By Jennifer Abella
Before you check into the Jane Austen Summer Program on June 18, make sure to stop by the UNC campus to see “Emma, at Home and at Play,” a special rare-book exhibit curated by Rachael Isom and Ted Scheinman. Sponsored by JASP and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, the exhibit — including a first-edition copy of “Emma”(First. Edition. Copy!!!) — is on display Thursday, June 18, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library Grand Reading Room on campus. Isom tells us more:
What was the inspiration behind it?
Professors Inger Brodey and James Thompson presented the idea of a rare-book exhibit for this year’s Jane Austen Summer Program, and Ted and I volunteered for the project. The Rare Book Collection at Wilson Library boasts some remarkable materials, and the exhibit was designed to showcase the University’s holdings in such a way that will be interesting for our JASP participants as they begin the weekend-long discussion of “Emma.” In gathering items, we wanted to pursue three different thematic categories: texts and after-lives of “Emma,” contemporary texts alluded to within “Emma,” and items indicative of the cultural moment in which “Emma” was composed and read. In short, we began with the novel and worked outward to develop a context that will be meaningful for our JASP attendees.
Can you tell me a little about one of the items on the list?
One special item that we will display in this exhibit is a first-edition copy of “Emma.” This novel represents Austen’s first interaction with the prolific publisher John Murray, and it helps viewers to get a sense of the material object in addition to the text of Austen’s novel. A fun fact about this particular copy is that a previous owner decided to add, in pencil, “Miss Austin” on the title page to clarify exactly who was “the Author of ‘Pride and Prejudice.'”
WOW. It must’ve been pretty special when you first got a closer look at that “Emma.” How did you feel in that moment?
Well, they tend to frown on squealing in the reading room, so I tried to maintain a rather professional demeanor despite the thrill of being able to see, much less touch, a first-edition copy. Then the first thing I did after leaving was text my mother, who’s quite the Janeite herself, to tell her what I’d just seen. Needless to say she shared my excitement.
How long did the exhibit take to organize?
We initially made contact with the Claudia Funke and the Wilson Library staff in early February and soon thereafter began searching the catalogue for items related to “Emma” and its cultural context. Throughout the semester we met with Liz Ott and various other members of the staff to refine that list, and we then began examining each item individually in the Rare Book Collection reading room. As we finalized the list, we began, with Liz and Claudia’s guidance, to write exhibition labels to accompany the items and explain their literary or cultural import. Recently we’ve been working on publicity materials and are finalizing the arrangements for the exhibit presentation. Overall, then, this exhibit project has been the labor of about four months and has involved many minds and hands in its production.
Where do the books come from (just Wilson or other resources)?
All items in the exhibit belong to the Rare Book Collection of UNC’s Wilson Library, with the exception of the J. B. Cramer sheet music, which belongs to the Music Library. The Wilson Library staff has been incredibly helpful throughout this process. We would like to especially note the hard work of Liz Ott, who has been our main point of contact, as well as Claudia Funke, Emily Kader, and Susan Bales.
About Isom and Scheinman:
Rachael Isom is a Ph.D. student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC. She works in British literature of the long nineteenth century, and her research focuses particularly on the intersections of religion and literature in women’s poetry of the Romantic and early Victorian periods. She also serves as Assistant Editor of the Keats-Shelley Journal and works as a Project Assistant for the William Blake Archive.
Ted Scheinman is a Ph.D. candidate in English at UNC. His dissertation analyzes experiments with voice in early 18th-century satire, and demonstrates how those voices reemerged to shape the popular novel. His essays and reporting have appeared in the New York Times, Playboy and the Paris Review. By day, he works as senior editor at Pacific Standard magazine. He lives in Santa Barbara and misses his mother, Dr. Deborah Knuth-Klenck, who will attend her second JASP this summer.
Jennifer Abella is a TV/movie/pop culture/knitting/sewing/Jane Austen geek. Oh, and a total Anglophile. Follow@nextjen on Twitter. And remember to like Jane Austen Summer Program on Facebook and follow @JASPhotline on Twitter.