Our September meeting began with honoring Ron Sutherland by gifting him with an honorary JASNA membership, a testament to his support of his late wife, Eileen, who served JASNA in many roles over 28 years: as Vancouver’s Regional Coordinator and newsletter editor, on JASNA’s board of directors, and as President of JASNA. From opening up their home to host meetings in the early days to graciously serving wine during meetings to all Janeites in attendance, his presence has always been a delight.

Marjorie Johnson read from Pride & Prejudice, focusing on Mary Bennet, a character subtly woven into the fabric of the novel yet mentioned only four times. This rarity sparked contemplation on the rich tapestry of contrasts that define Austen’s beloved work.

Adding a modern twist to the morning, we engaged in an Austen Speed Dating activity. Participants had lively discussions using prompts to get the conversations going. It was a fun activity and helped members get to know each other better.

Lona Manning then gave us a presentation entitled “The Very Heart of Bristol – Mrs. Elton as a Comic Stereotype.” This thought-provoking presentation delved into the character of Mrs. Elton in Emma. Lona masterfully dissected the layers of societal critique embedded in Austen’s portrayal.

Lona shed light on Mrs. Elton’s character, exploring her connections to Bristol merchants and the socio-economic context of the time. The presentation navigated through Mrs. Elton’s status as a tradesman’s daughter, her substantial dowry, and the nuanced ties to the slave trade. Drawing parallels to the historical reputation of Bristol merchants, Lona unraveled a complex tapestry of subtle social commentary in Austen’s work.

A key element of Lona’s presentation was the exploration of Bristol’s history, particularly its involvement in the slave trade during the 18th century. The rise and fall of the trade was examined, with a focus on how it shaped the characterizations of Bristol merchants and their families in literature.

Lona’s presentation emphasized that, in the novels of Austen’s era, Bristol merchants and their families were often depicted as comical figures—vulgar, presumptuous, and obsessed with displaying their wealth. The serious critique of slavery was often overshadowed by the comedic portrayal, highlighting a fascinating aspect of societal perceptions during that period.

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