Austen and Her Contemporaries
Tuesday 1 pm - 3 pm
Thursday 1 pm - 2 pm
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presented by the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition to compare these works with writings left unpublished at her death, notably her epistolary story Lady Susan and the unfinished Sanditon.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 extracts from other writers 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” research assignment. Using primary online resources (Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, the Corvey Collection 1790-1840, and journalism databases such as 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers and 19th Century British Library Newspapers), each student will choose an obscure work of fiction or other writing published in Austen’s lifetime, analyze its literary qualities, and research its publication, newspaper marketing, and reception in reviewing periodicals.
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon, ed. J. Davie / J. Kinsley / C. Johnson (Oxford World’s Classics); Jane Austen, Emma, ed. J. Kinsley / A. Pinch (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); brief extracts from Burke, Cowper, Equiano, Radcliffe, Shelley, Wordsworth.
First Three Authors/Texts
Examples of Austen’s teenage writings; Lady Susan; Northanger Abbey.
Method of Evaluation
- Informed and energetic participation (10%)
- In-class test (20%)
- “Adopt a book” research assignment (35%)
- Final essay (35%).