Spies and Spas in Saratoga: JASNA-NY Takes to the Road

Chaucer recognized the value and beauty of April in his Canterbury Tales, and JASNA-NY took his advice and traveled this April as well, journeying to Saratoga Springs for a weekend of “Spas and Spies” from April 21-23.

The weekend was hosted at the Holiday Inn which was a perfect choice for its location on the main street, Broadway, allowed participants to walk almost everywhere and sample the warmth of this lovely upstate city. We learned that Saratoga Springs has much to offer year round! After registration, we walked to the Saratoga Arts Center where its Executive Director, Joel Reed, greeted us and provided an introduction to its current exhibition, 120° Intercollegiate Regional, which showcases some of the best artwork created by students who currently attend accredited colleges and universities located within 120 miles of Saratoga Springs, Glens Falls, and Troy, New York. We were also invited to view a performance which was just finishing rehearsals. The rain was minimal and Kerri Spennicchia, who planned this glorious weekend, led the way with her umbrella aloft!

After dinner and free time, we were welcomed by the Mayor of Saratoga Springs, Joanne Yepsen, who proclaimed the weekend for our Jane! Our first speaker, Professor Celia Easton spoke on “‘Quite in the Line of Lovelaces’: Seduction and Seducers in English Spa Towns”, describing the spa towns (Bath and Lyme) mentioned by Austen and the rakes that are also there—connecting Richardson’s Lovelace with Austen’s Willoughby and Wickham!

Saturday was a very busy day and after breakfast and announcements, we were introduced to the history and the spies found in Saratoga’s history—it was even softly suggested that our winning the American Revolution had much to do with an innkeeper named Alexander Bryan who knew how to listen. Charlie Kuenzel was a wonderfully animated speaker, a man who loves his home and gave us the history of the waters—we had a much better understanding of “our own Bath” and its health history. Dave Patterson, his business partner in Saratoga Tours, gave two 90-minute walking tours that followed the boxed lunch provided by the hotel. Groups traveled to the Union Gables Victorian Mansion and Historic Congress Park. The tours were exhausting but very much appreciated, and the free time and cash bar that followed were thoroughly enjoyed as was the banquet dinner. The camaraderie is always a special part of JASNA meetings wherever they take place. Tables were set up so participants could move and greet new and old friends.

But before dinner, we traveled a few blocks to the Northshire Bookstore for a tea tasting hosted by the Saratoga Tea and Honey Company and our book signing event. Not one, not two, but three authors were there to introduce us to their new books. Kathleen Flynn (The Jane Austen Project), Abigail Reynolds (Mr. Darcy’s Journey) and Captain Steven E. Maffeo (Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson) described their books and the impetus behind them—and two of the books debuted at our weekend!

Captain Maffeo was our last speaker on Saturday night and his topic was “‘Most Secret and Confidential’: Espionage and Intelligence in the Age of Jane Austen”. Now we have a better understanding of the difficulty of intelligence sharing during Austen’s time. Maffeo made connections between Jane’s brothers and Nelson—they served with such august company—and stayed quite late answering many questions about 19th-century spying as well as more contemporary times.

Sunday morning gave us the best weather of the weekend—sunny and bright—and after breakfast and morning announcements, we enjoyed our final conference speaker, Sheila Hwang, whose topic was “The Watering Place in the 18th-Century British Imagination: Sanitizing the Bath”. And we learned the real truth of Bath—through the works of Eliza Heywood and Franny Burney—perhaps it was not too proper after all! What had once been a small, select, quite aristocratic town grew and grew and changed, becoming far less fashionable as its numbers increased. Professor Hwang was very animated, pulling her audience into a town that was far less proper than one might think, and making sure (with her numerous literary references) that we loved the trip to this more salacious town.

Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot
Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot

Taking advantage of every moment possible, Kerri brought in the Greenfield Collective who performed a wonderfully staged reading of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, adapted by JASNA-NY’s own Sarah Rose Kearns and directed by Elizabeth Audley. An encore performance will be presented in NYC on Saturday, May 13, 2017, at the HB Playwrights Foundation, and it is not to be missed!

The weekend conference ended but not without an optional tour of the Batcheller Mansion. A grand weekend, exhausting but so enjoyable! A big thank you to Kerri, who planned the event and who worked so hard for its success!

– Fran Schulz

Photos courtesy of Meg Levin.