From June 18th to 21st, nearly 100 graduate students, professors, secondary educators, and Jane Austen fans of all ages converged on Chapel Hill to partake in a weekend celebrating the 200th anniversary of Emma. Headed by UNC Professors Inger Brodey and James Thompson of the Department of English and Comparative Literature, the Jane Austen Summer Program (JASP) has now completed its third year and is quickly becoming a June tradition for Janeites from near and far.
While many of the festivities occur off campus at the Friday Center for Continuing Education, the 2015 program kicked off by introducing attendees to some of the fascinating resources on campus with an exhibit selected from the Rare Book Collection of the Wilson Special Collections Library. “Emma, at Home and at Play,” curated by UNC graduate students Rachael Isom and Ted Scheinman and displayed in Wilson’s Grand Reading Room, included a variety of items designed to offer textual, cultural, and historical entry points for guests, as they approached the events and discussions of the weekend.
Comprised of seventeen items from the Rare Book Collection, this exhibit took shape around three approaches to Austen’s novel: the first-edition text of Emma and its illustrated afterlives, books allusively woven into Emma’s daily life, and contemporaneous cultural artifacts that offer a more detailed entry into that lifestyle.
The first segment of the exhibit contained the 1816 Emma (which actually appeared in December 1815), the first of Austen’s novels to be published by John Murray, as well as two twentieth-century New York editions illustrated by C. E. Brock (1909) and Fritz Kredel (1964). Rounding out this section was a mid-twentieth-century critical work by R. W. Chapman, an object of especial interest because of its former ownership and annotations by C. S. Lewis.
The second section invited JASP attendees to consider the books that might have constituted Emma’s library at Highbury by showing examples of texts alluded to in the novel. Prolific eighteenth-century writers Oliver Goldsmith, Ann Radcliffe, and Thomas Gray were joined by lesser known authors of educational texts and Gothic novels to show the various reading interests of Emma, Harriet Smith, and other characters.
The final section grouped together books contemporary to Austen. From fashion plates in The Lady’s Magazine to sheet music by J. B. Cramer, cookbooks and pocketbooks to a unique family scrapbook, these items presented visitors with a sense of the larger social setting of Austen’s Emma. Perhaps guests could imagine Jane Fairfax playing one of Cramer’s sonatas or Mr. Woodhouse flipping through Mrs. Glasse’s Art of Cookery looking for the perfect gruel recipe. Thus, as JASP attendees returned to the text, they could take with them pieces of the culture in which it was written and set by Austen.
In its first year as a Jane Austen Summer Program event, the exhibit was well-received by attendees. Naturally, Austen fans were particularly excited to see a first-edition of Emma, but one guest also remarked that the display as a whole was “well-organized and informative.” Many also commented on the “beautiful” Grand Reading Room venue and look forward to more opportunities to visit Wilson Library.
One such opportunity awaits at next year’s Jane Austen Summer Program, which will feature a special exhibit inspired by Austen’s 1814 novel Mansfield Park. The event, slated for the weekend of June 16–19, 2016, will be open to the UNC-Chapel Hill community as well as to the program’s attendees. For more information, please visit www.janeaustensummer.org.
Rachael Isom is a Ph.D. student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC. Her research focuses particularly on the intersections of religion and literature in women’s poetry of the Romantic and early Victorian periods. She also serves as Assistant Editor of the Keats-Shelley Journal and works as a Project Assistant for the William Blake Archive.