Our program for the day included 3 knowledgeable and entertaining guest speakers, a rare collection of first editions of Jane Austen’s novels, and a fantastic catered lunch! Our first speaker, David Lank, told us about his mother Edith (February 27, 1926 – January 1, 2023) who was born during the Great Depression and became a non-fiction author who lived in Rochester, NY. One of her major accomplishments was re-writing a textbook on real estate that became a best selling manual after her revisions were made. She also had a weekly Real Estate column that appeared in more than 100 newspapers and websites until she was 93! A devoted Jane Austen fan, Edith accumulated a vast collection of Jane Austen books (including first editions and translations), videos and paraphernalia over her lifetime. She made contributions to our JASNA publication, Persuasions – most notably, an article about Lord Brabourne’s Letters of Jane Austen. [The article is mentioned here, but you may need to contact JASNA for a copy, as the full article does not appear to be available on the site.]

After we perused Edith Lank’s collection and took selfies with Jane Austen’s signature, Meghan Hanet read her essay on “The Five Factor Model of Personality Applied to Elinor and Marianne Dashwood” that was an Honourable Mention in the 2022 JASNA Essay Contest, in College Division. Meghan explained the five personality traits according to the five-factor model and discussed where Elinor and Marianne might score. Marianne (and even her mother, Mrs. Dashwood) would likely score high in Neuroticism, as it is characterized by “sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability.”* Elinor, by contrast, would score low because she is better able to regulate her emotions. For Extroversion, which is “characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness”* both sisters would likely rank in the middle of the continuum, with Elinor perhaps ranking slightly higher since she is more willing to invest in others. Openness, the third trait considered in Meghan’s essay, “emphasizes imagination and insight.”* Meghan argued that Marianne limits her own openness, believes “sensibility is paramount” and thinks everyone should think the same way she does. She is basically open when it suits her. On the other hand, Elinor is more open and thus attains wisdom in her openness. Agreeableness includes prosocial behaviours such as trust, altruism, kindness and affection.* Elinor likely scores higher than Marianne since she is cordial – though it does have its limit. Elinor is not blind to the idiocy of others, for example. Marianne, however, trusts because she is naïve and is only agreeable to those she likes. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor observes that Marianne needs an incentive to be agreeable. The final trait considered in Meghan’s essay was Conscientiousness. It is likely that Elinor would score much higher in this trait than Marianne as it is “defined by high levels of thoughtfulness, good impulse control, and goal-directed behaviours.”* Meghan pointed out a fun fact that people who score higher in conscientiousness tend to live longer. The fact that a modern concept like the five-factor model of personality can be applied to Jane Austen’s characters just goes to show that she writes fully realized human beings. I’m sure that’s one reason why we connect so well with her stories.

Once we were all fed and watered by our delicious catered lunch provided by The Banqueting Table, we turned our attention to our final speaker of the day, Adele Marsland, who gave a talk entitled: “An Accomplished Woman: Music and Gender in Jane Austen’s World.” We learned about Georgian era music-making including classical music composers in Britain such as Handel, Purcell, and Johann Christian Bach; popular instruments used (i.e. harpsichord, forte-piano and harp); and how musical performance was perceived based on gender. There were debates over female musical education because music was regarded with suspicion in that it was seen as connected to the body. The way in which the body responds to music was frowned upon. The general thought was that there is an “inherent sexuality linked to music.” The attitudes were different based on whether or not the female performer was married, however. Basically, it was allowable for a married woman to perform music, but a single woman was judged more harshly if she played an instrument. We then looked at Jane Austen’s experience of music and how she used music in her novels. Adele included listening samples in her presentation to give us an idea as to the style of music Austen would have played on the piano or heard performed. We listened to: Keyboard Concerto in C Major, Op 7 no. II: Menuet by JC Bach and ‘William’ by Haydn (a favourite of Austen’s to sing that had themes similar to those in Persuasion). Jane Austen allowed her female characters to enjoy making music. When reading her novels, Adele encouraged us to pay attention to who is playing and what’s going on in the scene to gain insights into the characters. Austen herself is considered to have been “a good amateur pianist,” and of her singing it was said that she had “a small and sweet voice.” She played piano everyday and shared music by copying it by hand. She particularly liked Pleyel’s compositions. It is known that she played in the mornings and wrote in the afternoons. Austen’s music books are on display at Chawton House.

In thinking back on the day, it would seem that this year’s Jane Austen Day engaged all of our senses: touch (though it was only the protected signature we were allowed to hold), sight (the perusal of first editions of all of Austen’s novels and each speaker’s slides), hearing (the musical examples), smell and taste (both were engaged by our wonderful lunch)! I don’t think that was intentional, but it sure did make for a fulfilling event!

*quoted five-factor personality definitions are from verywellmind.com.

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