Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG323H1F L5101

ENG323H1F L5101 MW6-9
Austen and Her Contemporaries 
Thomas Keymer

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 Emma) 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presented by the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition to compare these works with some of the writing left unpublished at her death, notably her epistolary story Lady Susan and the unfinished Sanditon.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 few poems or prose extracts from the period by authors whose work Austen probably or certainly knew. 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 database, 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. John Davie / James Kinsley / Claudia Johnson (Oxford World’s Classics); Jane Austen, Emma, ed. James Kinsley / Adela Pinch (Oxford World’s Classics); selections from the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition, ed. Kathryn Sutherland ( ); Mary Wollstonecraft, The Wrongs of Woman, ed. Gary 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 (35%), final essay (35%)

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