Rae Wiseman on the Jane Austen Society and why Coloradans love the writer

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Chuckling in libraries and meeting halls since 1979, members of the Jane Austen Society of North America have been digging deep into the English novelist's classic tales of romance amongst the British landed gentry. In advance of the March 30Alamo Drafthouse Cinema screening of the BBC's 1995 adaptation of Austen's novel Persuasion, Westword tracked down Rae Wiseman, the regional coordinator of the Denver-Boulder chapter of JASNA, to find out just what brings these people together and why they love Austen so much. See also: Bruce Weber on bicycling, mortality and Life is a Wheel

Westword: Talk about how you found yourself enthralled with Jane Austen.

Rae Wiseman: First of all, I should say, I'm not an English literature major or anything like that. I'm just somebody who enjoys reading. I first read Jane Austen in high school and enjoyed it. I went on to other things and came back to it because as much as I'm interested in literature, I'm also interested in history. I'm particularly drawn to that time in history, and I love Austen's writing. Her novels are witty, good stories, and I just came to love her.

Talk about the historical period that shaped Austen and how she differs from some of the writers of that era.

Anybody who starts reading eighteenth-century novels will tend to get a little bogged down in the language. I find hers very readable and much easier to read because it is a more contemporary style of writing. That's one reason why I love Jane Austen and not the others. I mentioned wit: She seems to be a little wittier, and her writing is more lively. Some of the other writers from that period tend to be plodding.

Austen was born in 1775. A lot of people say that she doesn't write about what was going on in her world, and there was really a lot happening. Of course, here in the United States -- well, it wasn't the United States, it was the colonies -- we had the American Revolution going on when she was born. Then you have the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. There was a lot going on in the world that she lived in. That's why I find it to be such an interesting time period. Even though she doesn't directly talk about these things, if you look closely, you can get a feel for some of these things happening.

Talk about the Jane Austen Society and what the organization does.

JASNA includes the United States, Canada and Mexico, although I don't think we have any regions down there. We're mainly U.S. and Canada. It's an offshoot of the Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom, which was founded in 1940. Then JASNA was founded by just a few people in 1979. It's grown, and we have regions in most states and several in Canada. Some of them are very large regions. In Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York, they have hundreds of members. Some are more like us here in Denver-Boulder, where we have twenty active members and about twice that number who are members of JASNA, but don't participate in their local region. Since they're different sizes, we do different things. Some have big meetings with speakers who come. We tend to be more like a book club. We meet every other month. Sometimes we have speakers, but more often, we just have discussions amongst ourselves. That's how things work in the Denver-Boulder chapter. Colorado also has a region in Colorado Springs. Sometimes we do things together.

Continue reading to learn more about JASNA.

What happens when you meet? What goes on at the meetings?

We generally meet at a library, usually at Standley Lake Library in Arvada. Since it's Denver-Boulder, that's sort of a halfway point there. At our next meeting, we're going to be discussing Mansfield Park. We'll talk about it. One person will lead the discussion, and anybody can jump in at anytime. It works just like a book club would work. The last time we discussed Mansfield Park, we had discussions about slavery and the abolition of slavery in England and how that process happened. Many people think that's a part of Mansfield Park. So we might have a discussion about something like that or something about the times that she was living in or whatever kind of topic we might come up with.

Who is involved in the Jane Austen Society Denver-Boulder chapter?

Every chapter is different. As an organization, we have a good mixture of people with various interests. There are some academic people in JASNA -- there are quite a few, actually; they're professors of literature at different schools around the country. So that's part of our membership. Here in Denver, we do not have any academics who are part of our membership, but JASNA as a whole has quite a few. It's the kind of place where a person such as myself, who doesn't have a literature background, can feel very comfortable.

People come to Jane Austen from all sorts of directions, and that's kind of how our local chapter is. We have people who work in computers. We have one member who does public relations work. We have people with a variety of occupations. We do have a retired schoolteacher who is now doing some writing of her own and has a couple books published, which is quite exciting. Even though we're dealing with literature and a literary author, we're not academics. We're people who enjoy Jane Austen and enjoy reading about her and talking about her and talking about the time period.

How can people get involved?

JASNA is open to anybody who has an interest in Jane Austen and enjoys talking about her. We're always welcoming new people. All of our members of our local region need to be members of the national organization. Membership includes an annual scholarly journal edited by scholarly people. For more information about the Jane Austin Society of North America go to jasna.org.

The screening of Persuasion begins at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 30, at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, 7301 South Santa Fe Drive in Littleton. Tickets are $20 and include the movie, food and drink.

Follow me on Twitter: @kyle_a_harris

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