1997 Symposium

Without Victoria Clements, the first symposium would have been a different event. While I had had a pretty clear vision in my mind for several years, I met Victoria at just the right time: my dissertation was finished, others had expressed interest in such a gathering (at NEMLA and at Trinity), and I knew there were more Sedgwick scholars “out there” who would love such an event but who didn’t yet know each other except through the printed page. Case in point: Susan Harris, whose work I admired and whom I had met briefly and immediately imposed upon (to read my chapter on ANET), introduced me at the Trinity conference to Victoria, whose work I had read and envied from afar. Victoria had just edited A New England Tale for Oxford UP (she did it before she had finished her dissertation) and thus had the necessary gumption that made her the ideal compatriot in the Sedgwick Symposium project. Thus was our collaboration born. Victoria’s steadfast commitment, enthusiastic energy (even long-distance!), and reliable leadership helped make this event even better than I had imagined.

The comments from participants were overwhelmingly positive. Dana Nelson expressed her gratitude by writing a “public” letter of appreciation for each of us, calling the event “path-breaking” and lauding the structure of the program for “foster[ing] the best possible spirit for such an event-it was participatory, collaborative, intellectually exciting and just plain fun.” She sensed what we had been through-the e-mail, phone calls, and Priority Mail deliveries, sometimes all in a single day. Her comments, as well as those of many others, made us willing to do it all again: “In planning and execution, this symposium was professionally and graciously managed. I know such projects are usually more burdensome than one ever expects, and often under-recognized as contributions to the profession. I am positive that I am not alone in my sense that this was not just an exciting and intellectually satisfying conference: it was an IMPORTANT event that will have an impact on future scholarship and scholars.”

Thank you, Dana. Her remarks were, in fact, echoed by other participants, who appreciated “the high quality of all the presentations and the very cordial and mutually supportive atmosphere” and especially “the time for discussion of the papers.” Overall, participants loved the setting of The Red Lion Inn (built just before Sedgwick was born), as well as other unique features, like the slide show of some of Sedgwick’s literary sites (Lucinda) and the Reader’s Theatre performance of scenes from Hope Leslie (Victoria) during the banquet. One participant suggested that the Reader’s Theatre be made its own panel.

Most of all, participants appreciated the intimacy of the conference, and the fact that there were no concurrent sessions, which created the opportunity for a sustained, high-quality conversation: “Great discussion, give and take, warm and supportive atmosphere.” “DON’T change the fact that sessions happen one at a time” stressed one participant, while another added, “I loved that there were no concurrent sessions, forcing ‘choices’.” But while all appreciated the opportunity to hear all the papers, and many thought the panels were “scheduled perfectly,” several said the timing was a bit “tight” and almost everyone wished for more time to go to the library or to sightsee around the Berkshires. We’ll just have to make the event longer!

Several had suggestions, in addition to Deborah Gussman’s wish to make the pedagogy roundtable more central, including:

  • Promote a focus on out of print works and give people the opportunity to get copies in advance so we have a common text
  • Circulate papers (or at least abstracts) among panelists ahead of time so we don’t repeat citations and points-more collaboration
  • More historicization, more comparison to other writers
  • More on texts other than Hope Leslie
  • A book sale table

All in all, several said they had been “saturated with Sedgwick and simply loved it!” and one claimed that the conference had given her the “energy to go on and try to figure out what the heck I’m going to do with the dissertation!”

We had hoped for a fall Symposium (to stay close to an alternate-year cycle), but when I checked with The Red Lion Inn this May for our proposed dates in mid to late October (to celebrate the great fall colors in the Berkshires) I learned that the “Hitchcock Room” (the one we need), as well as most of the bedrooms had already been booked. So it looks like spring for the next Symposium. We will discuss these issues of timing at our Sedgwick Society meeting at the ALA this May. Watch your mail (both “snail” and electronic) for further information.