Following the fashion

Jane Austen Unscripted closed the event with an improv performance.

Winter 2012

Serious Laughter —

The Importance of Satire and Humor in Jane Austen’s Time

December 1, 2012

Los Angeles Athletic Club Centennial Ballroom


Timothy Erwin — Visual Raillery: Seeing and Being Seen in Northanger Abbey
Audrey Bilger — Jane Austen’s Enlightenment Feminist Humor
Sue Forgue — Where’s Wickham?
Diana Birchall and Syrie James — Birthday Toast and Novel Preview
Jane Austen Unscripted — Performance


During the Bennet sisters’ sojourn at Netherfield, the officious Miss Bingley confides to Elizabeth that she could not possibly tease or laugh at Mr. Darcy: “Teaze calmness of temper and presence of mind! No, no — I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject.” Elizabeth’s response is characteristic: “Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!” cried Elizabeth. “That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh.”

Like her heroine in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen dearly loved a laugh. But in her literary quiver, humor was an arrow with which she deftly pierced pomposity, ignorance and the social callousness of her day. “Serious Laughter: The Importance of Humor and Satire in Jane Austen’s Time” brought JASNA-Southwest members together to examine the culture of laughter and ridicule, verbal and visual, in the 18 century.

UNLV Professor Timothy Erwin began the day with a discussion of how Catherine Morland, Jane Austen’s heroine of Northanger Abbey, finds herself amid the urban scene in Bath and becomes a participant in the visual culture of the period, artfully reflected in the work of such Regency satirists as Matthew Darly, James Gillray, Isaac Cruikshank and Thomas Rowlandson.

Then Claremont McKenna Professor Audrey Bilger, author of Laughing Feminism: Subversive Comedy in Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen, illustrated how Austen took part in — and refined — a tradition of enlightenment feminist humor. By drawing on satire and comedy, Austen and other authors of the period made serious points about the gender politics of the 18th century, and thereby advanced the rights of women.

Over lunch, Diana Birchall led the audience in the traditional mulled wine toast to “L’amiable Jane” and Syrie James shared a preview of her latest novel, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen.

Closing the day, the cast of Jane Austen Unscripted performed its improvisation based on the comedic situations and characters in Austen’s novels. View a sampling of filmed performances by Impro Theatre’s Jane Austen Unscripted.


Daniel Timothy Erwin is a professor and cultural studies chair at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He teaches a variety of courses on the 18 century, from “The Rise of the Novel” to “Jane Austen and Visual Culture.” His research interests range from textual scholarship and history of the book to postmodern theory. The unifying element is the image-text relation, that is works actually illustrated by engravings or alluding to visual images. He is the recipient of awards from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Black Mountain Institute of UNLV, the Clark Library at UCLA, the Houghton Library at Harvard, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Yale Center for British Art. He is the author of Textual Vision: Augustan Design and the Invention of Eighteenth-Century British Culture (2015). He earned his PhD at the University of Chicago.

Audrey Bilger is a professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College, where she founded and directed the Center for Writing and Public Discourse. She is the author of Laughing Feminism and co-editor, with Michele Kort, of Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage. She has published numerous scholarly articles as well as critical essays in Ms. magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Review of Books. She received her doctoral and master of arts degrees in English at University of Virginia, and her undergraduate degree in philosophy at Oklahoma State University.

Diana Birchall, then a story analyst who read novels for Warner Bros., is the author of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, Mrs. Elton in America and a scholarly biography of her novelist grandmother.

Syrie James is the bestselling author of nine novels, including The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen and Jane Austen’s First Love.