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
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
Miriam Margolyes and Janet Todd - Cambridge classmates
With Clara, in my Chinese jacket
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