A Weekend with Jane Austen

I attended A Weekend With Jane Austen, a symposium with talks, demonstrations, and food, in Toronto this past week and had a fabulous time. I was only able to attend on the Saturday AND I didn't get to stay for the ball, but the day was jam-packed full of awesome stuff, and I was quite thrilled to just nerd out on all the Austen-y stuff. Lots of people were properly kitted out Regency-style - the event was put on by Jane Austen Dancing, which is a group that meets in Toronto to recreate historical dances, so cravats and corsets are not out of the norm - but there were others, like me, dressed like a modern Janeite. 

The day started at Montgomery's Inn, a Toronto historical landmark dating back to the 1840s, with a Regency breakfast of porridge, toast, pound cake, and drinking chocolate (super thick, super delicious).

Elaine Bander gave an excellent talk on Austen's letters and argued that they were meant to be performed and to demonstrate the wit and study of the writer. I had actually just recently read an article she wrote about how Elizabeth doesn't fall in love with Darcy until the very end of Pride and Prejudice, and I briefly chatted with her about it later in the day. (My head agrees, but my heart is fighting it HARD.)

Dane Morrison talked about the idea of the British and American navies performing Austen-like civility in order to smooth over any potential skirmishes. (Great tidbit: merchant ships didn't want to pay for cannons or guns so they had "quakers" - they would paint a white square on the ship and then a black circle on top of that to look like they were armed.)

Karen Millyard spoke about the popularity of dance in the Regency and how central it was to social life. There is so much to learn about dance beyond what you see in period dramas -- did you know that dance masters had tiny violins that they carried around so they could dance and play at the same time? Or that there was such a thing as a Cyprians' Ball, at some of which the only thing worn by all attendees was a mask?

My favourite talk of the day was Kimberly Alexander's lecture on Regency shoes. She had droolworthy pictures of period shoes that everyone ooh-ed and ahh-ed over. (Let me tell you how glad I was to have been wearing relatively cute shoes that day!)

So pretty. (A pic from the PowerPoint so not even showing the beautiful detail and colours.)

So pretty. (A pic from the PowerPoint so not even showing the beautiful detail and colours.)

She also brought some examples of shoes from the 19th century. One of the pairs (the blue) was made with a Chinese upper and an English bottom and looked shockingly modern - like an extremely detailed flat you could find in a shoe store now. And see those teeny-tiny thin strings on the other pair? They wouldn't have done anything to keep the shoe on the foot, but they were necessary to signal that the woman wasn't loose (because why would a woman need to take her shoes off quickly?).

The day ended for me with an informal talk about Regency cheeses and a cheese tasting led by Martin Raymond, a fromager, who was so much fun -- so enthusiastic and clearly loved his job. (Why wouldn't he? Cheese all the time!) Delicious cheese and cold cider and bread made at the Inn was the perfect way to finish off.

Huge thanks to Karen of Jane Austen Dancing for pulling off such an amazing event. She's giving a talk on Harriette Wilson soon and I'm hoping to get to that. (Harriette is a Regency badass bad girl, but is so much more complex than just her reputation. I think she's just fascinating. There is a killer first-person fiction novel waiting to be written about her. Someone write it; I'll edit it!) I'll be back next year for the Weekend with Austen!