“Beyond the Written Word” — An Exploration of Jane Austen’s World: Art, Music and Architecture in the Regency Era

Bath from Beecham Cliff

On April 5th-7th, two JASNA Regions, NY Metro and Connecticut, converged at the Omni Hotel in New Haven, Connecticut. We stayed at the Omni Hotel, down the block from the edge of the Yale University Campus. Included in the program were six talks and three tours, including one of the Yale campus, conveniently located down the block from the hotel.

Yale Campus



On Friday, Jocelyn Harris, a professor emerita at the University of Otago in New Zealand and a well-known Austen scholar who gave a talk on Captain Wentworth at the Kansas City AGM, and will be a plenary speaker at the Williamsburg AGM this year. She opened and closed the conference. Her first talk, “‘A Pair of Fine Eyes’: Dora Jordan and Elizabeth Bennet,” argued that Austen modeled Elizabeth on Dora Jordan. The latter was a very popular comic actress in the late eighteenth century who was the longtime mistress (and the mother of ten of his children) of the Duke of Clarence. He was a younger brother of the Prince Regent and later reigned as William IV. The talk was based on a chapter in Prof. Harris’ latest book, Satire, Celebrity and Politics in Jane Austen.

Jocelyn Harris (L) and Meg Levin (R)

On Saturday we began with a talk by Judith Ann Schiff, an archivist at Yale, who gave us an illustrated history of New Haven and Yale, as well as stories about some of their most famous alumni, such as Eli Whitney (cotton gin), Samuel F.B. Morse (telegraph) and William Howard Taft (first president from Yale). Perhaps the most amusing popular connection is with the game of Frisbee, invented by spinning pie plates from the Frisbie bakery!

Lidia Chang, also at Kansas City at the lecture and period music concert, gave the third talk, “Musical Influences in Jane Austen’s Life.” She defended Austen from the charge that she was a “musical philistine” because she had no music from Mozart or Beethoven in her collection.  She also stressed how strictly gender boundaries regarding music were enforced in Britain (as opposed to the continent). Women could play piano and harp, but no wind or string instruments as they required “unseemly” positions and movements. But men were criticized for playing the piano — too feminine!

Kerri-Spennicchia (L) and-Christina-Feichte (R)

For many a highlight of Saturday was the tour of the Yale Center for British Art. The beautiful pale wood and natural light of Louis Kahn’s building houses the fine collection donated by Paul Mellon that should be seen by all Anglophiles.


After dinner, Mark Turner, who maintains a Regency Charades blog (praytellme.blogspot.com), gave an entertaining presentation, beginning with the Riddle of the Sphinx that Oedipus answers, and the riddle that Samson in the Bible poses to his wife’s kinsmen. The charades we are familiar with from Emma came over from France. A fine entertaining way to end the day.

Sarah Rose Kearns

Two talks on Sunday morning: First Natasha Duquette whose, “The World Through the Eyes of Jane Austen’s Clergymen Heroes” examined Edward Ferrars, Edmund Bertram and Henry Tilney. She found a number of similarities among them, including an interest in the nature and strong views on the “picturesque.” She also read from some of Jane Austen’s prayers, finding suggestions of her views on abolition. This talk also involved audience participation, as Metro member Stephen O’Leary led us in singing “Amazing Grace,” perhaps one of the best-known hymns today.

Stephen O’Leary

The conference closed with Jocelyn Harris’ talk “‘Irish, I Dare Say: Satire in Persuasion.” The latter was mostly about the criticism of aristocrats as seen in the presentation of Lady Dalrymple and the Elliots’ interactions with her.

A fine time was had by all, and we’re all looking forward to the next weekend conference. Our thanks to Claudine DiMuzio and Monica Alvarez who first worked setting up the conference last year, and to current RC Kerri Spennicchia for finalizing and expertly running it this year.

  • Meg Levin