For people who like Jane Austen (and, really, who doesn't?) there is reason to celebrate in Southern Oregon.
"My idea of good company, is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation."
— Jane Austen, 1775-1817
By Angela Howe-Decker
For people who like Jane Austen (and, really, who doesn't?) there is reason to celebrate in Southern Oregon. Our region now has its own chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America, or JASNA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the enjoyment and appreciation of Jane Austen and her writing.
While there are more than 60 regional groups in the U.S. and Canada with about 4,000 members, it was only last year that a few plucky Austen lovers formed a local chapter. The small group of about 10 members has since hosted discussions, held a play reading, and drank tea. Lots of tea.
The local group was founded by Linda Thomas and Patricia Sempowich, both of Ashland. Thomas said they discovered through JASNA that there were eight other members in the area.
"We called members to a meeting and everyone wanted to form a region," Thomas said. "Our first event was the 2009 Jane Austen Birthday Party."
Talent resident Patrick Farrell is delighted to be part of the Southern Oregon JASNA. "It's fun," he said. "The people are really smart and very nice. We have such a good time together."
Farrell, who has been a member of JASNA since 1986, emphasized that Austen lovers are a diverse group. "Some folks are scholars, some just love Jane Austen. People who are just getting interested in Austen are as welcome as academic scholars," he added.
Farrell's wife, Barbara Martin, said she has gone with Farrell to meetings both in the San Francisco area and recently in Ashland. She agreed the groups are welcoming, but admits to feeling like a foreigner sometimes.
"I've read the books, but some of the people who attend these meetings are hard-core about Austen," she said.
I often assume any group with the word "society" in it is likely to be stuffy and formal, but that is not the case with the local JASNA group. Member Nan Quick explained the society's easy style.
"We're basically a self-entertaining group. All meetings are led by one of the members," she said.
Quick heard about the local chapter from a friend. She contacted co-founder Thomas and went to the next meeting. "I thus saw that this was a bunch of people who jumped with both feet into Austen," she said.
The meetings usually last about two hours. Someone will present a paper or lead a discussion about an Austen-related topic such as what she read, the roles of women in Austen's era, or one of her six completed novels.
Austen's novels have inspired films, stage productions, sequels and the horror mash-up "Pride & Prejudice and Zombies." There's even a Talk Like Jane Austen Day (Oct. 30) on which people are encouraged to declare their love of walks and gardens in a clipped British accent.
Farrell said Austen's novels have a lasting appeal for the simple reason they are funny and romantic, without being overly sentimental.
"Jane Austen is not a goody-goody. 'Pride and Prejudice' is super. It's a really good love story, but with lots of comic effects. Austen can be sardonic. That's what a lot of us respond to," Farrell said.
The group is happy to have more members. The next event hosted by the Southern Oregon group is a tea in celebration of Austen's birthday on Sunday, Dec. 19. During the celebration, there will be a discussion of her comical "History of England." For more information, call Thomas at 541-482-3262.
For information about the Jane Austen Society of North America, visit www.jasna.org.
Angela Howe-Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.