JASNA-NY Celebrates a Festive Jane Austen Birthday Tea

On December 16, 2017, Janeites had the pleasure of gathering for our annual birthday meeting at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on Jane Austen’s 242nd birthday. As usual, this was one of the most joyful events of the year!

The event began with a special video message from Caroline Jane Knight, the four-times great granddaughter of Edward Austen Knight, who sent her good wishes and spoke about her experience growing up at Chawton House with one foot in Jane Austen’s era. Monica Alvarez read a quote from Persuasion pertinent to the topic, “So Far We Are Equal: Jane Austen’s Teachings on Women, Independence and Equality,” regarding the character of Mrs. Smith, a widow in poor health living in reduced circumstances in Bath.  

The group then participated in a spirited and thought-provoking icebreaker activity which asked us to imagine what Austen would have found to be the most striking difference between the situation of women in her time and now, what she would have found to be the same, and what she would have found to be a change for the worse.  

Our featured speaker was Dr. Jenny Davidson, author of the recently published book, Reading Jane Austen from Cambridge University Press. Dr. Davidson spoke about the joys and despondencies of the lives of women in Austen’s fiction, such as Mrs. Smith in Persuasion and Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, as well as the Austen women themselves. Dr. Davidson noted the importance of small economies for women of limited means in this period, as well as Austen’s constant awareness of the plight of older, penniless women in a society that little valued them.

After the talk, the group enjoyed tea and conversation in the beautifully decorated Bonnell Hall, as well as the traditional birthday toast to Jane Austen, written by Zoe Kaplan. Some wonderful raffle prizes were given away, including books, a Pride and Prejudice board game, and a gift basket from Caroline Knight. The afternoon was a wonderfully festive celebration of both the holiday season and Jane Austen’s birth.

– Amanda DeMeola