Thursday, July 4, 2013

Cambridge Conference

King's College, The Backs

Thursday, June 20.  You'd think there would be a direct train between Oxford and Cambridge, since people in the academic industry might occasionally want to get from one to the other; but there isn't.  However, there is a direct bus, though it takes nearly 3 and a half hours and is a dullish journey.  I was pleased to see the bus has wifi now, so I was able to send email, and tell Jan of my progress toward arrival.  The bus let me off near her house adjacent to Lucy Cavendish College, which couldn't be more convenient, though this was somewhat spoiled by my having to crawl on all fours into the bowels of the bus, creeping for several feet until I could touch and retrieve my suitcase, and then haul it out bodily.  Gentlemen (or bus drivers) leaping to my aid were not in evidence.

Lucy Cavendish College, the only college for mature women students in Cambridge

Flower arrangement at "Lucy"

Sweating in pre-rain mugginess and all in disarray I lugged the bag to the house, not presenting an appearance such as I might have desired.  Was welcomed heartily in spite of panting dishevelment, and restored with a cup of tea, but time was short and we had to hurry off right away to the first item on the conference program - a showing of the 1940 Pride and Prejudice film, which I was to introduce.  This entailed a brisk half hour walk through the windings of Cambridge, me with my aching knee trotting in a breathless attempt to keep up with Jan.  She had not thought attendance would be high, as the conference proper hasn't started yet, but the theater was full with a happy anticipatory crowd, must have been 100 people.  Jan introduced me, and I did my piece, which seemed to go down fine. Afterwards, as I was starving, we stopped at a Greek restaurant, where I shoved in some excellent hummus and moussaka, and then we walked back via the Backs, seeing Kings and Magdalene and Clare by the river in the gloaming - very beautiful indeed.  I'm staying at the Arundel Hotel during the conference, about a ten-minute walk from Lucy Cavendish, and Derek kindly drove me there with my bag.  It's lovely and comfortable and I was soon tucked up nicely.

Wren Library, Magdalene College
An end of term party
Friday morning, waking up in my hotel by the river, I feel more rested, knee less achy, and it seems the days just get more and more glorious here!  Full English breakfast, then I walked into town to meet my friend Elaine Simpson-Long who writes the Random Jottings blog:

With Elaine

Rhinestones (photo by Elaine)

The English idea of a 10 min walk takes me half an hour, but it was beautiful, across the green, along the river, past distracting shops.  I left lots of time, and followed the map successfully.  Met Elaine in front of the John Lewis department store, which seemed perfectly nice despite a lady warning me direfully that it was a terrible store and I must be sure not to buy anything there.  (This baffled both Elaine and Jan.)  We had a cappuccino in a cafe, and as soon as the restaurant was open (the Galleria, with prime position right over the river), we settled on the terrace with full view of punts going by below.  Delicious salmon risotto lunch, and chatted happily as time flew by as effortlessly and cheerfully as the river.  I poured out rhinestones to display and Elaine posted pictures of them (and our meeting) on Facebook; and she generously gave me most cogent advice on publishing my books, and made me feel most encouraged and energized!

The Galleria restaurant is on the left of the picture

After lunch, Elaine and I had a nice fat satisfying wallow in our favorite Cambridge bookshop, The Haunted Bookshop, with its famously narrow winding stair and its fabulous collection of "Girl's own" books - I bought rashly, and Elaine's recommendations only sealed the business.  Then she walked me back to Lucy Cavendish, in time to plunge into the scholarly lectures that were the meat of the conference.  Good ones:  Andrew Elfenbein of the University of Minnesota on "Jane Austen and the Perception of Space," in which he discussed Austen's art of leaving out. The most perfect illustration was when he gave a long, wordy, descriptive passage from Sir Walter Scott and placed it side by side with a descriptive one of Austen's - and you saw his point exactly. Jane Austen, he said, hated details, and he cited Mr. Collins' way of detailing and enumerating every clump of trees at Rosings, to devastating effect. And he quoted Rasselas (appropriately since Samuel Johnson was one of the chief formers of Jane Austen's literary style): "Do not describe every stripe of the tulip."

Lunch at Lucy Cavendish
Flowers at Lucy

Next was Devoney Looser of the University of Missouri, on "The New Woman's Jane Austen," in which she covered the Suffragette movement's homages to Austen, with their banners and plays such as "A Pageant of Great Women" by Cicely Hamilton, in which author May Sinclair once played Austen, the "learned woman."  I missed the last panel of the day because I went out and sat with Deirdre Le Faye in the sunshine on the lawn, which lit up the glorious English garden flowers, like rhinestones themselves.  I asked her questions, and we gossiped about JA affairs - it was very pleasant and I felt quite honored!

Foxgloves at Lucy

Then we went in to the conference banquet, where I sat with the Jane Austen Society secretary Maureen Stiller (whom I once gave a tour of Santa Monica!), the Australian scholar John Wiltshire, and a Johnsonian professor from Tokyo, Noriyuki Harada.  An oddly but interestingly assorted table,  but we bridged any gaps and had a jolly time while eating hen and chips. Great day; the conference is a really lovely one, rather small, in a beautiful place, with Jan's glowing portrait on the wall and excited faces everywhere.

Dinner at Lucy
Saturday.  English breakfast at the Arundel, then walked over to Lucy Cavendish. For the first session, Jan held a dialogue with P.D. James, who at 92 is just occasionally a little rambling, but is generally very sharp indeed, and quite winningly and convincingly gave reasons for some of the things she did in her P & P sequel.  These made sense and showed her thinking, even though the book wasn't a success overall. She said, "Jane Austen knew the bitterness and humiliation of being too poor to marry the man you want - and she was not a rebel." 

"Phyllis and Jan" - P.D. James and Janet Todd

People pay homage to James
Deirdre Le Faye

Then Deirdre LeFaye spoke, among other things hazarding the suspicion that Austen visited Aberystwyth and Wight, and giving background of the South Devon militia that was quartered in Basingstoke, 1793-95, and the Derbyshire Militia in Hertfordshre, which might explain how Darcy went there.  I was able to ask my question about the "large cool dirty Hackney Coach" Austen rode in, and how "the Kitchen part of Yalden" referred to the heat in the lower section. Then lunch, nice little sandwiches, and then Derek led us at a virtual run to the Kings College Library, perhaps half a mile distant.  About 20 of us were lucky enough to have tickets to this event, and we were shown into an inner sanctum, walls covered with Bloomsbury art, where the manuscript of Sanditon is kept. We were allowed to touch it (carefully), and saw other fascinating books as well, such as an Orlando Furioso book signed by Jane Austen and then signed by Virginia Woolf to Maynard Keynes.
In the King's College Library
View from the library
There wasn't much time, so we had to run back in order to hear Miriam Margolyes in conversation with Jan, reading bits of Lady Catherine to hilarious and devastating effect. 


Miriam Margolyes and Janet Todd - Cambridge classmates
After that there were a couple hours free - they were having dancing practice, but I wasn't going to dance so I walked out into the town, and had tea and a scone at the popular Auntie's teashop.  I'm knowing my way round better now, and got back to chat with Clara before the ball began. 

With Clara, in my Chinese jacket
I never wear Regency costume if I can possibly help it, it does not flatter me, so on this occasion I wore a Chinese jacket and called myself "Fanny Price's journey into China."  I think the whole cult of Jane Austen balls silly, but I have to admit this was one of the very best I've ever seen (and I've seen an elegant sufficiency in my time).  Partly because it was not in a deadly ugly and enormous modern hotel banquet room, but in the modest, pretty college hall, with a candlelight effect and not too many people.  Jan and Derek led the promenade with spirit, and the music and mood were gay and exceptional.

Jan and Derek lead the promenade

For supper, little cupfuls of chicken and rice and other delicacies were handed around, very authentic.  Upstairs on a mezzanine, card tables were laid out for the non dancers, and there was a truly lavish dessert tray, piles of profiteroles, strawberries, cream and much more.  [Note: I haven't yet been able to get the dessert photo off my cell phone camera - maybe it's too sticky!  But I'll add it when it comes unstuck.] I sat unsociably with my iPad (horrors!), eating meringues with chocolate sauce while Alice and Clara and others played cards.  Then I walked home in the only rain of the trip, holding my Lucy Cavendish College umbrella aloft.
Pictures from the Ball

George Justice and Devoney Looser

Clara and Alice

(Picture from the college website)

 The profiteroles picture finally came through!




Elaine said...

I am left breathless Diana. I had not realised how much you were going to pack in after we said goodbye!

Diana Birchall said...

LOL, I'm only getting up to speed, Elaine! It was crazy - but thrilling!

Anonymous said...

Hi Diana!
There used to be a direct train from Cambridge to Oxford (and vice-versa!) but it was a victim of the butchery of the train system, and now part of the old track bed is now occupied by the Mullard Radio Astronomy array - and they don't want nasty vibrations from trains anywhere near them!

Sorry you didn't have time on this trip to make it out to the Fens.


Anonymous said...

How fascinating! My dad was a Fellow at Trinity College, and my grandmother and aunt went to Girton College before women were granted actual degrees (though they could still earn them). My dad took us to Cambridge when I was 10, but I really have to go back. I hope to make it to England next spring.
Now let's see if I can prove I'm not a robot... - Beatrice N

Jane Odiwe said...

So envious of all you did here and of all the lovely people you met-so glad your trip was so exciting, if not a little exhausting!

Ellen said...

I would have loved to hear the PD James and Janet and Miriam Margolis and Janet again. I've heard her reading Middlemarch -- superb. So what did Deirdre say in reponse to: "I was able to ask my question about the "large cool dirty Hackney Coach" Austen rode in, and how "the Kitchen part of Yalden" referred to the heat in the lower section ..."

I'm not surprised by the lack of decent transportation. In the 1960s all "uneconomic" stations were closed down and perhaps this was "uneconomic;" here in DC there's no easy way to get into Georgetown as there still is no station in the center of the area. The inhabitants NIMBY. I hope for your ball you were allowed simply to dance and have a good time.

Very tiring but so worth it.


Diana Birchall said...

Alan, how wonderful to hear from you! I would certainly have tried to visit you if I'd known you were still in the Fens. I fear I have a jumbled sense in my head that you retired to Israel...

Anonymous said...

It would seem obvious to have a direct train service between Oxford and Cambridge but most of our services are up and down the country rather than across these days. It’s OK if you want to go to London but otherwise … not the simplest arrangement. But lucky to see and hear MM live. She looks very relaxed. Did you manage a Whimsey at all, Miss Shuster Slatt? Barbara

Cecilia said...

This is great!