Jane Austen

At one time, Jane Austen’s literary
legacy was inescapably referenced by citations of the first line of her signature
masterwork, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a
single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife.” But Austen’s
legacy has changed in recent decades as she has been reconsidered and reframed,
most often in the context of film productions and made-for-TV series of her
works. These have made a modern generation re-engage and reconnect with this
writer who, always admired, was more often than not pictured as a prim
spinster, surveying the social scene and courtship rituals of Regency England,
casting an ironic eye (and pen) on its hypocrisies, while betraying a heart
that could be won, but only by a man who recognized the heart was not independent of a mind.

This course will concern itself with
Jane Austen’s mind, heart, and certainly her literary genius, which–even when
she was first recognized–was undervalued because of the constricted world of
her novels. Even other women novelists derided her lack of range, especially
when early 19th C. women novelists in general were being critiqued
for their limitations. As it happens, Austen was never limited in her range,
and her heroines are consummately conscious, in diverse ways of the danger of
defining themselves as society would have them do so, in terms of their

We shall consider these heroines,
and their author, in how they demonstrate that women who defined themselves in
society’s terms risked being deemed worthless if they were not provided an
alternative foundation for identity. As we read, discuss and write about the
six completed novels and fragment of a seventh Austen wrote between the ages of
19 and her death at 42, we will trace the growing consciousness of her
authorial presence, and her subtle recognition of the options women could seize
if they became aware of their complicity with their own suppression. We will
see how a writer recognized at first as an “authority” on love and marriage
became a writer who is better represented by a quote from her last novel,
PERSUASION. Its heroine, Anne Elliot, refutes the comment of a gentleman in
company who derides women’s status with, “all histories are against you, all
stories, prose and verse.” To this Anne retorts, “Men have had every advantage
of us in telling their story. Education has been theirs. . . . [T]he pen has
been in their hands.” Although a pen was always in Austen’s hand, this course
will demonstrate how the pen became more truly HERS as she evolved as woman and
a writer.

Texts: (A Course Reader with excerpted
biographical and critical material  to complement students’ reading of the novels.) Novels will
be ordered through Revolution Books. Novel (editions to be announced are listed
here in order of reading.

  • EMMA

Course Evaluation: Students will write 3 essays (4-5)
pages, one of which can be rewritten for a higher grade; there will be a group
oral reports on the novels that will be accompanied by required short papers (2
pages) by each group member. the final exam will be in take-home essay format. Steady
attendance and participation will count towards the final grade (determined on
+/- basis).