More than three dozen women and men donning bonnets and top hats visited Swem Library last week in search of new insights into their favorite author, Jane Austen.
William & Mary Libraries welcomed attendees of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) annual conference to campus on Oct. 4. JASNA members visited Swem Library to hear a talk by scholar Sarah Glosson, director of the Arts & Sciences Graduate Center, and explore the library’s Regency-era items in its special collections.
The collection that attracted over 40 “Janeites” (the affectionate term for Austen fans) to Swem Library features the papers of George Holbert Tucker, who wrote and co-wrote numerous books on Jane Austen and was a founding member of JASNA. The materials gave attendees an opportunity to take a deep dive into the world of Austen.
JASNA member Angela Burke said she was impressed by the extensive details in Tucker’s research.
“I was really surprised to read about the scandals and trials Jane would have been familiar with around that time,” she said. “I also enjoyed learning more about her personality and how much care Tucker put into finding all that. The way he placed things together was like a reminiscing of somebody.”
The event was coordinated by Glosson, who serves as director of W&M’s Arts & Sciences Graduate Center, and Jay Gaidmore, director of Swem’s special collections. Glosson was the first fan studies scholar to take advantage of the Tucker Collection.
“I accidentally discovered this resource in Special Collections when I was doing my research,” Glosson said. “I’d been traveling to different archives, and through a serendipitous google search I saw a Swem URL come up. Here was this whole collection of Jane Austen research materials created by a life-long fan of Austen and founding member of JASNA, and it was right here!”
Glosson wrote her Ph.D dissertation on the cultural history of Jane Austen fandom. The research led to her forthcoming book, "Performing Jane: A Cultural History of Jane Austen Fandom," to be published in February 2020.
“Tucker was a journalist and a Jane Austen fan,” she said. “When he retired from journalism, he started doing genealogical research on Jane Austen, and he published two books about her family history and her personal life. He collected all his research into notebooks that he curated and donated to Swem. The notebooks are a fascinating testament to Tucker’s love for Austen and her novels.”
The primary reason for JASNA gathering in Williamsburg was for an annual conference. However, the organization decided to take advantage of the historical area with a pre-conference tour of W&M. Of course, the tour would have been incomplete without seeing the library’s special collection treasures.
Glosson said she is appreciative of the intention W&M Libraries puts into diversifying its collections.
“The Special Collections Research Center has the kinds of things you would typically associate with an archive,” she said. “They have papers of so-called learned men, but they’ve also worked hard to curate other types of materials, like travel journals and diaries of young girls. There are lots of different voices in the archive. I think Special Collections’ willingness to have a broad view of what should go into the archive is really important.”