So I pulled out a string of nice fake pearls I hadn't worn since the bar-mitzvah era, put on a pair of heels and a cardigan, and elegantly hobbled over. The day began with a scrumptious, and free, three course-lunch with wine for new members, most of whom were ahem! a bit older and more female than Simon but who were delightful. During the course of the luncheon, names like Mary Eliot and Jane Fairfax were bandied about as though they were mutual friends of all of ours, which in a way, of course, they were. These characters and their tales were the major threads that knit us together. As the wine kept coming and the Prada chocolate cake came out, things got very loose indeed as we debated whether Mary knew that Charles had proposed to Anne first.
After lunch the gentlemen retired to the library for brandy and cigars--err, that is, we all went up stairs and listened to a provocative lecture on the secret subtext of Emma, from Arnie Perlstein. Perlstein is convinced and has a stack of evidence to prove that all Jane Austen's books have secret pregnancy narratives embedded within the text. He thinks that Emma is oblivious to the fact that Jane Fairfax is knocked up throughout the nine months of her time in Highbury. While the exact details of Perlstein's counter-narrative didn't always sit well with me, I think he was picking up on the screening-effect of Emma's limited perspective, and on the fact that Jane Fairfax is the heroine of an alternate story. In fact, many people have noted that in a more typical Austen tale Jane would be the heroine and Emma her meddlesome, spoiled foil. But the way Emma hews so tightly to the almost myopic perspective of the titular lady does give the novel a mysterious feeling--a feeling of a plot unraveling. Still I think there's more of an emotional component to this: it's the mystery of how the world works being gradually revealed to a young person who has a self-centered view of things and later learns to expand her line of vision. The lecture made me appreciate the subtle genius of St. Jane all the more.
Also, we began the session by solving the "charades" or riddles from Emma. We also tackled one riddle posed long ago by Austen's brother Henry. Simon was the only person in the 70-person or so crowd to solve it off the top of his head. I am all the more convinced that I will soon be making a most fortunate alliance.
So dear readers, 'twas a success! I'm excited to be joining JASNA just as the NY chapter begins to gear up for hosting its national general conference in 2012.