Saturday, September 14, JASNA-NY Metro held its fall meeting at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen. The program began with Laurie Morison leading a formal farewell to Nili Olay and Jerry Vetowich. They served two terms as innovative Regional Coordinators of NY Metro, combining their many talents for our benefit. Among other firsts, they ushered us onto the web and inaugurated the Juvenilia.
Serving as organizers for the 2012 JASNA Annual General Meeting in Brooklyn, they created an AGM that is never to be forgotten. As a token of our affection they were presented with a charming gift, a double portrait of them in Regency costumes. Nili and Jerry will be living full time in Naples, Florida. But they are by no means withdrawing from JASNA as they have started a new region, Southwest Florida.
This being the year of the celebration of Northanger Abbey’s 200th anniversary, the rest of the program was Gothic-centric. The Ice Breaker asked that we give a “Gothic spin” to a scene from another novel, by Austen or someone else.
Our speaker was Susan Allen Ford, Professor Emerita at Delta State University and editor of JASNA’s Persuasions, as well as Persuasions On-Line. Her talk, “What Jane Read: Austen’s Gothic Inheritance in Northanger Abbey,” dare I say, held us spellbound. While its tempting to view the Gothic novels as ripe for parody, these books meant more to Austen (and her family) than an easy parody. We know that in 1798 Austen’s father was reading The Midnight Bell, one of the “horrids” that Isabella Thorpe mentions.
That same year an Austen cousin, Mrs. Cooke, wrote Battleridge, an apparently unreadable such novel. Dr. Ford argued that as a result Austen enjoyed making judicious use of Gothic tropes in other novels besides Northanger Abbey. And while the popular Gothic novels described improbable, even absurd, situations, the perils facing women in that period were real. Sense and Sensibility can be read as a more realistic presentation of the dangers of trusting a man, and Ford points to Willoughby’s dramatic arrival in darkness as a very Gothic passage.
If asked what the Gothic novels conveyed to young readers, Dr. Ford would say “there’s a world beyond the mundane, and passions can be strong.”
The accompanying slides and excerpts from novels were a particularly enjoyable part of the talk. One interesting thing that Professor Ford pointed out is that Henry Tilney is not very heroic. He dutifully obeys his father and does not object when General Tilney sends Catherine home alone. Only at the very end, after she is already safe at home does he show up and defy his father.
The audience responded warmly to this excellent talk, and the meeting ended with the usual tea and snacks. It was all, in all, a lovely and enlightening afternoon.