I've heard that you just got back from The Jane Austen Society of North
America's yearly conference. What sort of things happen at a conference of this
nature? We'd love to hear about it!
The JASNA AGM (or Annual General Meeting) is like Jane Austen heaven! The
meetings are held in a different city in North America every year, with about
750 people attending (they sell out quickly), and a theme related either to Jane
Austen’s work, her life, or the world that she lived in. My husband Bill and I
plan our travel calendars around them. There are three plenary speakers and
thirty or so breakout speakers, who give presentations on a variety of
fascinating subjects. There’s an Emporium selling Austen and Regency era-themed
goods and books, special interest sessions, English Country Dance lessons, and
tours of the local area. It’s great fun!
The highlight is the Saturday night banquet and ball, for which nearly everyone
dresses up in period attire. The ball is like stepping back in time or into a
Jane Austen movie. Some attendees, like me, don Regency wear for the entire
conference. (I now own six Regency gowns.) This year’s JASNA AGM was in
Montreal. The theme was Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, and Diana Birchall
and I were commissioned to co-write and present an original comedic play, which
we performed in with a cast of over a dozen players. “A Dangerous Intimacy:
Behind the Scenes at Mansfield Park” was a hit! It did our hearts proud to hear
the crowd of over five hundred people roaring with laughter!
You have uncovered a lot of new information about Jane Austen's first love
interest, a dashing man named Edward Taylor. Do you mind filling us in on what
new information you've uncovered?
Jane made several sweet and tender references in her letters to Edward Taylor, a
young man she met as a teenager and clearly adored—yet biographers knew little
about him, except that he was heir to Bifrons Park, an estate in Kent. I spent
months researching Edward Taylor, and uncovered many interesting facts about his
parents, his eight siblings, and his family estate. I learned that Edward Taylor
was born on June 24, 1774, and was therefore eighteen months older than Jane (a
fact Austen biographers usually got wrong.) I discovered that he served in the
military (which was unusual for an eldest son), and the dates of his marriage
and his death. It was a start—but I wanted to know more! I wanted to know who
Edward Taylor was when Jane Austen met him as a young man.
Then I struck gold. I discovered The Taylor Papers, the memoirs of
Edward’s brother, Lieutenant General Sir Herbert Taylor, which reveal the Taylor
children’s unusual and well-traveled childhood on the continent and their many
accomplishments. All eight children were fluent in five languages, and each
played a musical instrument (the family gave concerts everywhere they went.) The
Taylors were close friends with the highest ranking members of society all
across Europe, from military and government leaders to royalty. When Jane Austen
met Edward Taylor as a teenager upon his return to England, he’d already enjoyed
a remarkable education and led an extraordinary life. It’s no wonder that she
fell head over heels in love with him! I also found a rarely seen portrait of
Edward Taylor, perhaps painted when he was in his late 20s or early 30s. It was
exciting to have this information in my possession, and a thrill to bring Edward
Taylor and a vibrant young Jane to life in my novel, JANE AUSTEN'S FIRST
It's interesting to imagine Jane Austen as a teenager falling for a young
man. If Jane were a contemporary teenager, what do you think she would be like?
(What music would she listen to? What TV shows would she watch? Where would she
go to college? Would she attend college?)
If Jane Austen were a contemporary teenager, she’d be at the top of her class
scholastically, a whiz on the computer, and she’d perform in the school plays.
She’d read everything she could get her hands on, especially fiction, and she’d
run a book review blog. She’d be on the softball and tennis teams. She’d be
slightly shy, yet harbor a burning crush on one super smart, good-looking boy
(with beautiful, dark eyes) who shares her love of literature and dramatics.
She’d have only a few girlfriends (in the flesh and on facebook), but she’d be
very close with those who mattered to her. She’d be a fashionista and do her
best to keep up with the latest styles on a limited budget.
She’d listen to popular music and constantly get in trouble for using her phone
on campus to call or text her sister (her dearest friend.) Her favorite TV shows
would include romantic comedies and dramedies focusing on three or four families
in a small community (Desperate Housewives? Sex and the City? Buffy? Friends?)
As for movies—duh!—she’d be fond of everything adapted from or inspired by a
Jane Austen novel! And of course she’d go to college! Oxford or Cambridge (if
she’s a Brit) or maybe Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. On a Fulbright scholarship,
all the way.
Do you have a favorite Austen novel? Why?
It’s hard to choose just one, but I have to admit, I’m partial to Pride and
Prejudice. Why? Because it has such a fabulous plot and characters. With
every re-reading (or re-watching of the film versions) it’s fun to see Elizabeth
and Darcy go through their personal learning curves as they overcome their pride
and prejudice and fall in love. I can’t help but adore Elizabeth Bennet (and
envy her a little, because she ends up with the delicious Mr. Darcy and gets to
live at Pemberley.) I love to hate Lady Catherine and laugh at Mr. Collins. I’ve
re-read the book dozens of times, and have watched the A&E version so often
I can practically quote it verbatim!
Fresh Fiction readers want to know--when you aren't busy writing, what do you
like to read?
I like to read the best of fiction, both contemporary and classic. I always have
at least two novels going at the same time!
2 comments posted.
I would love to attend the conference. It looks like you had a great time. It would have been great to see the play. I know it had to be amazing.
(Sagan Childs 12:48pm December 10, 2014)