Past Diversions Gallery

Portrait of Fanny Palmer Austen
Robert Field, 1810

When Fanny Palmer Austen married Jane Austen’s younger naval brother Charles in 1807, she was thrust into a demanding life within the world of the British Navy.  On February 4, 2023, Sheila Johnson Kindred gave a Zoom talk which provided a vividly personal account of what Fanny was able to share with Jane about her life as a naval wife, information which was arguably both contextual and catalytic for Austen’s creation of her fictional naval wives in “Persuasion.”

A graduate of the University of Western Ontario and the University of Toronto, Ms. Kindred worked for forty years in the Philosophy Department of Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, teaching Critical Thinking and Bioethics. However, her interest in Philosophy never precluded a fascination with literature, in particular the novels of Jane Austen.

Sheila’s curiosity about Austen and her family took a new direction when she discovered Charles Austen’s naval history in Halifax, the love match between Charles and Fanny Palmer and their life together. Intrigued by Fanny Austen’s articulate and candid letters, written from Halifax and England, Sheila researched her extraordinary naval life with Charles Austen on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean during the later years of the Napoleonic Wars. The result is the award-winning, best-selling book, “Jane Austen’s Transatlantic Sister: The Life and Letters of Fanny Palmer Austen” (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017).

Photo courtesy of Christina Papp

December 12, 2021 we had our annual Jane Austen Birthday Celebration.  This year took the form of a mixed media tribute by JASNA Pittsburgh members.  Program included:

Connie Smith: Instructional website FYI

Sandy Inman: History of Jane Austen (in One Take) | History Bombs video 

Laura Livingston: Celebrity fan tributes from the Prince Regent to Dwayne Wade of the NBA !

Allison Thompson: Rarely Seen and Period-Correct Regency Dance Performances: Jigs vs. Reels 

Linda Troost:  Washington Irving’s description of Christmas in Jane’s time 

Christina Papp: “Chemisette Chic in Jane Austen’s Lifetime“, photos and personal projects

Abigail Thompson et al: Sense and Sensibility, chapter 41 reading 

Sayre Greenfield: Jane Austen’s 1813 trip to London

Mell Steven-Cosnek: Persuasion, final chapter reading 


November 7, 2021, Sarah Makowski, Dr. Phil., joined us from Germany to talk about “Mean Girls in Jane Austen.  Sarah delighted us with her ideas from her upcoming book, Bitches in Bonnets: Life Lessons from Jane Austen’s Mean Girls.  In her book,  she explores parallels between Austen’s world and our own, showing how modern social and behavioral scientists are just beginning to document and quantify what the author knew instinctively. Dr. Makowski looks beyond Austen’s texts for the sources of female aggression both during the Regency and today.  Despite incredible advances in gender equality, women still face discrimination and bullying from creche to career. The cruelest assaults are those that are least expected – from other women.  Sarah Makowski’s article, “Do you know who I am?” Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Jane Austen’s Proto-Karen” was recently published in Persuasions Online.  


September 19, 2021, we had a member reading and discussion of the unfinished novel that Jane Austen began work on while living in Bath in 1803, which was probably abandoned after her father’s death in 1805. The approximately 7,500 word long fragment was left to Cassandra on Jane’s death. It was published in 1871 by Jane’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh in the revised and augmented edition of his A Memoir of Jane Austen.


MARCH 13, 2021 – Zoom Meeting with Professor Jennie Batchelor
The Lady’s Magazine and the Making of Jane Austen

Jennie’s talk illuminated the influence of this first modern women’s magazine on the life and work of Austen.  Jennie Batchelor started her career as the first Chawton House Library Postdoctoral Fellow just as the renovation of the Great House was being completed. She is now Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of Kent. Jennie has written widely on women’s writing, eighteenth-century dress, and early women’s magazines. Her most recent book, Jane Austen Embroidery (2020) was co-devised with Alison Larkin. She has appeared on the New Statesman’s Hidden Histories podcast, BBC Radio 4, and was interviewed for Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen: Behind Closed Doors. Jennie is also Patron of the Kent branch of the Jane Austen Society.


March 15, 2020, we partnered with Britsburgh for a formal tea followed by a talk by Kim Szczypinski on food and dining in the Regency period.   It was held at the Omni William Penn.   Britsburgh is a Pittsburgh group focused on building bridges across communities by driving growth in British-American culture, history, education, tradition and trade. 


Thanks to Focus Features,  we were treated to a free advanced screening of the new Emma movie on February 25, 2020.  We found it delightful and very diverting.


JASNA members read Sanditon, Miss Austen’s final, unfinished work aloud.  This was in preparation for the PBS series which premiered the next evening, January 12.  A discussion followed.


Dances from Jane Austen’s Assembly Rooms
Or, Do the Movies Ever Get It Right?

Allison Thompson

Saturday,  November 23, 2019
3:00 pm
University of Pittsburgh
Cathedral Of Learning

Allison discussed various aspects of late 18th century dance that are alluded to or taken for granted in the novels, such as dancing down and figuring up the set, the necessity of wearing gloves, and the types of dances that Jane knew.  She also showed clips of movies that do—and do not—get the dance scenes right.   For more information on Allison’s new book

Allison’s presentation was preceeded by a slide show and summary of the 2019 JASNA Summer trip in England by Laura Livingston.


Jane Austen Juvenilia
Tour, Tea and Talk

Dr. Marilyn Francus

Sunday, September 22, 2019
1:00 – 4:00 pm
Woodville Plantation, Bridgeville PA

We first enjoyed a thorough tour of Woodville, learning of its history.  Retiring to the still house, we savored some tea and assorted biscuits. 

Dr. Francus expertly led us through the reading and discussion of four selections from the juvenilia:  her miniature novel, The Beautiful Cassandra; the opening of her epistolary novel, Lesley Castle; a short play, The Visit; and an excerpt from The History of England.    We now have a sense of young Austen’s literary sensibilities, and the ways that they relate to her later work. 


“And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as ‘what one reads about’ may produce? “  

Northanger Abbey
Viewing and Discussion

Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield

Linda and Sayre outlined the challenges filmmakers face when adapting Northanger Abbey.  The lure of the Gothic in the novel is hard for any filmmaker to resist, but Northanger Abbey is the most consciously modern of Austen’s works.  They discussed how difficult it is for a period film to capture a concept of modernity that is 200 years old.  After viewing the movie, we discussed these points as well as how the movie differs from the novel. 
We also had a visit from JASNA Ohio North Coast members who updated us on the upcoming 2020 AGM in Cleveland.


” Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it. “

Annual Jane Austen Birthday Tea

Saturday, December 15, 2018
2:00 – 4:30 pm
Pittsburgh Friends’ Meeting House

After enjoying delightful tea with the most wonderful delicacies, we continued our celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Northanger Abbey by reading the following scripted selections from the novel: Catherine & Isabella and the two young men from Chapter 6; marriage versus dancing from Chapter 10;  Blaize Castle from Chapter 11;  the walk to Beechen Cliff from Chapter 14;  and Henry Tilney’s Gothic Parody from Chapter 20.    It was excessively diverting!


Mrs Smith, had shewn her kindness in one of those periods of her life when it had been most valuable.

Friendship in Persuasion Luncheon Michael Lewis, Speaker 

Saturday, October 27, 2018
11:30 am – 2:30 pm
Wyndham University Center

We continued our celebration of 200 years of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey with a talk considering Anne Elliot’s relationships with Lady Russell and Mrs. Smith.  What do these ties, not based on blood or romance, tell us about Austen’s views of family, the social order, and literary art at the end of her career?  A lively discussion ensued debating the merits of the characters.

Michael Lewis is an assistant professor at Washington and Jefferson College, where he teaches and writes on nineteenth-century British literature from Austen to Dickens to Wilde.


 Group trip to Kate Hamill’s version of  Pride and Prejudice 

Sunday,  October 14, 2018
2:00 pm
Pittsburgh Public Theater


Regency Dancing with the Country Dance and Song Society of Pittsburgh 

Saturday, September 15, 2018
7:15 – 10 pm
Pittsburgh Friends’ Meeting House



Northanger Abbey





Jane Austen Festival –  March 2017