Jane Austen society holds yearly celebration in New York

Activities at the annual gathering included a workshop on how Regency women dressed and a talk by scholar Cornel West on human misfortune in Austen's works.

Jane Austen's most well-known novel, 'Pride and Prejudice,' was adapted for the screen in 2005, with actress Keira Knightley playing heroine Elizabeth Bennet.

The Jane Austen Society of North America held its annual gathering in Brooklyn this past weekend, a meeting that included lectures by Austen scholars as well as activities like a traditional ball.

More than 700 people came to the event, which lasted three days at a Marriott hotel. One session included a lecture on how women would have dressed in Austen’s day, an appropriate topic considering many of the conference participants were dressed in Regency gowns and hats.

One attendee, Goucher College associate professor Juliette Wells, said the first time she came to the meeting she was taken aback by the level of fandom exhibited by the JASNA members.

“When I first came, as a graduate student, I was kind of freaked out by the level of ardor,” said Wells, who wrote a study of Austen in pop culture titled “Everybody’s Jane,” in an interview with The New York Times. “I wasn’t sure if I would come back.” But JASNA, she said, “has been very good to me.”

Lecturers included writer Anna Quindlen, who decried those who pigeonhole Austen as “chick lit,” and professor and writer Cornel West, who discussed Austen’s comprehension of people’s misfortunes.

West Virginia University professor Marilyn Francus, who spoke about finances in Austen’s works, said she is always impressed by the level of knowledge exhibited by Austen fans. When she brought up the question of how everyone in the neighborhood knows protagonist Fitzwilliam Darcy’s income in "Pride and Prejudice," one person in the audience informed her that inheritance information sometimes ran in newspapers at that time, while another volunteered the information that men of that era would occasionally record their income so they could get credit.

“I learn so much from these people,” Francus told The New York Times. “I would never dare condescend to a JASNA audience.”

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