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Jane Austen in Kentucky

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    Jackie Livingston, Lydia Fast, Maggie Roberts, Rebecca Cooper, and Melissa Alexander show off their Regency-era attire at the 2014 Jane Austen Festival at Louisville’s Locust Grove. Photo: Steve Lathan
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    Photo: Steve Lathan
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    Louisville’s annual Jane Austen Festival, which returns in 2016, is a family-friendly celebration of all things Jane Austen, from period costumes to afternoon tea. Photo: Steve Lathan
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    Photo: Steve Lathan
What Jane Austen wrote in 1815-16 in her last completed novel, Persuasion, remains true today. And when it comes to Jane and her ilk, there are no more “clever, well-informed people” than the hundreds of visitors who gather annually at key Kentucky literary sites for a “great deal of conversation”—and plenty of good times.

Jane keeps excellent company with King Arthur’s Round Table in Hopkinsville; with Jesse Stuart and his W-Hollow homeland in Greenup County; and with Janice Holt Giles, whose log cabin perches on a lakeshore in Adair County. Each has inspired a fervent following that celebrate and keep alive their literary legacies.

The Greater Louisville Jane Austen Society, a regional branch of the national Jane Austen Society of North America, was founded in July 2007 by a group of, shall we say, Janiacs. It is made up of about 150 Austen aficionados of both the Georgian-era author’s books and the scores of movie adaptations made of her novels.

Sharon Lathan of Bardstown is a passionate Austen fan. Not only has she read the entire Austen canon, but she has written a multivolume sequel series called The Darcy Saga to Pride and Prejudice, her favorite Austen novel. Her latest book, Darcy and Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship, was released in March 2014 and is part of a “prequel duo” that includes Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future, due later this year.

“My novels are strong in the historical aspects of the era, romantic, and as true to Austen’s world, characters, and style as I can manage,” Lathan says.

The setting for the group’s meetings and festival is also appropriately atmospheric: Louisville’s Locust Grove is a circa-1792 Georgian mansion, originally the home of William and Lucy Clark Croghan. It played host to Lucy’s brother, Gen. George Rogers Clark, Presidents James Monroe and Andrew Jackson, John James Audubon, and explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

“Locust Grove would be comparable to the Bennets and their Longbourn, a country gentleman’s home,” says Bonny Wise, referring to the home of the five Bennet sisters of Pride and Prejudice. Wise, the marketing coordinator at Locust Grove, was a founding member of the Society and is currently its recording secretary.

Now a National Historic Landmark, Locust Grove is the site of tours, lectures, music series, book sales, and, of course, the monthly meetings of the Greater Louisville Jane Austen Society. Meetings are on Sundays and always include tea.

Programs follow the theme as determined at the national organization’s annual general meeting. For 2015, it is “Living in Jane Austen’s World.” Programming focuses on the gardens, architecture, music, literature, and fashions that influenced Jane.

On May 17, “Children’s Literature of Regency England” will be presented at Locust Grove by Mary Landrum, a children’s librarian at the Tates Creek Branch of the Lexington Public Library. Landrum plans to discuss books Jane Austen might have read as a child, focusing on works published by William Godwin’s Juvenile Library. Godwin was an Austen contemporary and the father of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
King Arthur and his knights

According to Landrum, young Jane may have dipped into retellings of Bible stories, myths, Shakespeare, and even the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. And had she lived in these parts, she would have been able to experience the latter story come to life at Round Table Literary Park.

Surrounded by a thick grove of trees on the campus of Hopkinsville Community College is King Arthur’s Sword in the Stone and a 22,000-pound replica of King Arthur’s Round Table. But that’s not all. Visitors also find a sculpture of Melpomene, the Greek Muse of tragedy; a partial medieval wall; and the Delphian Tholos, which is the historical Greek sanctuary of the goddess Athena and site of the Oracle of Delphi.

The Round Table Literary Park was created from an endowment in honor of HCC faculty emeritus Frances G. Thomas, who taught English and creative writing from the college’s inaugural year in 1965 until her retirement in 1996. The park and its Greco-Roman amphitheater are the venue for the annual Round Table Literary Awards and the unveiling of the college’s The Round Table literary magazine.

Kentucky’s literary sites spark exactly the variety of clever, well-informed conversation Miss Elliot so cherishes in good company.
And as Persuasion’s William Elliot notes: “that is not good company, that is the best.”

DESTINATIONS
To learn more about the Greater Louisville Jane Austen Society, visit www.JASNALouisville.com

Austen Authors: a blog created by bestselling Regency author Sharon Lathan, currently has 20 authors who share their unique brand of carrying on Austen’s world. For more information about Lathan’s novels, visit www.SharonLathan.net

Round Table Literary Park, Hopkinsville Community College campus. For general information, contact the Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Janice Holt Giles Log Cabin: the Giles House is open to the public 1-4 p.m. (CT) Saturday and Sunday, June-October.

Jesse Stuart Foundation: the Regional Readers book discussion group (which reads books by Kentucky authors or about Kentucky and Appalachia) meets on the last Tuesday of the month, except for December.

Literary Events

Two Jesse Stuart events, held by the Jesse Stuart Foundation, include an Open House at the Foundation’s Ashland headquarters, on August 7 this year, celebrating Stuart’s birth in 1906. The Jesse Stuart Weekend at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park, dedicated to the works and memory of the former Kentucky poet laureate, is September 25-26.

The Giles Society, named for Janice Holt Giles, has two annual events, both at the Giles Cabin in Knifely: Kentuckians Reading About Kentucky on September 12 and the 16th Annual Giles Arts & Crafts Festival on October 3.

The Greater Louisville Jane Austen Society’s annual Christmas tea, “The Tea Things of Jane Austen,” planned for December 13, 2015, will feature a talk with Bruce Richardson, owner of Kentucky’s Elmwood Inn Teas; and Benjamin Press, tea instructor and tea historian for The Boston Harbor Museum.

The Jane Austen Festival, typically held the third weekend of July, will not be held in 2015 due to Jane Austen Society of North America’s annual general meeting, to be held at Locust Grove in October. The festival will be back in 2016 with its lineup of an Austen author, Regency style show, Regency Emporium, and afternoon tea, plus workshops and a Grand Ball. The festival is open to all; membership in the national society is not required.

Kathy Witt from May 2015 Issue Photos: Steve Lathan

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