Brief Description of Course: On a stone slab tucked away in Winchester’s cathedral church, Jane Austen’s grave notes that: “the extraordinary endowments of her mind / obtained the regard of all who knew her and / the warmest love of her intimate connections.” A metaphor for the relative obscurity in which she lived her life, the memorial speaks volumes even as it makes no mention of her writing.
This course explores that extraordinary mind, placing Austen in the context of her times in several senses. We’ll look to situate her work in a dialogue with that of contemporaries in literature, philosophy, and aesthetics, to read closely as she traces the complex family dynamics of the late Georgian home, and to understand her work as part of a moment of global political upheaval with profound consequences even to this day. To do so, we’ll read a number of her novels, for the most part moving chronologically, making the occasional detour into the work of fellow authors or secondary critical accounts. Students will learn to read her work more critically and develop some facility with the era’s literature, as well as gain an understanding of some of the classic accounts through which scholars have understood this period.
Required Reading: Several—but not too many—of Austen’s novels (Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and possibly, Persuasion), a number of relatively short supplemental works for context, some poetry and perhaps (though not certainly) one other novel (possibilities include Burney’s Evelina or Scott’s Waverley).
First Three Authors/Texts: Most likely Northanger Abbey or other early “juvenilia” piece like Love and Freindship [sic], along with some contextualizing material.
Method of Evaluation: Participation (10%), occasional reading quizzes (20%), term tests (20% each), final essay (30%).