Jane Austen’s novels have long understood to be among the most realistic novels in English. However the concept of realism is deeply flawed. Realism emphasizes the novel’s power to figure and to construct a fantasy “world” apart from the daily realities we live. Critics and readers of novels have understood realism as a technique of creating a virtual reality that is not (real). But this ignores the novel's hold upon reality. In this course we will investigate the interplay of reality and fiction in three of Austen’s greatest novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Emma (1814), and Persuasion (1818). Sense and Sensibility focuses upon unrequited desire and the secrecy it requires. Emma takes on the problems of Emma, the “princess” of Highbury, who, though “handsome, clever and rich,” discovers that making others your puppets entails costs she does not want to pay. Finally, Persuasion is a novel about the heroine’s development of “second chances”—in resisting the well-meant advice of others and in following the prompts of one’s own heart. To advance the quality of our reading, each seminar member will present on the criticism and theory we will read: on the narrative form called “free indirect discourse;” on Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism; on the theory of character; on “theory of mind” in Jane Austen; on the Jane Austen society; and so on. Each will allow us to advance our understanding of how Austen novels allow us to engage reality.
Requirements: careful reading of the Broadview editions of three Jane Austen novels (which have extra critical material we’ll be reading); regular attendance; one in-class written and orally presented (7 minute) report; one 7-page research paper on one of the 3 novels we are studying. Note that because this is a discussion class, I used a no-laptop policy.
Sense and Sensibility. Edited by Kathleen James-Cavan
- Publisher: Broadview Press; 1st edition (March 4, 2001)
- ASIN: B00E32EJ0I
Emma. Edited by Kristin Flieger Samuelian
- Publisher: Broadview Press (January 1, 2004)
- ASIN: B004TS66IE
Persuasion. Edited by Linda Bree
- Publisher: Broadview Press (0010)
- ASIN: B00ES23PYO