[The Jane Austen Summer Program ran from June 18 until June 21, 2015. It was run through UNC by professors and other people with knowledge of Regency England, Jane Austen, and books in general. There were lectures, presentations, group discussions, and themed social events.]
I know very little about Jane Austen and even less about Regency England. Going in, I knew this. I told several people I met. But I had no idea how truly clueless I was.
My background is in Victorian literature. Authors like Dickens, Hardy, Eliot make sense to me. They can be long and boring, but they make sense. The writing is pretty descriptive (read, long) and the characters are often a very good metaphor for the social history of the era (this is a grossly broad statement, but it fits).
This year JASP focused on Emma, written in 1815. The Victorian Era began in 1837. I figured Emma would be full of familiar writing techniques, but I was so wrong. Even though I can appreciate Austen, I only read her novels when I’m looking for something peaceful to read. The characters always end up happy and fulfilled. Victorian novels are dirty– I mean literally everyone’s always covered in dirt, and there are so many life or death consequences. In my mind, Austen’s writing is pretty simplistic.
If nothing else, JASP helped me define the characteristics that give Regency authors (including Austen) their own separate identity. It’s an easy period to overlook, but it is worthy of being studied if, like me, you tend to skip over those early years of the nineteenth century.
And if you don’t want to read Emma, watch Clueless! I haven’t watched it for years, so I need to do that soon! (I did have a question about cultural identity in Clueless, but I was scared it would just sound racist.)
I give the academic part of JASP an A, but the social side gets a soft C. I’m sure no one else noticed the things I did, but as a wheelchair user I have different experiences. When I registered, I checked a box that said “I require wheelchair access,” but this was pointless. On the first day I was told the social activities for day 2 were not accessible, and if I wanted to go I had to carpool. HELLO I told them weeks ago “I require wheelchair access.” There should have been accessible transportation or the carpool stuff should have been figured out a long time ago. I don’t know these people, I’m not going to make them lift my chair and do all that stuff. Plus you don’t know me, plenty of people can’t use regular cars. AT THE VERY LEAST the leaders of JASP should have approached me to discuss it. It’s upsetting that I paid for a social outing that I was so excluded from.
Also, there were dance lessons. I had no problem just watching, but the staff seemed to purposely avoid meeting my eye (trust me, I’m practiced in this) like it was awkward that I was there. Treat me like a human, I’m not going to ruin your friggen dance.
Will I go back? It’s possible. Next year is Mansfield Park which is one of my favorites. It seems more Victorian- the penniless cousin who’s treated like crap. I like to learn and analyze books, but I would attend with the full knowledge that the JASP staff is way behind in their sensitivity training. I would attend ready to be treated like furniture.