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: for example, on the narrative form called “free indirect discourse;” on “theory of mind” in Jane Austen; on the comic aggression in Jane Austen; on the interplay between fashion and deep selfhood; 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; regular attendance; one in-class written and orally presented (7 minute) report; 3 papers (that are 3 pages, 4 pages and 7 pages in length), one on each of the 3 novels we are studying. Note that because a seminar depends upon robust exchange, I have a no-laptop policy.
Text books: All these are published by Broadview, are available in the book store, and are the required editions for this class. (Used Broadview copies are available as of the first day of class at UCEN.)
1: Sense and Sensibility. Broadview Press (edited Kathleen James-Cavan ) 2001. 381 pp.
2: Emma. Broadview Press. Edited by Kristin Flieger Samuelian. 2004. 453pp.
3: Persuasion. Broadview Press. Edited by Linda Bree. 1997. 312 pp.