Janites are gathering in Portland, Ore., this weekend -- Janites, for the uninitated, are Jane Austen enthusiasts -- for the annual Jane Austen Conference. This year's conference is focused on her novel "Northanger Abbey," her first completed manuscript, not brought out until 1817, five months after her death.
Almost two centuries later, Jane Austen is more popular than ever, organizers say. The Jane Austen Society of North America has been holding annual meetings since 1979 and has more than 4,000 members.
The Oregonian provides a preview of the conference, which is titled, "Jane Austen and the Abbey: Mystery, Mayhem, and Muslin in Portland."
More than 650 people are registered for the conference, the majority coming from out of state, and organizers are calling this the largest literary conference in Portland history. (Wordstock is a festival and isn't, by these standards, strictly literary.) Dozens of academics and scholars are presenting papers and discussing "Northanger Abbey," and not all of their scholarship concerns Henry Tilney's strange fondness for muslin. Shannon Campbell, a docent at the University of Alberta's Botanic Garden, will speak on "The Mystique of the Pineapple: A Lure for General Tilney."
The conference, as always, will conclude with a grand promenade and a "Bal Masqué" (a masked ball) on Saturday night. During the conference, there will be dance workshops, and a stylist on hand to help ladies prepare their Regency-era updos.
But the moves toward authenticity aren't too extreme -- they won't be heading out to a drafty hall lit by candles for the event. They'll be dancing in the Portland Hilton as they did, in 2004, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Members of the Jane Austen Society dancing at their 2004 convention, held in Los Angeles. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times