waking at three to make my 6 a.m. flight. But fortunately airline tickets are non refundable and it was too late to ask for a conference refund because I had a blast and have come to recognize that I am irrevocably a Janeite.

As a first time AGM attendee, I didn’t know what to expect and could only make a guess based on Star Trek conventions I’d attended. My thought was of little old ladies wearing costumes and although there were plenty of those, there were also academics, authors, filmmakers, young people, a BBC film crew and more than a few men and most of all, a lot of laughter, because 600 Janeites discussing their favorite author cannot help but have a good time.

I arrived Wednesday morning, too early to do little beside visit the emporiums (dealer’s rooms at a Star Trek convention), but my poverty and disinclination to schlep anything back on the plane prevented me from buying anything. I must admit to being miserable, rather like Catherine Moreland on her first visit to a ball in Bath, when her chaperone Mrs. Allen is unable to find her dance partner. I could not check into my room, knew no one and the first presentations did not begin until 1:30 p.m.

I was further “hampered” by the generous travel bag stuffed with goodies that was weighing me down. I joked there must be rocks inside the bag and on investigating found a charming but heavy stone paperweight, and also a mysterious sachet with a note to call Willoughby.

The first presentation was The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen, where UK author Lindsay Ashford discussed the possibility that Jane Austen might have died of arsenic poisoning, which is also the plot (and title) of her upcoming book that also explores the friendship between Jane and Anne Sharp. I certainly didn’t buy the argument, but as Ashford’s book is a novel, didn’t know how far to take it seriously. I’m reminded of the controversy over The Da Vinci Code where people argued over the book’s plausibility, failing to remember it was, after all, just a novel. Nevertheless, it was fun to speculate and I look forward to the book.

Next Baronda Bradley gave a spirited and funny if somewhat unfocused talk: Managing Muslins in the Modern Millenium. She answered questions previously submitted about her Regency fashions (this approach contributed to the scattershot feel of the talk), their creation and materials and how someone could obtain a period look from modern material as well as tips on whitening antique lace, something I am sure will come in handy. Her son and daughter also modeled costumes. On Saturday night, Ms. Bradley would lead the promenade through downtown Fort Worth and each gown she wore surpassed the previous stunning creation (she had two full racks of clothes on stage).

This ended the afternoon for me and gave me an opportunity to check in, but I had still yet to meet the roommate JASNA had found for me. I wandered downtown Fort Worth, which seemed pretty quiet and has some interesting architecture, especially Bass Performance Hall, and returned for the first time attendees orientation. I know from the JASNA website that 578 people registerd (registration was limited to 600) and there must have been 40 people in that room. I received a large bag, donated by Victoria’s Secret, to add to the voluminous bag I’d already received on registration. Naturally there were door prizes (I so wished I might have won the Pride and Prejudice board game) and also a first timers lunch sign up.

The first evening presentation was A Look to Die For: Regency Cosmetics and Esthetics, presented by Jinger Heath, founder of the direct sales beauty products company BeautiControl. Ms Heath, looking like Charlene from Designing Women and as charming (she related the Texas joke: “the bigger the hair, the closer to God”; and she did have big hair), talked at first of today’s beauty products, regimens and surgical techniques including tucks, sucks and lifts. It made me uncomfortable to hear this litany of the vanities and I did not warm to the presentation until it moved solidly into Jane’s time.

Ms. Heath made me realize the vast number of times Jane talked of someone’s complexion. I knew a pale complexion was desired as it showed you were of the gentry and did not venture out into the sun to labor, but I had not appreciated that often the complexion was the deciding factor in determining a woman’s attractiveness. And Ms. Heath talked of the remedies at that time for a poor complexion — remedies that often included white lead and arsenic, relating back to Ms. Ashford’s presentation.

The last presentation was Victoria Hinshaw’s The Sensible Regency Wedding, which I did not attend, being rather tired at this time and wanting to meet my roommate. (It had been my thought to ask JASNA to find me a roommate, not only to reduce my expenses, but also that I might know at least one person at the AGM. And my plan worked and I hope I now have a lifelong friend and a roommate for 2012.)

I found my roommate in bed reading and we had a delightful time introducing ourselves. We also called Willoughby’s number and a man’s voice, sounding like a Regency Old Spice commercial, invited us to attend the 2012 AGM in New York City. Inside the sachet we found another offering from Victoria’s Secret.

By now, any reticence about coming to the AGM had dissipated, although I still awaited the scholarly tone I had imagined I would find. But in another post I’ll talk about lunch with my fellow first time attendees, Dr. Joan Ray’s plenary talk and the breakout sessions and the discovery of that scholarly tone.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: