Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Janeites Unite to Find a Gentler Time in D.C

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Janeites Unite to Find a Gentler Time in D.C

Article excerpt

In a cavernous conference room one block from the White House, next door to the National Press Club, more than 200 people gathered together in the final minutes before the third presidential debate. An overwhelming majority were women, most with plenty of gray hairs. A few wore velvet hats studded with feathers.

"How is Mr. Darcy? one attendee asked another. The response came in the form of a quickly procured Facebook photo of a beloved dog named after a beloved, if fictional, man.

So it goes in the alternate universe taking over Pennsylvania Avenue this weekend. This is the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Here, no dress is too high- waisted, no Colin Firth joke is left unsaid.

As the presidential debate got underway, the self-professed Janeites at Washington's JW Marriott Hotel were glued to their seats for a presentation on the Folger Shakespeare Library's current exhibit, "Will & Jane. At least three audience members chose to knit as they listened, another strategically placed a soft pillow behind her back.

In Las Vegas, Chris Wallace was greeting the candidates. In the District, the floor was just being opened for pressing questions.

The first was this: "Did you think of keeping the shirt wet? The shirt, of course, is the body-hugging white cotton number that Firth wore as he dreamily emerged from a lake in the 1995 BBC miniseries "Pride and Prejudice.

Answer: There was talk of using a vegetable mister to keep the shirt damp, but it was "deemed curatorially unsound, according to Janine Barchas, one of the exhibit's two curators. She also requested that visitors who go to see the shirt please refrain from defacing its glass case with lipstick marks.

More than 850 Austen enthusiasts are expected to descend on Washington this weekend to celebrate their favorite author, who died 200 years ago next July. And it is not lost on the scholars in attendance that Austen is currently experiencing a revival of interest similar to the one Shakespeare saw 200 years after his death. That phenomenon greatly elevated his stature - and they're hoping that this one will do the same for her.

Together, the Janeites are a happy, passionate bunch who look like English professors and retired court transcriptionists and react with great enthusiasm to statements like this: "Librarians are awesomeness. They just are. (Which perhaps explains why attendees are such fervent "shhh-ers, quieting anyone who dares talk over a featured speaker.)

Debra Roush, coordinator of the event, which has not taken place in Washington since 1990, attributes Austen's sustained popularity to her understanding of the human psyche. "She saw people for what they are - noble and good, foolish and useless, says Roush, who is in possession of the exacting elocution that one would expect of an Austen conference chairwoman. …

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