Message from the President

Article excerpt

THE TITLE OF JASNA's 2009 Annual General Meeting was cleverly framed by the Steering Committee to encompass the location of the conference as well as its theme: "Jane Austen's Brothers and Sisters in the City of Brotherly Love." Philadelphia is an especially apt setting for a JASNA meeting apart from the suggestiveness of its etymology (and the coincidence that Jane Austen had an aunt named Philadelphia).

For many years the city lived peaceably under the rule of George III, the monarch who reigned throughout Jane Austen's lifetime. Seven months after she was born into a loyal Tory family in Hampshire, England, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, making the city a symbol of the Colonies' schism with the mother country. As a child, Jane Austen would have heard discussions about the war waged in America between the King's troops and the Continental Army. She was seven years old when it finally ended. A walk through the historic district of Philadelphia, with its Georgian architecture and colonial artifacts, is a reminder of this country's former status as part of the British Empire and thus part of Jane Austen's world. Many years after the Revolutionary War, the first American edition of Emma was published in Philadelphia.

The theme of the 2009 AGM--Jane Austen's brothers and sisters-provided a more intimate connection with the author's world. Though the primary focus was on siblings in the novels, speakers also explored the intersection of Austen's own family relationships with those of her fictional brothers and sisters.

I recently read an observation by the novelist Anna Quindlen that highlights the importance of the AGM theme. In Quindlen's introduction to the Modern Library Edition of Pride and Prejudice, she says: "For those of us who suspect that all the mysteries of life are contained in the microcosm of the family, that personal relationships prefigure all else, the work of Jane Austen is the Rosetta stone of literature." The discovery of the Rosetta stone, a large stone tablet on which the same text is written in Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Demotic, allowed linguists to decipher the meaning of hieroglyphics, until then a mystery. By understanding what the text said in Greek, they could tease out the meaning of that same text written in hieroglyphics.

Anna Quindlen's metaphor goes to the heart of Austen's greatness. …