Sunday, July 27, 2014

What Matters at the Jane Austen Festival? . . . Everything (!) including British authors Jo Baker and John Mullan

To paraphrase guest speaker and British author, John Mullan, who asks "What Matters in Jane Austen?" (and then provides us with the answer: "everything!"), it's easy to apply that same dialogue to the topic of the 7th Annual Jane Austen Festival in Louisville and arrive at the same conclusion. Everything matters when putting together an event of this magnitude and, like an Austen novel, exceptional execution delights all who are exposed.

Rachel with John Mullan, author of "What Matters in Jane Austen?"

Last weekend, my daughter, Rachel and I made our annual trek from Detroit to Louisville to attend the Jane Austen Festival hosted by the Louisville Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), under the direction of Regional Coordinator Bonny Wise. It was our fifth time attending the Festival and with a perfect blend of event favorites (afternoon tea, Dressing Mr. Darcy) and new components (presentations from two British authors, more Regency-period activity demonstrations), we felt this was the best one yet.

John Mullan asks could the apple tree in "Emma" really have blossomed in July?

And, of course, when everything matters, it's hard to pick favorites, but truly a highlight was held under the big tent with visiting British authors, Jo Baker and John Mullan, the latter of whom I referenced back in January's blog An Austen-tacious Tea at Troy Public Library, Chilly temperatures not so important.  This was before I knew he would be part of this year's Festival. Once that was announced, I felt like I was eighteen again and biding my time before seeing Peter Frampton -  another charming Brit - at the local Harmony House (back in the day when there were stores devoted to selling record albums). 

Animated and engaging,  Mullan  rattles off Austen character names (major and minor), destinations they have visited (specified or inferred) and weather conditions of the day, like a favorite uncle who can recite details of  the family's history and connections - from first cousins to fifth - all from memory.

With Jo Baker, author of Longbourn
Jo Baker, author of Longbourn, and equally captivating, spoke about the  "downstairs" members of the Bennet household in Pride and Prejudice on which her book is based. Baker studied English literature at Oxford, and, if she hadn't mentioned having two children and having written four other books, you would easily think she's still an undergraduate. 
Jo Baker reading from  her book, Longbourn
Baker dissected Pride and Prejudice chapter by chapter to note any references to servants and created an entire new story from the members of the downstairs staff's point of view.  It's a fascinating perspective on the Bennet household, a family who lives on the periphery of wealthy society and laments their poor connections, yet seems to pay little attention to those who must really work hard for a living.

Another exemplary Jane Austen Festival, where everything mattered, and everything was wonderful!

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