New member Janet Clark in her best Regency attire

The Marion Davies Guest House

Iris Lutz discussed the houses of Austen in fact and fiction.

Jan Fahey mentioned the unmentionable, telling us all about waste management in Regency times.

Diana Birchall revealed the close relationship Austen had with the sea.

Christy McAvoy shared information about another strong creative woman, architect Julia Morgan.

Lunch on the terrace at the Annenberg Beach House

Docents upstairs and downstairs at the Marion Davies Guest House described the lives of  Davies and William Randolph Hearst (W.R. to his friends) and what happened to their beautiful mansion (it was torn down).

Spring 2012

At the Seaside With Jane Austen

May 19, 2012

Annenberg Community Beach House, Santa Monica


Iris Lutz — Houses of Austen in Fact and Fiction
Jan Fahey — Plucking a Rose Under the Crescent Moon: Water and Sanitation in Jane Austen’s Day and Beyond
Diana Birchall — “A Little Sea Bathing Would Set Me Up Forever”
Christy McAvoy — Julia Morgan and the Marion Davies Guest House


After enjoying a continental breakfast and lively conversation, the JASNA-Southwest Spring 2012 began with a talk by JASNA President Iris Lutz. She described two types of Austen’s houses — old Tudor or Jacobean-styled houses and Georgian or Neoclassical modern houses. The large and rambling old houses lay on low ground near a river and contained grand-scale apartments, while modern homes — with landscapes, gardens and parks — rested on rising ground above their old-fashioned predecessors.

In Austen novels, Northanger Abbey and Donwell Abbey represented the older homes while Hartfield and Rosings displayed the Regency’s ideal of a modern house. During Jane Austen’s life, she lived and visited in many houses, starting with Steventon, where her father was rector and where she spent her youth, and Ashe House, Madame LeFroy’s home where she met her first love, Tom Lefroy. Austen no doubt appreciated the stunning Georgian architecture in Bath and enjoyed the size and amenities of Godmersham Park, her brother Edward’s large estate. In later life, the Austen women settled at Chawton Cottage and Austen spent hours at her (now iconic) table, writing in her very small print her most mature novels. Some houses found their way into her books, such as Stoneleigh Abbey, the property inherited by her mother’s cousin that became Sotherton in Manfield Park.

The day’s second talk was led by Jan Fahey, usually known for her culinary expertise, who took on the role of sanitary expert (which she holds in real life). This seemingly unsavory topic turned out to be unexpectedly relevant to Austen’s life if not a fit subject for her novels. Fahey turned sanitation, not usually a subject suitable for the dining room, into a thoughtful, entertaining, witty talk. It’s certainly a topic that could generate a lot of questions, such as how were Regency chamber pots emptied? Their contents were often thrown out the window into the streets and open drains. Or who really invented the modern toilet? No, not Thomas Crapper. It was an Elizabethan, Sir John Harrington, who invented an early version of the water closet. If you really want to impress someone, here are a few bon mots to drop into conversation at your next cocktail party: close stool, little house, bog house, temple of convenience. You guessed it. They are all terms for the toilet. The audience learned that Jane Austen’s home at Chawton probably had a garden privy and that, in her bedroom, she had a wash basin and chamber pot. And what is the meaning of “plucking a rose?” It means taking a trip to the garden privy.

Many attendees took the opportunity to tour the Marion Davies Guest House early in the day or during the lunch break. Docents upstairs and downstairs described the lives of Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst, (W.R. to his friends) and their beautiful mansion, which was later torn down.

After lunch Diana Birchall gave the talk “A Little Sea Bathing Would Set Me Up Forever.” The Annenberg Community Beach House provided an ideal setting for her description of some of the beach-side places  Austen would have known — including Portsmouth, Southampton, Sidmouth and Lyme Regis. Portsmouth, Fanny Price’s hometown and one of the settings in Mansfield Park is also where Francis and Charles Austen attended the Naval Academy. Austen must have known it well, but not as well as Southampton, a port where she lived with her family for a short time after her father died. Another beach town, Sidmouth, was the setting for her last novel, Sanditon. Could it be here that Jane met a minister who stole her heart and died before love could blossom? The talk also discussed Lyme Regis, where Austen spent a holiday and Anne Eliot blossomed from an imitation of her former self to a confident young woman on the brink of winning back her first love.

The day’s final speaker, Christy McAvoy, brought the conversation back to the Davies Guest House, one of many Hearst collaborations with Julia Morgan, California’s first female architect. Morgan, whose most famous creation is Hearst Castle, was a graduate of both Berkley and L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. It was Phoebe Hearst, W.R.’s mother, who first discovered Morgan and gave her that first important commission. The list of California buildings Morgan designed are numerous, and many of them located here in Southern California: the United Presbyterian Church, the Pasadena YWCA, Hollywood Studio Club, Herald Examiner Building and further north the Bell Tower at Mills College. One secret to Morgan’s success, that she demonstrated over and over again in working with W.R., was to put her own ego aside, listen to what the client wanted and still design memorable buildings.


Current JASNA President Iris Lutz is a longtime admirer of Jane Austen’s work. She discovered JASNA in 1996 when the Tucson-based Southern Arizona Region was being formed. She served as the group’s regional coordinator for five years and organized the 2006 Annual General Meeting on Mansfield Park. She has also served JASNA at the national level as vice president for regions and vice president for conferences. Her career has focused on marketing and product management for companies in the computer and software industries.

Janet Fahey is a longtime board member of JASNA-Southwest. She is also a member of the Culinary Historians of Southern California.

Diana Birchall, 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.

Christy Johnson McAvoy is founding principal of the Historic Resources Group. Her areas of focus are preservation planning, resource evaluation, historic resource surveys, historic preservation incentives, landmark nominations, environmental review, community outreach and preservation education. Her preservation projects, including Fox Studios, the Annenberg Community Beach House, the Downtown Women’s Center and the Egyptian Theatre have received numerous awards from entities such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles City Historical Society, the Los Angeles Conservancy and the California Preservation Society.