Lori Mulligan Davis, a JASP 2023 presenter and loyal attendee, offers us look into her interests, inspirations, and this year's book craft!
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background in literature and what your academic research focus is?
I was blessed with an excellent high-school honors track. My tenth-grade English teacher inspired Tony Danza’s year teaching and his reality series Teach. Mr. Charles Messinger empowered me to love Shakespeare. My eleventh-grade teacher encouraged me to write short stories outside of school. He read all eleven—even the sappy romances. I never wanted English class to end, so I double majored at Houghton University in English and Writing. In grad school at William and Mary, I snuck Shakespeare into every course. One paper was called “Edwin Arlington Robinson and Shakespeare.”
I’d never held a Jane Austen novel till I was 22, in my Early English Novel course at William and Mary, though I’d read Horace Walpole, Wilkie Collins, Louis Auchincloss, and the Brontës for fun in my teens. But pre 1995, before Emma Thompson’s Sense & Sensibility, Colin Firth’s Pride & Prejudice, Amanda Root’s Persuasion, and Clueless hit the screens, Austen wasn’t read or studied as she is now. That year, Penguin’s sales of her books rose forty percent and have remained strong.
Wanting to spare others years without Austen, I serve on JASNA’s Jane Austen Book Box Program committee, that helps schools and community groups introduce K-12 students to Austen. I always carry JASNA invites with me and have tried-and-true ways to suss out if someone might give Austen a try. If time’s short, I mention tea, gauge their reaction, and go from there. Knowing the impact Austen performances can have, I’ve also helped with Austen theater productions, working on website reviews, lobby displays, resources, and on-stage talkbacks. Acting as dramaturg (Austen expert) for Paul Gordon’s musical of "Sense and Sensibility" at Harper College last year was a dream I’d never dreamt come true.
Lori suggests Suspense and Sensibility, by Carrie Bebris, promising the murder mystery might kill off your least favorite character in the novel.
2. How did you get interested in Austen’s Juvenilia? Or, what interests you most about it?
I enjoyed the Juvenilia of C.S. and Warnie Lewis (Boxen) and the Brontës (Angria) before I knew of Austen’s. Harold Clarke Goddard says Shakespeare was “profoundly impressed by the truth that everything contains the seeds of its future” (i). I love youthful efforts for their own sakes, but search for seedlings of things to come and examine the conditions that nurtured the seeds to sprout. Steventon Rectory was an optimal place. The picture book, A
Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice, by Jasmine A. Stirling, highlights Jane’s mother’s poetry, her father teaching Shakespeare to his pupils, and the whole family staging plays in the barn. “Words made Jane happy. Her family made her happy. Jane knew her own happiness and chased it” (Stirling, ii). Only imagine the Christmas theatricals of 1787, when Austen’s grown-up cousin Eliza de Feuillide flirted with both Henry and James Austen! Some people notice the resemblance to Mansfield Park. But I bet Austen, at age twelve, was not so much Fanny Price but Susan Price, an outspoken girl of “good understanding,” with “the natural light of the mind which could so early distinguish justly,” “a fine girl of fifteen, who was of the party . . . , taking her first lesson, I presume, in love” (iii). Such plays would stand her in good stead for future writings!
3. For the upcoming JASP 2023, what will you be presenting and what excites you most about it?
My heroes are not only Shakespeare, Dickinson, Van Gogh, and Austen, but the people who supported their genius. Take, for example, John Heminge and Henry Condel, who published the First Folio edition of Shakespeare's works exactly 400 years ago. Or what about Lavinia Dickinson, who worked to get her sister’s poems in print? Or there's Theo Van Gogh, who supported his brother in every way he could. For Austen, that means her family, from Cassandra, her champion and first audience, who managed their home to free up Austen’s time to write. Henry Austen, her brother, negotiated the terms and advanced the money to publish Sense & Sensibility with Thomas Egerton. Edward Austen’s adoptive mother, Mrs. Knight, saw Austen’s spark and gave her an annual allowance. Madam Anne LeFroy was an early inspiration and mentor to Austen as a child, and her death affected Austen deeply.
I understand why affirmation and support by her family and Madam LeFroy and Mrs. Knight were a huge boost.
I wear Cassandra’s cross, because I want to champion genius. I’m a book coach and teach creative writing to teens at camps, because courage is embedded in encouragement. My much-older brother had Edmund Bertram’s “active kindness,” teaching me Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” when I was five, walking me to the library for my first library card, and writing me stories as presents. He inspired me to write. My father sought ways to champion my own writing, giving me a fancy electric typewriter and never complaining how I made a racket past midnight. I headed for college with the confidence of a hardbound Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, inscribed, “Lori— No author should be without a ‘quote’— Here are the best. May you, one day, have a space in future publications. Love, Dad 8/73.” No surprise my dad scrapbooked of all my published articles and stories (pictured to the left is Lori's father's inscription).
Austen’s father delighted in her writing, confidently submitting the family favorite, First Impressions, to a publisher (Thomas Cadell, Jr. in 1797). But George Austen’s support began long before that. To affirm Austen’s early efforts, Reverend Austen gave her three vellum covered notebooks, which she filled with the stories we’ll delight over this year at JASP. The third he inscribed:
Effusions of fancy
by a very Young Lady
consisting of Tales
in a Style entirely new
The altered book craft we’re making at JASP this year celebrates how very right he was. His inscription (written in English Roundhand by Master Calligrapher Timothy Botts) is printed on a transparency so that we see beyond it to where Austen’s writing led. Deeper and deeper
into the book we see an illustration by C. E. Brock or Henry Thomson from each of Austen’s mature novels, in the order she wrote them: Henry Tilney confronting Catherine Moreland on the back staircase, Willoughby carrying Marianne Dashwood home after her fall on the Downs, Mr. Collins proposing, Mr. Price kicking William’s portmanteau and Fanny’s bandbox out of his way, Mr. Elton fawning over Emma’s painting, William Elliot schmoozing Anne Elliot (iv). Situations of wit, drama, humor that surprised no one who knew the early Austen.
A Craft Idea for The Next JASP
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i. Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, Volume 1, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 17.
ii. Jasmine A. Stirling, Vesper Stamper, illustrator, A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice, (New York: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021).
iii. Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, (London: Penguin, 2014), ch 40/p. 269; ch 41/p. 37; ch 42/p. 285.
iv. Illustrations by Hugh Thomson: Northanger Abbey, Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion. Illustrations by Charles E. Brock: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice.
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