Austen’s 19th-century England will come to life in the Jane Austen Summer Program organized by the UNC Department of English and Comparative Literature. The four-day symposium will host talks, discussions, films, English afternoon tea sessions and a regency ball similar to one Austen would have attended.
“The event’s purpose is to enjoy the work of Jane Austen in an interdisciplinary perspective,” said Inger Brodey, an associate professor of comparative literature and one of the event’s organizers. “We take a novel each year and focus on it.”
The first Jane Austen Summer Program was held last summer. Brodey and her colleague, English Professor James Thompson,
“The event combines the lay audience with academic audiences, so we wanted to do something similar with Jane Austen,” she said. “We think Jane Austen is very unusual in her ability to appeal to a wide spectrum of readers.”
Gisele Rankin, regional coordinator of the Jane Austen Society of North America, helped to organize a silent auction. Proceeds from the auction will go towards funding registration scholarships for teachers who attend the event.
“I expect a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for the event,” she said. “It’s great when people who love Jane Austen come together. It’s a lot of fun.”
The comprehensive study of the novel is also a draw for Nancy Smit, who is participating in the event for the second time.
“What I find interesting about it is that it’s about the book, the academics, the context of the era, as well as the social aspects, so they made it kind of like a 3D event,” Smit said. “It was educational and fun.”
Not everyone is as enthusiastic as Smit is for the event. A letter to the editor published in The Daily Tar Heel last year said the high cost — which amounted to $400 for the general public — of attending the event made it exclusive.
But Brodey said that in reality the cost is much higher than the fee. Most of the expenses go towards food and facility rentals.
“We work on a deficit,” Brodey said. “None of us get paid to do this and I’m even on leave from the University. I’m just donating my time.”
Suzanna Geiser, a UNC graduate student, is both a volunteer and participant. She will be in charge of giving one of the context lectures on the novel chosen this year, “Sense and Sensibility.”
“I’ve been studying Jane Austen for several years now, and I just think it’s a really good opportunity to get exposure to what life was like in the period,” Geiser said. “Austen’s stories are timeless, and her characters are sophisticated and give you a lot to talk about. She’s witty so she’s fun to read.”
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