If you attended the early years of the Jane Austen Summer Program, you probably recognize Ted Scheinman, who was a graduate student and played, ahem, Mr. Darcy at our first-ever Jane Austen Summer Program. If you don’t know him, you can read about his JASP experience and more in his book, “Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan,” which is out today!
Scheinman is a senior editor at Pacific Standardmagazine in California. His work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, the Paris Review, Slate, the Atlantic and Playboy. Before he studied at UNC, he was an editor at Washington City Paper in Washington, D.C. He grew up spending a lot of time in the United Kingdom, where his mother, JASP attendee Deborah Knuth Klenck, led study-abroad groups. “Mom, as you know, is a Janeite herself, which is probably how I got mixed up in this whole beautiful world to begin with,” Scheinman says.
We chatted with him about his book and his time with JASP.
The Austen fandom from the male perspective isn’t something we read about very often. What made you decide to write a book on your JASP experience? Did you know before or after that you’d be writing about it?
The book was a bit of a surprise to me too, frankly! A day before we began the inaugural JASP in 2013, I told James that I’d be writing a short essay about it for the Paris Review. So I took lots of notes and did a few interviews with various Janeites, but my main focus that first weekend was making sure everything went smoothly from a logistical perspective; and of course we had the theatricals to worry about. On the last day of the first JASP, I wrote the essay and thought that would be the end of it. But the piece attracted quite a few readers … and a couple of days after it ran, an editor at Faber called me up to suggest that I write a short book about the experience. A few things made that process slow — my first editor left the country for another job, the book was moved to a different imprint at Macmillan, I took a semester to do my written and oral PhD exams and to write and defend my prospectus, then I moved across the country to take a full-time job in journalism — but eventually I wrote the book, and when I did so I tried my best to honor the Janeites while unlocking their mysteries. The book is emphatically not about making fun of Janeites. After all, I am one.
Did you have any preconceptions about Austen fans before you “became” Mr. Darcy that you changed your mind about after the fact or while you were writing?
This is a great question. I probably harbored at least a few of the preconceptions about Janeism common among men, even (or perhaps especially) among a certain sort of male scholar. I think I suspected there would be lots of Mrs. Bennets — dotty or absent-minded enthusiasts. To say that I was impressed by the attendees at the first JASP would be an understatement. I admired the hell out of them and found myself quickly intoxicated. There were very few Mrs. Bennets (though at later JASNA meetings I did meet a Mr. Collins or two). Very quickly it became clear that, to be worthy of the company, I should aspire to the light touch of Henry Tilney and avoid entirely the boorishness of a John Thorpe, or even the aloofness of a Darcy.
What’s your favorite JASP memory?
Absolutely the theatricals adapted and performed by the grad students. Those were endless fun both years I participated (2013 and 2014). It was a brilliant suggestion when James and Inger told us to adapt portions of the juvenilia — some of the funniest scenes that Austen ever wrote.
What are you most looking forward to when you return in June?
I haven’t seen most of my old friends and colleagues in Chapel Hill since 2016, so I’m looking forward to everything and everyone. My mother will also be present. … I’ve already pledged two dances to her. That will be a highlight.
Are you nervous about reader reactions?
I am. Reporting on any subculture is a delicate task — you want to preserve what’s good and true and intoxicating within a sort of secret society, and also what’s funny and odd. If I can do that without the subjects feeling mocked or misrepresented, then I feel good.
Last question: What’s the most uncomfortable part of men’s Regency costume?
The days are zooming by, and before you know we’ll be in Chapel Hill. While participants are reading “Emma,” organizers are busy tying up loose ends. What exactly goes into planning such an event as the Jane Austen Summer Program? We caught up with UNC professors James Thompson and Inger Brodey to find out:
What inspired you and your colleagues to start the Jane Austen Summer Program? Thompson and Brodey: James read a New Yorker article by the historian Jill Lepore, about the Dickens summer camp, and thought immediately that what the world needs is an Austen summer camp. We both attended the Dickens Universe at Santa Cruz for their 30th summer and were inspired by a conference that is equally welcoming to regular readers of Dickens and to scholars. The presentations and conversations were both smart, accessible and inspiring and so seemed to us a model for the humanities: James thought, If Dickens lovers and Dickens scholars can talk to one another, so can Janeites of all stripes. Inger has also had separate experience running conferences for a mix of academics and non-academics, and loves this kind of format.
How far in advance do you start planning? Thompson and Brodey: We begin roughing out a list of presenters and themes in late summer or the early fall, but really we are working on it all year round. We already know the dates and theme of the 2016 and 2017 JASPs!
How do you choose ideas — and presenters — for discussions/lectures? Brodey: That is dictated by the novel we’re going to focus on — food and travel are more prominent in “Emma” than they are in “Sense and Sensibility.” We draw on Austen scholars whose work we admire and we know can be counted on to give a presentation that is at once clear, accessible and original. Our committee of helpers, including Ruth Verbunt, Gisele Rankin, Virginia-Claire Tharrington, Terri O’Quinn and Ronnie Jackson, are also great at coming up with ideas for panels and special events.
“Every year we have far more ideas than we can fit into the program, but that just means there will be many new approaches and speakers that we can feature in future years.” — Inger Brodey
What’s the hardest part of organizing the program?
Thompson: Fitting everything in that we want to offer. We don’t like to have concurrent sessions for which folks have to decide between one topic or another, and so we inevitably have more ideas and more speakers than we can reasonably fit in. Brodey: The fact that it is a year-long commitment, but I am so grateful that I now have the help of the individuals I named above. It is starting to become more and more of a community event, for which I am exceedingly grateful. And I think the effort that all of us put in will show in the product and the overall experience for the participants. It is true that every year we have far more ideas than we can fit into the program, but that just means there will be many new approaches and speakers that we can feature in future years.
This is the program’s third year: What has surprised you most about it?
Thompson: I think that I have been most surprised about how much the fun the meeting is from session to session and hour to hour. Our colleagues and graduate students and registrants have broad smiles on their faces as if all our deep love of Austen is, at least for the moment, satiated. There is a richly satisfying sense of community among those of us who share this passion and get to indulge in it with others. Brodey: I have been similarly surprised by the dedication of our wonderful participants: I would say the majority of our participants come year after year. The growing pool of teacher scholarships for middle and high school teachers has also been surprising and delightful. It is a joy to encourage others to teach Jane Austen in schools.
What are you personally looking forward to the most this year? Brodey and Thompson: We both feel that “Emma” is Austen’s masterpiece, so there is a special pleasure in getting to work with a text so perfect with other Austen lovers. We have our first outing this year, so our “Box Hill” experience will be a highlight. We also have our first pedagogy session for middle and high school teachers. But every year what we both most look forward to are the conversations with so many different sorts of people who share the same passion.
What’s one thing you’ve learned over the years, in terms of planning a large event? Thompson: The earlier you start planning the better, and the more people that you draw in makes a huge difference. Securing funding early helps. But we have always been blessed with the support and goodwill of our colleagues in the Department of English and Comparative Literature — it turns out (no surprise) that everyone who loves books loves Austen. Brodey: The devil is in the details, as they say.… And those to whom I can delegate are the angels.
“Our colleagues and graduate students and registrants have broad smiles on their faces as if all our deep love of Austen is, at least for the moment, satiated.” — James Thompson
We still have a few years’ worth of Austen material to explore, of course. But any hopes to expand the program to include other authors? Thompson: Well, this might be blasphemous, and I speak only for myself here, but I would like to see and Austen and Charlotte Bronte summer, and I would be happy with an Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell program. We could also pair Austen with Ann Radcliffe. But I also want us to focus on the early works, the juvenilia and her letters. Brodey: I’m open to that, but I also think that at seven- or eight-year intervals, one can easily find new themes and topics for the major novels.… We will be interested to hear what our participants think in a few years, as we finish our first cycle of the books. We are also trying to find the ideal length for the program. This year, our program is half a day longer than last year’s. The Dickens Universe is a full week, but we aren’t sure that people will be able to spare that much time away from work.
Thinking about registering for the Jane Austen Summer Program? Here’s an FAQ just for you!
So … what exactly happens at the Jane Austen Summer Program? The facts are these: For four days, participants listen to presentations (some academic, some not) on a wide variety of topics — including history, film adaptations and period clothing — all centered on one of Jane Austen’s novels; this year we’re focusing on “Emma,” which turns 200 this year. The program also includes small-group discussions on the book and the presentations, as well as activities and, this year, outings. Oh, and a ball. Can’t forget the ball.
But I’m not a scholar or teacher or anything. The great thing about the program is that you don’t have to be any of those. The program aims to be a mix of history, literature and entertainment meant for Jane Austen fans of all backgrounds.
What if I am a teacher? Good news! You can get credit for attending the program. JASP offers 30 hours of CEU credit. There are also K-12 teacher discounts when you register online: Registration for teachers is $250 (instead of the regular $400). The program also offers scholarships for K-12 teachers. Last week we caught up with two scholarship recipients to see what they thought of the program and how they used what they learned in their classrooms.
I should probably read “Emma” before I get to Chapel Hill, right? Well, we won’t give you a pop quiz or anything, but it would help. If you’ve read “Emma” a million times, one more time won’t hurt, right? Maybe you’ll discover something new. If you’ve only read once or twice, a refresher can help you in the small discussions.
But there are SO MANY VERSIONS of the book! Which one do I read? You’re right, there are a bajillion editions — and you can get a free e-version on the Gutenberg Project site. But the program will use the Penguin Classic edition (pictured here) in its discussions for ease of reference. So if, say, someone cites a page or chapter number, we can all be on the same page, literally. But feel free to read whatever version you’re comfortable with.
There’s something on the schedule called … “elevenses.” What is that? Basically, mid-morning refreshments, a chance to nibble scones, sip tea or coffee, stretch your legs and get to know your fellow attendees.
I also see there are planned trips to something called Ayr Mount and another to Replacements. What are those?Ayr Mount is a Georgian house in nearby Hillsborough. It’ll serve as our “Donwell Abbey.” Replacements is a giant warehouse/store that specializes in china. The founder was an avid china collector, and several of his pieces are on display there. I’ve been to Replacements and it is pretty cool; if you’re looking to replace a piece of your china, they can probably help you.
And there’s a ball? Um, I don’t know how to dance like they do in “Emma” and “Pride & Prejudice”! Bring your dancing shoes anyway: There are dance lessons during program so by the time the ball rolls around you’ll be ready to hit the dance floor. It’s a great way to meet fellow participants. And don’t worry, you won’t be the only one in need of lessons. Plenty of folks will be on equal, uh, footing.
Do I have to dress up in Regency wear for the ball? Definitely not. While some attendees dress in Regency wear, it’s not required. A nice outfit you can move in is the best option. And if you do want to dress up, remember what costume designer and professor Jade Bettin said: “Don’t worry if every little detail isn’t historically accurate! Just capture the essence of it and have fun.”
What’s in this silent auction? There are always fun Jane Austen items, which could include DVDs, books, tea, etc. The silent auction benefits our teacher scholarships, so make sure to bid!
Got a question not listed here? Leave it in the comments!