Jane Austen

English 246.01

TuTh 3:05PM - 4:20PM
Rachel Gevlin

“Anyone who has the temerity to write about Jane Austen is aware of [two] facts: first, that of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness; second, that there are twenty-five elderly gentlemen living in the neighbourhood of London who resent any slight upon her genius as if it were an insult to the chastity of their aunts.”

– Virgina Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

The novels of Jane Austen have long been regarded in popular culture as epitomes of the marriage plot and, as such, “girls’ fiction.” And yet, an elite group of men used the term “Janeite” to boast of their fandom for her in the early twentieth century. Why this gendered divide in readership, and how is Austen received today? How do contemporary adaptations of Austen address issues of gender – and how might this have changed over the years? Indeed, how does Austen herself construct masculinity and femininity throughout her novels, and what sort of literary history is she drawing from?

In this class, we will consider the above questions as we examine Austen’s oeuvre in its own right, as well as the cultural phenomenon it has inspired today. Using questions of gender as a critical entry point, we will also reflect on the crucial concerns that Austen raises for her readers: the connection between economic success and personal happiness; the education of women and their role in the family; and Austen’s innovative and enormously influential writing style. We will read all six of Austen’s novels, as well as a play (Congreve’s The Way of the World) and the first volume of Austen’s own favorite novel, Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison.

Students will write two essays (5-7 pages), as well as a final essay (6-8 pages) in lieu of a final exam. Both majors and non-majors welcome. No prerequisites.