The Paris Review

Corsets and Cotillions: An Evening with the Jane Austen Society

From the Jane Austen Society of North America’s 2013 Netherfield Ball.

In Minneapolis that fall, while my mother lay on a couch in upstate New York with her legs elevated as she healed from a recent knee replacement, it fell to me to deliver her paper at the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). During the Q&A that followed my rendition of her paper, I was roundly congratulated for this service to my mother, though no one voiced the rather obvious question of why such an apparently dutiful son wasn’t where he ought to be: at her bedside. The answer would have been that I was working on a book, researching and trying to understand the Janeites, this intoxicating secret society of superfans that was beginning to feel like an unexpected birthright. But they were too polite to ask, and I would have been too guarded to offer the answer.

At the grand ball in Minneapolis, my dancing showed certain three months before. Though still clumsy in following the choreography, I was at least not a total amateur the second time around. Nevertheless, the size alone of the annual JASNA meeting meant the ball would be far more populous, collisions would be more frequent, and no one was safe from a camera. As the ball was set to begin, the writer Deborah Yaffe dragged over a friend, the two of them insisting that “Jane Bennet” (an elegant-looking historical novelist with bouncy blonde ringlets) had been eyeing me. 

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review8 min read
The Gift of Lewis Hyde’s ‘The Gift’
Lewis Hyde photo: Ruben Cox. Gifts pass from hand to hand: they endure through such transmission, as every time a gift is given it is enlivened and regenerated through the new spiritual life it engenders both in the giver and in the receiver. And so
The Paris Review7 min read
The Currency of Tears
Sabrina Orah Mark’s monthly column, Happily, focuses on fairy tales and motherhood. One day in nursery school, when I was five I think, I cried. My teacher, in her floral apron with gigantic pockets, handed me a paper cup. She handed me a paper cup,
The Paris Review13 min readFood & Wine
Cooking with Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
In Valerie Stivers’s Eat Your Words series, she cooks up recipes drawn from the works of various writers. It has long been a dream of mine to steal or reprise the premise of a column called War Nerd, which ran in the English-language Moscow newspape