Brief Description of Course: Jane Austen is one of the most popular canonical novelists, yet also one of the most underestimated, often seen as a purveyor of wish-fulfilling romance. In this course we will approach Austen by asking a series of associated questions about form, content, and context. How far was her fiction constrained, and how far was it enabled, by the conventions of the novel genre and the dictates of consumer demand? What was new, distinctive, or otherwise important about her narrative technique and her social or moral vision? How far, and in what ways, was her writing conditioned by the turbulent politics of the revolutionary era? Is it right to read her as a conservative moralist, a progressive satirist and social critic, or as something of both?
Two of Austen’s best-known novels (Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice) are at the heart of the course, and we will take the opportunity presented by the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition to compare these works with some of the writing left unpublished at her death, notably her epistolary story Lady Susan and the unfinished Sanditon. For context, we will also read a short novel by Austen’s radical contemporary Mary Wollstonecraft (The Wrongs of Woman), and a selection of lyric poems from the period by authors whose verse Austen knew or may have known. As a way to understand the literary marketplace that she had to navigate, the course also includes an “adopt a book” assignment. Using primary online resources such as Eighteenth-Century Collections Online and the 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers, each student will choose an obscure work of fiction, poetry or drama published in Austen’s lifetime, analyze its literary qualities, and research its publication, marketing, and reception.
Required Reading: Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon, ed. J. Davie / J. Kinsley / C. Johnson (Oxford World’s Classics); Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, ed. J. Kinsley / F. Stafford (Oxford World’s Classics); selections from the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition, ed. K. Sutherland ( http://www.janeausten.ac.uk ); Mary Wollstonecraft, The Wrongs of Woman, ed. G. Kelly (Oxford World’s Classics)
First Three Authors/Texts: Examples of Austen’s teenage writings; Lady Susan; Northanger Abbey
Method of Instruction: Lectures with discussion
Method of Evaluation: Informed and energetic participation (10%), in-class test (20%), “adopt a book” research assignment (30%), final essay (40%).