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Jane Austen: Bits to Bytes

Narrative form, style, and language

October 3 Class 7 -- Pride and Prejudice

    Austen: Pride and Prejudice
    Critical Reading: Heiser Annotation

DUE Post #5


    Resume discussion Pride and Prejudice
    Discuss article by Suzuki

Pride and Prejudice in context and criticism

We have the opportunity at this point in the class to reflect on some continuing themes and issues in Austen's early novels, and to call on some critical traditions to inform our discussion. Please consider how Pride and Prejudice compares with Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility on some of the following issues.

The following critical arguments refer back to excerpts in the Norton Critical Edition

From Richard Whately, in a series of essays from the Quarterly Review, we first see how Austen's realistic portrayal of character and plot is a better form of moral instruction than the periodical essays of The Spectator (referenced in Northanger Abbey) or Johnson's Rambler, the model for her family's own periodical essay The Loiterer. "The moral lessons also of this lady's novels, though clearly and impressively conveyed, are not offensively put forward, but spring incidentally from the circumstances of the story; they are not forced upon the reader, but he is left to collect them (though without any difficulty) for himself" (310).

What, then, are the moral lessons to be collected from these first three novels? Are there similarities? What differences can you discern? Does this way of evaluating literature still appeal or is this a product of the early nineteenth century alone?

D. A. Miller in his 2003 book Jane Austen; Or the Secret of Style argues that Austen Style is not a matter of epigram, though it is for many of her characters. Instead, Austen Style is narrative or the novel. "No doubt, thanks to the familiar divine attribution of omniscience, Austen's narration may still be thought to sustain as a whole the all-sufficiency of the epigrams that only sporadically spangle its pages" (316). He refers to the increasingly invisible narrative authority as the deity of the storytelling in a "protracted game of veiling and revelation, absence and presence. Matters stranger still; for in the course of its self-dramatization, this deity reveals a curous narcissism: Austen Style appears always to be telling us... about itself, to have made style, a small s, its most extensive and obsessive theme, equal to marriage"(316). Apply this idea to the storytelling in the novels we have read and the significance of the characters sense of style. What is meant by style, for example, when used in Pride and Prejudice. Can you connect issues of style to moral lessons?

Andrew Elfenbein in his chapter from 2013 likewise draws parallels between style and theme by bringing attention to Austen's "minimalism," by which he means her apparent disregard for including information in her narratives that other writes might find essential, such as where and how characters come together to have a key conversation in the plot. Such minimalism usually does not accord with the assessment of novelistic realism. What do we make of this?

Elfenbein: "Austen's resulting minimalism appears vividly in her treatment of the key space in Pride and Prejudice: the room. In Austen, a room is not a floor, ceiling, walls or furniture.... She cares about the room not as a collection of objects, but as an interweaving of place and action" (335). Evaluate a scene or two where the "room" is central.

Elfenbein: "For the most part, the better that two characters get along, the more invisible their bodies; when bodies become too visible, alarms go off" (336). What evidence can you find for this in Pride and Prejudice? What are the implications for style? For the theme of marriage?

The question of Austen's feminism, or "feminisms" as Viven Jones puts it, have been the subject of scrutiny for the past 30 years or longer. In an essay included in Claudia Johnson and Clara Tuite's A Companion to Jane Austen and heavily excerpted in the NCE, Jones provides historical and contemporary contexts for assessing the political nature of Austen's narrative. Written originally in the tumultuous decade of the 1790s, which brought us Mary Wollstonecraft and other radical feminists, as well as Hannah More and more conservative feminists, Pride and Prejudice takes part in the critique of patriarchal authority. Austen's novels are not apolitical, Jones writes; "Rather, they engage indirectly with the agenda of conversative reform through their focus on their heroines moral rather than formal education, on the ethics of domestic life, and on the right to romantic fulfillment"(363). Where do you find evidence of these political themes?

In the contemporary moment, Jones says, Austen has become an example of "postfeminism." As the "foremother of 'chick lit,' one could find Austen as a support for a postfeminist agenda. Jones cites the scholar Angela McRobbie for the explanation of postfeminism: "'postfeminism positively draws on and invokes feminism as that which can be taken into account, to suggest that equality has been achieved'; 'by means of tropes of freedom of choice which are now inextricably connected with the category of "young women," feminism is decisively aged and made to seem redundant'" (366). Do you care to weigh in on this contentious issue? Does Austen have a message for the postfeminist generation, and, if so, what is it? Alternatively, does the postfeminist recruitment of Austen tell us anything about the original political context of her novels that proves insightful?

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