A Weekend with Jane
Louisville, a city named after a king. An apt place to hold the Jane Austen Society of North America’s (JASNA) Annual General Meeting (AGM).
This is my first AGM. My husband and I arrive in Louisville on Thursday afternoon. I can hardly contain my excitement. A whole weekend with Jane with no mundane interruptions or distractions; a pure travel in time to Austen’s genteel world.
We check-in at the Galt Hotel. An ancient and history laden establishment in Louisville. I am impatient to register and plunge head on in the Regency area.
The registration desk in on the second floor and a friendly hostess walks me through the registration process and hands me the schedule leaflet. It has a detailed description of the plenary speakers and breakout sessions as well as the different workshops offered.
- Dance Workshop at 5pm.
It is the first thing that catches my attention. But I am an hour late. It is almost 6pm. I can hear the music and on impulse follow it to its source. It is coming from one of the smaller ballrooms.
I peek in. Sixty people or so are standing in two rows facing each other, listening attentively to the instructor; some are in plain clothes, some in regency attire. I stand by the door transfixed. The music starts and the couples start dancing in a pattern, crisscrossing, turning, holding hands then changing partners. I tip toe into the room and continue watching. It is absolutely fascinating. I will have my chance tomorrow. I have signed up for the morning Dance Session.
Friday morning starts with an overcast sky and an incessant drizzle. The weather is setting the mood for our voyage into nineteen century England.
My Dance class is at 9am. I put on my pink dress. It has an empire waist and a square décolletage. It is long and the fabric is silky. It is by no means an authentic replica of the dresses of that era, but an adequate period costume. My hair is up in a loose ballerina bun, I have added hair extensions around it.
The class starts. We are divided into two lines facing each other. One country dance follows another. We finally get to the “Maggot”. It is an old and stately dance. It is the exact dance performed By ‘Lizzie’ and ‘Darcy’ at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice. It is so complicated that my whole attention is centered on following our dance teacher’s instruction and executing the dance. I can understand why ‘Darcy’ didn’t want to talk. He was probably concentrating on the steps. We are having so much fun that it is a ‘Universal’ disappointment, when the two hours are over.
But I am looking forward for our first plenary speaker: Inger Brodey Associate Professor of English. The subject: Making sense of “Sense and Sensibility”. She gives a scholarly and interesting lecture; a lengthy explanation about the meaning of the words ‘sense’ and ‘sensibility’ and Jane Austen’s interpretation of them.
The breakout sessions are fun. One particularly captures my attention. It is the evolution of the medical and pharmaceutical practice in Jane Austen’s time. I am specially fascinated by the role of the Apothecary (nowadays pharmacist) and the extensive role he played in the rural society.
I am disappointed at not being offered a high tea ‘a la anglaise’. It is something that I will definitely suggest to our own AGM committee.
It was a long and exiting day though and I need to rest and replenish my strength for tomorrow’s Ball.
Saturday: Day of the Regency Ball.
The excitement in the air is almost palpable and the preparations for the Ball are underway. I have a special gown made for the occasion. A peach colored silk under-slip and glittery lace on top, an empire waist and ‘rouched’ décolletage.
At the end of the sumptuous dinner, we all stand up for ‘the Promenade’; a parade through the Hotel to show off our beautiful dresses. I am surprised to find out that there are several men in period costume as well.
The dancing begins. It is the culmination of this memorable weekend. The musicians assemble on the podium and our instructor calls us to the floor. We form the traditional two lines. At the end of each dance we change partners. It is lively and fun.
It is a moment out of time: A return to an era of candle chandeliers, long dresses and silky fans, of strict social norms and secret filtrations. It took us back to the period where Jane lived and shared her experiences with the world in her immortal stories.