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About this book

This book offers a one-volume study of Jane Austen that is both a sophisticated critical introduction and a valuable contribution to the study of one of the most popular and enduring British novelists. Darryl Jones provides students with a coherent overview of Austen's work and an idea of the current state of critical debate.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
In David Lodge’s novel Changing Places (1975), two Jane Austen scholars, the American Morris Zapp and the British Philip Swallow, take part in an exchange scheme in which they swap jobs, lives and (this being a campus novel, and thus an opportunity for vicarious fantasy versions of academics’ actually rather stolid lives) wives. Zapp, who likes to think of himself as ‘the Austen man’, is an academic superstar, ‘the man who had published articles in PMLA while still at graduate school … who had published five fiendishly clever books (four of them on Jane Austen) by the time he was thirty’,2 and provides a fictional vehicle for the dissemination of Lodge’s more daring Austen criticism by another means. To underline, once and for all, his supremacy in the field, Zapp dreams of producing a ‘total reading’ of Austen’s work. His dreams are megalomaniacal and apocalyptic: he wishes both to end and to become Austen studies, ‘saying everything there was to be said about Jane Austen. The idea was to be utterly exhaustive, to examine the novels from every conceivable angle … so that when each commentary was written, there would be simply nothing further to say about the novel in question.’3 Lodge’s novel is set in 1969, across thinly disguised versions of Birmingham and San Francisco, and partakes powerfully of its recreated times in its depictions of political upheaval both globally and, microcosmically, on university campuses. By this contextualising, Zapp’s total reading is rendered neither intrinsically foolish (it is not just the megalomaniac dream of a narcissist, though Zapp is that too), nor, on the terms given, ultimately realisable.
Darryl Jones

1. Northanger Abbey

Abstract
‘To be burned.’ So wrote Cassandra Austen in 1843 on a bundle of letters, many years of correspondence between herself and her sister Jane, who had become regarded, since her death in 1817, as one of the greatest of English novelists.1 We will never know what was in those letters, but it is reasonable to assume that their content was in some way delicate — not necessarily libellous or lascivious, but private communication in the broadest sense, not intended for public consumption. Certainly, Jane Austen’s niece Caroline recalled that ‘Her letters to Aunt Cassandra (for they were sometimes separated) were, I dare say, open and confidential — My Aunt looked them over and burnt the greater part (as she told me), 2 or 3 years before her own death — She left, or gave some legacies to the Neices — but of those that I have seen, several had portions cut out.’2 Certainly, too, the Austen family had always been understandably keen on presenting its most celebrated member in the best (that is to say, the most respectable) of all lights. Her brother Henry’s ‘Biographical Notice’ appended to the posthumous edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in 1818 closes with an affirmation of propriety:
One trait only remains to be touched on. It makes all others unimport-ant. She was thoroughly religious and devout; fearful of giving offence to God, and incapable of feeling it towards any fellow creature. On serious subjects she was well-instructed, both by reading and meditation, and her opinions accorded strictly with those of our Established Church.3
Darryl Jones

2. Sense and Sensibility

Abstract
Is Marianne Dashwood pregnant? Is the ‘putrid fever’ (SS, 330) which threatens her life and robs her of her looks in Volume 3 of Sense and Sensibility, and which is itself a consequence of her disastrous romantic encounter with the rakish Willoughby, a decorous euphemism? At the heart of the novel there lies not, as Tony Tanner once suggested, ‘a muffled scream from Marianne’, but a hidden narrative, barely touched upon but of enormous resonance (Marianne Dashwood’s scream, ‘muffled’ by biting her handkerchief, is, it is true, a part of this resonating effect, but it is a symptom, not the thing itself).1 This is the story of Eliza Williams, Colonel Brandon’s niece, and her mother Eliza Brandon, his sister-in-law. Brandon’s tale is, in Barbara K. Seeber’s words, one of Austen’s ‘narrative cameos’, which
all speak of sexual and financial exploitation that the main narrative tries to elide. Yet this subversive content cannot be contained. The stories spill over into the main narrative, disturbing the peace of the narrative that has been privileged by traditional criticism. They talk back to the central plot and reveal its inability to accommodate their stories; in this way, Austen reveals ideology as a constructed ‘truth’…. The narrative cameos challenge some common assumptions about Austen. The novels are narrow in their social milieu; yet the cameos deal with illegitimate children, fallen women, and abject poverty. Austen is conservative, for she reconciles the desire of the individual with the structure of society; the cameos show just the opposite: individuals for whom the social order has failed. The cameos provide a countercurrent to the main narrative.2
Darryl Jones

3. Pride and Prejudice

Abstract
The first thing to say about Pride and Prejudice is that it is a fairytale. The fact that it is set in the village of Meryton, or ‘Merry Town’, provides the first clue to this. Setting the novel here is akin to setting it in Happy Valley or Pleasantville, an untroubled community reflective of a larger, idealised polity: all is well with the world.1 We are, ostensibly at least, in Little (conceivably even in ‘Merrie’) England, where the famous aphorism with which the novel opens, however ironically presented it may be, is nevertheless vindicated by its close: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’ (PP, 3). Its fairytale narrative economy, in which Opposites Attract, and in which a feisty, intelligent heroine in financially straitened circumstances overcomes the opposition of a backward-looking tradition and authority, as well as the preconceptions about class and money to which her own sceptical intelligence has initially predisposed her, to win the hand of a man who is effectively the richest man in England, provides the template for innumerable subsequent redactions upon the same theme. It is, I would suggest, the major source for most subsequent romantic comedies, particularly movies in the Hollywood tradition.
Darryl Jones

4. Mansfield Park

Abstract
Mansfield Park is Jane Austen’s great ‘Condition of England’ novel, and as such stands as one of a great trilogy of novels of 1814 — the others are Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley and Frances Burney’s The Wanderer — analysing the State of the Nation in what was to be the last full year of the Napoleonic Wars. This much we can say with certainty, though not much else, as what precisely it is that the novel has to say about the state of the nation is, to say the least, unclear. This is because Mansfield Park is an extraordinarily complex aesthetic and ideological text which does not and will not fit preconceived ideas, particularly if readers demand a didactic ideological stance which is consistent, univocal or internally coherent.
Darryl Jones

5. Emma

Abstract
Historically, Emma has not wanted admirers, and has been judged by many to be Austen’s most successful novel: ‘Easily the most brilliant novel of the period, and one of the most brilliant of all novels’ according to Marilyn Butler, it showcases, in Claudia Johnson’s words, an Austen comfortably ‘at the height of her powers’.1 Certainly, the novel seems to resolve the contradictions which had so riven Mansfield Park — conflicts of property and propriety, of individual and national identity — though it does so at great cost. ‘3 or 4 families in a Country Village,’ Austen once wrote, ‘is the very thing to work on’ (L, 275), and Emma makes good on this assertion by rejecting and wherever possible ignoring the world beyond the tiny confines of Highbury and Hartfield. It is, according to Nicola Watson, essentially a late-flowering anti-Jacobin novel of the 1810s;2 without doubt, it is by far the most insular and centripetal — indeed, the most claustrophobic — of all Austen’s novels. All of Austen’s other novels, to varying degrees, posit a world just beyond their frame, a world of struggle, debate, war, ideas, whereas Emma comes closest of all to fulfilling the ‘little Englandism’ which even now seems to be Austen’s major attraction for many of her readers.
Darryl Jones

6. Persuasion

Abstract
Persuasion is a post-war novel. In this, it differs quite explicitly from Austen’s other completed works, all of which fall in their various ways under the shadow of the Franco-British wars of 1793–1815. Beginning in ‘the summer of 1814’ (P, 8) and continuing through 1815, the novel is both a reflection and a product of the social changes wrought by the Napoleonic Wars, changes which amounted, in Linda Colley’s words, to ‘nothing less than a redefinition of the nation…. [T]he post-Waterloo period … demonstrated … that in Great Britain, a nation forged more than anything else through military endeavour, the winning of radical constitutional and social change was also intimately bound up with the impact of war.’1 These are changes which Austen characteristically articulates through the vehicle of property ownership and land-management. Persuasion is a novel of a different and developing conception of Britishness; it is, profoundly, the most modern of Austen’s six canonical novels, one which shows the very beginnings of a new polity in anticipation of the 1832 Reform Act, and beyond that of the gradual widening of the franchise across the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries.
Darryl Jones

Afterword

Abstract
The 1990s unquestionably witnessed the ‘embodiment’ of Jane Austen. As well as the various and high-profile film and television adaptations and versions of her novels — some of which will be discussed later in this Afterword, but many of which, in keeping with my position that Austen now exists culturally in numerous versions, have been discussed alongside their novelistic originals — which sometimes notoriously focused on the bodies of Austen’s characters, there were contributions to this phenomenon from within the academy. In 1992, John Wiltshire published Jane Austen and the Body, a landmark study which, for the first time, systematically explicated Austen’s characteristic repertoire of often tiny, but only seemingly insignificant, looks and gestures, as well as attempting a proper medicalisation of her recurring concerns with sickness, weakness and hypochondria. Consequently, Wiltshire, rather brilliantly, concentrates on the meaning of the blush:
The blush is not a straightforward phenomenon of the body, rather one of the acutest signs of the bodily enigma, and its deployment in Austen’s narratives is governed by her awareness of its problematic nature, and of the possibility of exploiting this for dramatic purposes. … The blush is no unequivocal guide to emotion, and may be misread — to ironic effect. Its phenomenology is puzzling and its signification is problematic, but it does, in all its varieties, represent clearly a form of the juncture between the body and culture, and functions as a miniaturised version of hysteria, the embodied correlate of a social effect.1
Darryl Jones
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