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24th November
2009
written by Steph
While we were in New York City, I received an email from my awesome friend Laura (not that I have a non-awesome friend named Laura and I am trying to distinguish between the two… just that my friend Laura is awesome, that’s all!) keying me in to the fact that there was a Jane Austen exhibit taking place at the Morgan Library while I was in town.  Normally I am a crazy trip planner when we go on vacation, obsessively researching every possible attraction and thing to do, but I admit, NYC overwhelmed me and I made the decision to go with the flow and just do whatever struck our fancy and figure out our options when we got into town… so I had not done my homework and the fact that there was something Austen-related going on in town that I didn’t know about me shook me to my core!  I mean, what if we had gone all the way to New York and returned home only for me to have then discovered the exhibit existed?  I shudder to even contemplate the possibility! Anyway, once I realized there was an exhibit on, I told my friend that we were visiting in New York that we had to go.  The day was gray and drizzly, but that did not stop us in our pursuit for Austen (even if we did walk many blocks out of our way to first go and lunch at Prêt à Manger, which is WAY better than Panera, by the way, so why can’t we have one in Nashville already?  Oh right, because it’s Nashville… I’m always trying to forget that… The roast turkey sandwich with stuffing and orange-cranberry sauce was a game changer, is all I’m saying!).  At other museums, I balked at the expensive admission prices — don’t get me wrong, the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim are hella amazing, but $20 PER PERSON is just a tad pricey — at the Morgan library, I practically shoved my $8 into their hands before tearing off into the bowels of the building in search of Austen. But before I get to the exhibit itself, I should take a moment to mention the Morgan library itself.  While I didn’t do an extensive walkthrough of the building, what I saw of it was really breathtaking and beautiful (alas, photography was not allowed, but just do a Google Image search for “Morgan library NYC” and you will see what I’m talking about).  One thing I noticed about a lot of New York architecture is that it does a wonderful job of blending brick with glass, which I love, because I am a huge fan of natural light (even when it is dreary and gray outside… I love being able to see rain splattering against the huge panes of glass).  In a space as lofty as the Morgan, this combination gave the main atrium a wonderful sense of tranquility, as you could peer out into this beautiful green space… it all just made me feel so serene and scholarly!  A lethal combination!  Anyway, the point is, even if there weren’t an exhibit on that was worth seeing, the building alone would be justification to visit! But I am happy to report that the A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy is absolutely worth visiting if you’re a fan of the author.  The exhibit strives to visually depict the variety of influences that helped shape Austen’s writing (such as authors who influenced her or admired her writing), as well as displaying some of Austen’s own correspondence to her sister, Cassandra, ruminating on her works and the world around her, and of course, a few handwritten manuscripts and rare editions of her writings.  The exhibit attempted to put her life into context, giving viewers an idea of the world in which Austen existed, as well as a coarse history of Jane’s own life.  Really, a Janeite’s idea of heaven! I had such a great time seeing some of Jane’s letters, cracking up at how snarky she could be in her personal correspondence, not just in her novels.  For me her letters were a great reflection of her raw wit, as they channeled much of the spirit, humor, and perspicacity that are exemplified in her novels.  It is evident that her writing was a natural talent, as even in these private letters her words flow smoothly and readily captivate readers.  One thing that greatly amused me was that several of her letters were censored after her death by her sister before she bequeathed them to Jane’s favorite niece (so like Jane to have a marked favorite among her nieces!), likely due to them either discussing overly personal physical ailments or because she had been too catty about a family member!   These letters were probably my favorite part of the exhibit, only because it was so unexpected that I would love them so much; normally I’m not a huge fan of delving into author’s personal lives apart from what they published, and don’t really care to read personal correspondences (that aren’t directed at me, that is!), but the writing was just so engaging and fun, that I swiftly decided that if there are collections of Jane’s letters that have been published, then I need to acquire and read them.  They can be one more bit of her to read after I’ve exhausted all of her novels. Speaking of her novels, there were many extremely lovely early editions of her novels on display that positively made my hands itch with longing to hold them.  Most of the editions that were showcased had lovely illustrations, and some were even divided into multiple volumes, as this is how the books were originally published.  Some interesting trivia I picked up: all of Austen’s novels were published anonymously (simply as either “A Lady” or “By the Author of Sense & Sensibility, &c.”) while she was alive, and I also discovered that shockingly enough, her novels were not all that popular with the masses and were actually out of print for a period following her death.  Shocking, I know!  I can hardly imagine a world in which her books are not readily available, and I guess this just goes to show that some of those classics that stand the test of time, did not necessarily start on strong footing.  Oh, also, they had original copies of the first seven letters from Lady Susan written in Jane’s hand, which, while difficult to read, were wonderful to admire and marvel at! Two other bits of the exhibit that warmed the cockles of my heart: 1)   A letter addressed to Jane from some well-connected individual (can’t remember who), essentially telling her to dedicate her next novel to the current king of England (perhaps it was George III?).  Jane had previously made quite clear her dislike for the king (in various letters) calling him loathsome among other things, but she dedicated her next book to him nonetheless. 2)   Rudyard Kipling was an über fan of Austen.  Not only is he attributed with coining the term “Janeite” to denote an avid Austen fan, he also penned short story about a group of soldiers who form a society devoted to Jane Austen, AND he also wrote a poem about Jane Austen going to heaven.  It makes me wonder if Jane would have had to take out a restraining order against him if they had been contemporaries!  It pretty much goes without saying that I am making it my mission to get a copy of Kipling’s short story about Jane and the poem (the two were included in a volume that was on display in the exhibit)! If you are in NYC or are going to be there before March 14, 2010, then I highly recommend you check out this exhibit.  True, there were some items that were displayed that seemed a bit of stretch to include (e.g., books by authors Jane enjoyed, books similar to those Jane may have read, various illustrations that were linked to the exhibit because they satirized things in a way much like Jane did in her works…), but there were enough gems throughout that I would happily hand over $8 for those alone (alternatively you can go on Friday evenings when it appears the Morgan library is free!).  If you’re not going to be in New York any time soon, then know that I feel your pain, but also rejoice because several parts of the exhibit are available online here.  You can watch a short film commissioned for the exhibit itself, as well as view facsimiles of the Lady Susan manuscript I mentioned above.  All of these things were amazing to see in person, but if you can’t be there in body, then this is definitely the next best thing!

15 Comments

  1. I love the explanation of Laura’s awesomness! It is a shame you don’t have another friend called Laura currently reading this and wondering what word describes her!

    Anyway the Austen exhibit sounds great. It is a shame that I can’t make it.

  2. 11/24/2009

    How wild about Kipling! My husband just confessed to me yesterday that he was interested in finding out more about Jane Austen (since The Economist actually sang her praises, it seemed therefore acceptable to him!) so I zoomed out and rented Pride and Prejudice. I hope to get us through the whole ouevre on film this week – while he’s in the mood!

  3. 11/24/2009

    HA! thanks for the compliment Steph!
    I’m so happy that you were able to make it to this exhibit and that it was worth it. The stuff that I randomly find on the internet will never cease to amaze me…

    Reading about the exhibit makes me think of our time in Bath and how we ran down that hill a la Jane, visited the Jane Austen society and that most awesome costume exhibit!! (and yes, the P&P music is playing in my head at the moment!)

  4. 11/24/2009

    This sounds like a wonderfully interesting exhibit. I wish I was going to NYC before March because I would definitely add this to my list…at $8 it is a bargain! I love that her personal correspondence shows the same personality that came through in her writing. I imagine I would have liked her very much had I met her in person!

  5. 11/24/2009

    Whoa! I had no idea this exhibit was here! I’m making plans to visit this next week, after the holidays. This sounds positively amazing. See, that’s the thing about living in NYC. The number of things there are to do and see in this city is sometimes so overwhelming. Thanks for the heads-up on this. 🙂

  6. 11/24/2009

    @ Jackie: Note to self – get another Laura friend! 😉
    And yes, the exhibit was great, though seeing as you are in England, it seems like there are always Austen-related things for you to seek out there (like Chawton, myriad things in Bath, her grave in Winchester… why yes, Awesome Laura and I did visit all those places while in England a few summers back! 😉 ).
     
    @ rhapsody: So long as you get the BBC version of P&P and not the offensive Kiera Knightly version, I can’t see how your husband could not be enthralled by Jane! I don’t think I’ve made Tony sit through it yet, but he did read the book last year, and even said he liked it and wants to read more of her in the future! Did I snag myself a winner or what? 😉
     
    @Awesome Laura: Heee, yes, I definitely had flashbacks to our Bath trip, as well as our crazy trip to Chawton & Winchester (said in that high-pitch cockney voice, naturally)… And they totally should have been playing the P&P soundtrack at the exhibit!
     
    @Kathleen: One of my favorite parts of the film that they were showing in the exhibit (which is up on the website), is that they ask the various people involved who they would invite to dinner if Jane Austen was coming along. One woman matter-of-factly declares that she would want no one but Jane herself there! Amazing.
     
    @ J.S.: Seriously, with all the stuff going on in your city at any time of day, I completely see how it would be hard to keep track of it all. But now you don’t have to worry about missing this exhibit, which is really all that matters!

  7. 11/24/2009

    I have heard and read about this exhibition and I was so hoping that one of us bloggers would get to it so that I could visit vicariously so thank you for your review! Unfortunately I don’t think I am going to make it to New York to see this one myself (the trip from Sydney would take a while!).

  8. 11/24/2009

    Now I’m wondering what the Morgan might have when I’m there in May. Thanks for the introduction. 😀

  9. 11/24/2009

    Yeay! I might make it to New York in a few weeks. Thanks for the heads up. This sounds great!

  10. 11/25/2009

    @ softdrink: I strongly urge you to check out the Morgan, even if they don’t have a big exhibition in May (though I’m sure they will). The space was just so gorgeous and serene – a real literary haven!
     
    @ Rebecca: So excited to hear you might get to visit NY in a few weeks! If so, I do hope you get a chance to check this out – it was a wonderful highlight!

  11. Amy
    11/25/2009

    The Austen Exhibit sounds wonderful! I’m very excited to see it. The Morgan Library is beautiful. It was closed for almost 2 years pretty recently for extensive renovations which expanded the room for exhibits. yay!

  12. 11/28/2009

    I am SO going to see that exhibit! I’m about 1 1/2 hours outside the city, so it won’t be a problem at all. I can’t wait!

  13. 11/30/2009

    It is so cool that you got a chance to see this! I don’t know if I am ever going to get a chance to see this exhibit, but thanks for posting some links to some of the online content. I love Austen and so wish that I could take a brief trip to NY and see this. Also, I am glad that you had such a nice time on your trip!

  14. 11/30/2009

    @ Amy: I had no idea the Morgan had been closed for so long, but clearly the renovations were well worth it! I hope you do get a chance to check out this fantastic exhibition!
     
    @ Dorothy: Sigh. If only I were just 90 minutes outside of NYC… that would be like heaven. I’m glad you will be able to make the trip in to see this one!

  15. […] all of this Steph spent time with her friend and visited the Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library, which she quite enjoyed. Once my conference time was up (Friday afternoon) […]

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