English professor helps organize a Jane Austen conference in Portland

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Pauline Beard, professor of English and chair of the English department, is a true Janeite. Beard has been a fan of Jane Austen most of her life, reading Pride & Prejudice when she was 12 and continuing her fascination through high school. However, after having to memorize in detail Austen’s novel Emma for her Advanced Level General Certificate of Education examination, she was put off by the books.

“When I came to America everybody was talking about Jane Austen and particularly when I came to Oregon, I was just thumbing through the Oregonian and there was this tiny notice about a Jane Austen Society meeting,” Beard said. “They were going to have eighteenth century music played by eighteenth century musical instruments.”

Beard said that she felt so welcomed by the other members that she joined the society. This was about 18 years ago.

Today, Beard is very involved with the Jane Austen Society of North America. She helped organize this year’s conference, focused around Austen’s novel Northanger Abby. The conference was held in Portland October 29 through 31. Beard explained that it was the first time for the conference to be held in Portland and that the society was a little worried about the number of people who were likely to come. Beard estimated that there were 600 people in attendance.

“People came up to the organizers…and said that these were some of the best breakout sessions they’ve been to.”

The sessions ranged from essays on elements of Austen works to power-points. On the last night of the conference, there is a ball and a parade that people dress for in eighteenth century clothing.

Though not presenting an essay during this conference, Beard has presented at Toronto, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Tucson conferences. Her essay about Mansfield Park entitled “Sex, Debility, and Lady Bertram: Lover or Loafer?” was given at the Tucson conference in 2006. It was published in “Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal On-Line’ in 2006. Beard has had an essay accepted for next year’s conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

Also involved with the conference were alumni of Pacific including Molly Morrow Sloan, Sarah Shepard and Heather Young.

Sloan monitored a breakout session, started the silk rose project, and attended the Tote Bag Stuffing Party. The silk rose project was to give people memorabilia from the conference. Each person who attended the conferences got a tote bag with a silk rose in it and pieces of Portland, including a coupon to Powells bookstore.

Shepherd attended the same party and other parts of the conference. She was also on duty at the registration desk and the t-shirt selling table and Young took the original design for the conference and created the website logo and website structure.

In May of this year, Beard and Breanna Grove helped organize the J. Davis Grey Young Writers’ Workshop. Grey, one of the co-founders of the JASNA, set up a scholarship that the host city for the Annual General Meeting could hold a workshop for high school students. Beard’s class helped the students develop their essays then decided on the winner. This year the winner was Bonnie Helm from Banks High School and she read her essay at the Sunday brunch of the AGM.

Beard explained why she believed that people keep their interest in Austen. “I think people go to her novels because of the timeless qualities of the relationships that she develops…she shows you the social morays of the time, but in a very subtle way.”

Beard also believes that younger people are becoming interested in Austen by the mash-up books, like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, and the films adapted from the novels.

“Novels are fun and people lose sight of that,” said Beard.


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