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About this book

Jane Austen's novels are among the most polished and carefully-crafted works in the English literary heritage. This book takes extracts and examines them in close detail, bringing out the extraordinary richness of irony and implication in Jane Austen's writing. Using the tool of textual analysis, the reader is taught to explore and enjoy the delicate comedy of her narratives, and to inquire into the serious moral purpose that lies behind each of these four novels. This guide does not simplify the study of Jane Austen, but invites the reader to pursue and revel in the ironic subtlety of her methods and thought.

Table of Contents

Analysing Jane Austen’s Novels

Frontmatter

1. Language and Texture

Abstract
Many critics enthuse about Jane Austen’s ‘style’. They say that she wrote superb English, and that her style is ‘perfect’, ‘marvellous’ and ‘wonderful’. I agree with them, but for students of literature this is only a beginning. We want to understand how she achieves her effects, and define what those effects are. In other words, we want to appreciate how her style works, in precise detail.
Nicholas Marsh

2. Characterisation

Abstract
Jane Austen’s novels are called ‘novels of manners’. This means that the novelist observes and reports her characters’ behaviour, and we understand them largely by analysing this. Jane Austen does also report characters’ feelings, their thoughts and decisions; but the text is dominated by the formulated, conscious level of the mind: what characters think to themselves and how they reason their decisions, rather than the complex, self-contradictory impulses and sudden unexplained emotions we find in many modern novels.
Nicholas Marsh

3. Structure in Jane Austen’s Novels

Abstract
The ‘structure’ of a text is present in anything the author does to give a ‘shape’ to the reader’s experience as they read. This is where we begin, by thinking about the text in a particular way, concentrating on the question of its ‘shape’, and how it is all fitted together. So, studying ‘structure’ means studying the way the author fits ‘parts’ of the text together, aiming to find out why she fits them together in that particular way.
Nicholas Marsh

4. Society

Abstract
This chapter is about the society depicted in Jane Austen’s novels. Our aim is to understand how the author presents the relation between the individual and society, and any general truths or conclusions about society itself, that the novels convey.
Nicholas Marsh

5. The Place of Women

Abstract
The limited scope of this chapter must be stressed at the start. ‘The place of women’ in the world of Jane Austen’s novels is an enormous subject, and the aim of this chapter is restricted to finding some definite pointers in the four extracts selected for study. These pointers are then related to the heroine’s circumstances in a brief extension discussion, in each case. However, these discussions cannot do more than suggest ideas that the student should develop independently by studying other parts of the text.
Nicholas Marsh

6. The Theme of Change and the Change of Theme

Abstract
There is a theme of change in each of the four novels we are studying. However, the idea of change takes a different form in each text. In the extract from Pride and Prejudice we examined in Chapter 4, we noticed that the conflict between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine de Bourgh hinges on two different perceptions of society, a more reactionary view in conflict with the ‘modern’ view articulated by Elizabeth; whereas in Emma, the heroine’s progress leads her towards a deeper appreciation of Mr Knightley’s serious principles, and her traditional role of patronage in society. Emma moves away from her initial light-hearted attitude, which values amusement and entertainment more highly. In this chapter we begin by taking a short extract from each of the novels, to discuss the form a theme of change takes in that particular text. Later in the chapter, we search more widely and freely through the novels, seeking to understand Jane Austen’s underlying concept of change and how this develops between her early and later works.
Nicholas Marsh

7. Irony, and the Author

Abstract
In the last chapter, we found ourselves discussing what we called a ‘change of opinion’ or ‘change of attitude’ in Jane Austen. Discussing ‘Jane Austen’s attitudes’ is only a convenient pretence, of course. It is a convenient shorthand for getting at the meaning and effect of the texts.
Nicholas Marsh

The Context and the Critics

Frontmatter

8. Jane Austen’s Life and Work

Abstract
We know the external facts of Jane Austen’s life in some detail. We know where she lived, when she moved, where she visited and when, and we know the minutest details of her income as well as a number of her possessions and expenses. So, for example, we know how much blood the doctor took from her brother Henry when he was ill; and the tiny, perfectly stitched bag Jane made for her friend Martha Lloyd, at the age of seventeen, still exists. Facts about Jane Austen and her numerous relations are plentiful, then. However, we know next to nothing about Jane Austen’s emotional experiences. The story of her life therefore gives a curious impression: the more we read of external details, the more ignorant we feel about her personality and character. It is as if the void in the middle becomes clearer, the more we concentrate on everything else. We know what she did, and what she thought about the people she met; but we know nothing about her feelings.
Nicholas Marsh

9. Jane Austen’s Contribution to the Development of the Novel

Abstract
Jane Austen had read the novelists we now think of as the classical writers who came before herself: Defoe, Richardson and Fielding; and she knew the work of her contemporary Fanny Burney very well. It is quite easy to draw comparisons between, for example, Richardson’s use of the novel in letters form and Jane Austen’s use of the same in her unpublished works. We can also easily draw a line of development between Richardson’s collections of letters in Clarissa and Pamela, and the development of internal narrative to analyse and introspect about experience, found in Jane Austen’s more sophisticated technique, where the author’s seamless movement from one point of view to another enables events to be ‘viewed’ and related by a character, and their thoughts given in their own recognisable diction.
Nicholas Marsh

10. A Sample of Critical Views

Abstract
In the case of Jane Austen we should preface this sample from the critics with a word about the particular virulence of the argument about her. There are plenty of different interpretations of Jane Austen, of course; but there is another, more personal controversy polarising her readers into partisan affection or hatred. Jane Austen seems to arouse these extremes of feeling, and here are a few samples.
Nicholas Marsh
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