I wrote to Gillian Dow, the contact person for the Fellowship, inquiring about how my project might mesh with their goals for the fellowship and she wrote me a very nice, helpful reply that is already helping me refine my objectives. There's no reason why I couldn't be working on some questions that could be addressed for a future article or book (in addition to the personal aspects of the project). For example, I would very much like to meet with friends and friends of friends to discuss their thoughts on Austen.
Here are the basics of what I wrote to her:
I am blogging about this endeavor and gathering women (and men) together to share in things like English Country Dancing and would also like to discuss the differences in the time period, what Jane means to them as a person and a writer, what heroines they are most like or most respect, do they use Austen or a character as a model (WWJD - What Would Jane Do?), have they applied anything learned from Austen's works to a situation or their own character flaws in an effort to overcome them? What can women and society in general today learn from Austen? etc.
I think there is a lot to be said for the average Janeite engaging with, and inquiring of, other Janeites about his/her intimate experience of Austen and of her books, in order to share that information and experience with other average Janeites (with permission, of course). Rather than the scholarly approach.
Here's Gillian's reply:
Dear Christine (if I may; please call me Gillian),
It would certainly be worth sending in a proposal for the research fellowships at Chawton House Library, and as chair of the selecting committee, we would be very happy to give it our full attention. I should warn you, however, that our programme is increasingly competitive, and that we are likely to award a fellowship to those candidates with clearly defined research proposals that will result in concrete outcomes - articles, books, dissertations etc.
I hope this isn't discouraging - it certainly isn't meant to be, and we would welcome an application from you. As you know, however, Chawton House Library is not primarily a centre for research on Jane Austen, but rather eighteenth-century women writers more generally. If you could address this in your application, we would be very happy to see it.
With best wishes for all your projects, and in anticipation of receiving your application,
It's a fascinating idea, expanding the inquiry to 18th Century women writers - not too far - but to take more of them into consideration in comparison to Austen and her heroines. At least it's fascinating to me!