Posts Tagged ‘Robert Morrison’

by Brenda S. Cox

“I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child; & I am much obliged to you for your enquiries.”—Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra Austen, April 25, 1811, quoted in AGM brochure.

On this day, Oct. 30, 211 years ago (1811), Jane Austen’s first novel was published, Sense and Sensibility! A few weeks ago, the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) met to discuss and celebrate “Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens.” The garden city of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, hosted this 2022 AGM.

Lovely logo for the 2022 JASNA AGM, Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens (Victoria, Canada)

Getting to Victoria was challenging for those of us on the east coast, but it was rewarding. The city is on an enchanting island on the west coast of Canada. Those who came early or stayed late were able to visit famous Butchart Gardens, a nearby castle, or other local sights. Personally, I chose to go whale watching, which was a delight. We watched a pod of orcas and saw a humpback whale waving his front flippers back and forth at us!

During the conference itself I got to choose between many great options. The schedule overflowed with fascinating talks, fun workshops, and great events. Of course an Emporium offered great books from Jane Austen Books as well as other goodies from Jane Austen’s Regency World and regional JASNA chapters. And I found many wonderful “kindred spirits” to talk with between events.

Plenaries: Cowper, Sin, and Duels

Each speaker showed us Sense and Sensibility through a unique lens. The first plenary speaker,  Dr. Emma Clery, spoke on “‘Our Garden is Putting in Order’: The Place of William Cowper in Jane Austen’s Thought-World.” Having studied Cowper extensively for my own book, I was intrigued by Clery’s ideas on Cowper’s influences in Sense and Sensibility. She said the Dashwoods were expelled from the “garden” of Norland, as Jane Austen was expelled from her “garden” at Steventon. This “paradise” is regained at Delaford, which is described in terms of garden walls and fruit trees. People in Austen’s works are like plants, needing the right conditions to grow. I want to explore the many references to trees, timber, and woods that Clery said are found in S&S.

The most controversial talk of the weekend was Robert Morrison’s “‘Deeper in a Life of Sin’: The Regency Romance of Sense and Sensibility.Dr. Morrison, author of The Regency Years, showed the bad sides of all the men in S&S, claiming that none were real heroes. He also suggested that the first Eliza’s baby might have been Brandon’s, and that Marianne might have been losing Willoughby’s baby when she was so ill at Cleveland. He got a lot of pushback on these ideas; we can find potential evidence both for and against his suggestions. But his talk did start some great discussions through the rest of the weekend!

Finally, during Sunday brunch, we heard all about “The Many Duels of Sense and Sensibility” from Susannah Fullerton, author of Jane Austen & Crime. Fullerton told us that dueling at this time was not legal, but was rarely prosecuted. In this “Age of Politeness,” looking too closely at a man or brushing against him could result in a duel. She went on to describe the duels in S&S which were fought with words. She sees duels between John and Fanny Dashwood (Fanny wins), Fanny and Elinor’s mother (Fanny wins), Elinor and Lucy (goes back and forth), and more. From this perspective, as a novel of cutting and thrusting, Fullerton challenged us to look at the references to needles, pins, scissors, and knives in S&S, as well as “cut” and “sharp.”

Activities and Options

Outside of the plenaries, we had many great activities to choose from: workshops (including, as always, lots of dancing), special interest sessions, an improvised play, and great breakout sessions. Breakouts focused on a wide range of topics, including the arts, Austen in Spanish, specific characters in S&S, military service in the East India Company, information literacy, landscapes, a “playlet” dramatizing Lucy Steele’s tactics, and much more. Articles based on many of these are likely to appear in the next editions of Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line, so be on the lookout!

Breakout Sessions on Religious Themes

Besides religious echoes in the three main talks, three of the breakout sessions focused on one of my interests, the religious aspects of the novel. Laura Dabundo, author of Jane Austen: A Companion, shared about “Jane Austen’s Ode to Duty: Morality and Conscience in Sense and Sensibility.” Comparing S&S to Wordsworth’s “Ode to Duty,” Dabundo showed that “duty is manifest in one’s principled obligations to family, friends, church, and nation, personally and in community.” 

Roger E. Moore, author of Jane Austen and the Reformation, asked whether S&S might be “Jane Austen’s Most Religious Novel.” He examined the idea of religious enthusiasm, overly emotional reactions to religion, feared in Austen’s day. Many of Marianne’s thoughts, feelings, and actions fit with this religious enthusiasm. So it is possible Austen was showing the pitfalls of that contemporary concern.

I (Brenda S. Cox) also had the privilege of sharing my thoughts about “Faith Words in Sense and Sensibility: A Story of Selfishness and Self-Denial.”  I explored themes of vices and virtues in the novel. Austen, rather than preaching like many of her contemporaries, chose instead to use examples to encourage moral behavior. Elinor’s selfless behavior throughout, and Marianne’s repentance late in the novel, give strong examples to follow. Austen used “faith words” that had strong religious connotations in her time to reinforce her messages.

A Few of My AGM Highlights, in Pictures

Bookbinding workshop: Richelle Funk taught us some basic bookbinding skills, and we made lovely little notebooks; I used mine to take notes during the conference. Here, Baronda Bradley, in one of her gorgeous outfits, prepares her booklet for binding.
Beading with Jane Austen Workshop: Kim Wilson displays a replica of Jane Austen’s bracelet, along with other variations that can be made with her instructions and supplies, soon to be available online; sign up for her newsletter list to be notified. With her instructions and materials, I was able to start a lovely single-strand bracelet, and finish it as soon as I got home.

In a special interest session, Kristen Miller Zohn told us about “Gender and Decorative Arts in Austen’s Novels.” She explored how decorative arts, interiors, and clothing presented in Austen’s novels, particularly Northanger Abbey, speak to the unique roles of women and men in Austen’s era.
Cecily Van Cleave, a historical fiction writer, led another special interest session on “Beyond the Garden Wall: Priscilla Wakefield, Women in Botany, and the Intersection of Art and Science during the Austen Era.” We learned that women wrote science guides in this time, intended to help young ladies replace frivolous pursuits with more serious, intellectual hobbies.
Donna Fletcher Crow, dressed in a replica of Austen’s costume in the Byrne portrait, showed us maps and scenes of “Jane Austen in London with the Dashwoods.” She also explained the significance of Austen’s choices for locations. Listeners, though, seemed to be most fascinated by her mention of pencils as cutting-edge technology of the time, with graphite as a precious English product.
The Banquet and Promenade were a lovely time for many to dress up and show off their outfits. Kristen Miller Zohn and Jennifer Swenson, coordinators of the 2021 Chicago AGM, at the banquet.

For many of us, the Ball is always a joy and delight. Most people dressed in lovely costumes, like those in the above photos of Renata Dennis (head of the diversity committee) and myself, Jeanne Talbot, and Baronda Bradley (whose bustle held a bouquet of fresh flowers) with her husband Eric Fladager. We all danced the night away.

Next year, I hope you will join us at the 2023 AGM in Denver for “Pride & Prejudice: A Rocky Romance.”


Brenda S. Cox, author of the new book, Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, writes for Jane Austen’s World and for Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. You can also visit her on Facebook.




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Harvard University Press has done it again and wowed us with a superb annotation of a Jane Austen novel! Persuasion: An Annotated Edition, edited by Robert Morrison is slated to be released in November. This large edition hardback is a mouthwateringly scrumptious book that contains 102 color illustrations (some of which are included in this review), notes on the original text, a 21-page introduction by Dr. Morrison, the text of Persuasion and annotations placed in the far margins, the original ending of Persuasion, (which Jane Austen abandoned), biographical notice of the author by her brother Henry Austen (written shortly after her death), and further recommended reading. Annotator, Dr. Morrison, describes the book as the most profound novel that Jane Austen has written, containing “her most compelling and adult love story.”

1808 evening dresses, August issue of Le Beau Monde.

I found every part of this book worthy of reading. In his foreword, Dr. Morrison sets up the novel in context of the Napoleonic Wars and Jane Austen’s experience with her sailor brothers and knowledge of how the wars changed the British class system, allowing self-made men like Admiral Croft and Captain Wentworth to rise in the world, while those who clung to traditional conventions, like Sir Walter Elliot and his daughters Elizabeth and Mary, to become increasingly anachronisistic. Dr Morrison explains in an interview for Harvard Press:

“Austen, on the other hand, is a novelist, and the emphasis when editing her is frequently on her immensely insightful views on social structures, sexual politics, economic pressures, and individual obligations and aspirations. Editing her means developing a very clear sense of the difference between riding in a barouche and riding in a curricle, of what it means to command a frigate as opposed to a sloop.“ – Interview with Robert Morrison, Harvard Press 

Between Lyme Regis and Charmouth, by John White Abbot

The star attractions of this book are the annotations, which are liberally sprinkled in the sidebars of each page. Dr. Morrison chose information that would appeal to seasoned readers of the novel as well as those who are reading it for the first time. He discusses naval rank, the various reasons why Anne’s family pressured her to not marry Wentworth, descriptions of the duties of apothecaries and surgeons, inheritance laws, the streets and buildings in Bath, descriptions of Lyme Regis, letter writing, and more. He explained in an interview for Harvard Press:

“Knowing my prose was going to appear right beside Austen’s really did change the way I approached writing my commentary. I have tried to use the commentary to illuminate the text as often as I can, and from as many different angles as I can, and to emphasize both what I believe to be central in Persuasion, and what the finest critics from Austen’s day to ours have written about it. I have attempted to produce a commentary that is in immediate and active dialogue with her text, rather than in a relationship that is more distant and intermittent.” – Interview, Harvard Press

Sea bathing at Scarborough

I find it hard to read a novel smoothly while referring to the annotations, which I regard as interruptions, so I generally read the annotations alone. I then refer to the sections of the novel that are described. After going through the annotations, I will sit down and read the novel again. That second reading is much enriched because of the additional information. (I am curious to know how others tackle reading an annotated book!)

The White Hart Inn

Professor Morrison ends his interview with Harvard Press by comparing the radical change in Anne from a faded to a blooming woman to the transformation in Jane Austen’s novels: “[Persuasion] signals a radical change from what she has written in the past, and throws searching light on the world that is to come.”

Francis Austen, Jane Austen's sailor brother.

Persuasion, an annotated edition will sit proudly on my bookshelf next to last year’s edition of Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition by Patricia Meyer Spacks, also from Harvard University Press. I give this book five out of five Regency teacups.

Dr. Robert Morrison. Image @Galit Rodan

About the author: Robert Morrison, is an English professor and world-class scholar of Romantic and Victorian literature at Queen’s University, Ontario, Cananda. He is the author of the acclaimed biography of Thomas de Quincey entitled The English Opium Eater.

Hardcover: 360 pages, 102 ills.
Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Annotated edition
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-0674049741

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