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. 

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