Jane Austen and Religion: Salvation and Society in Georgian England

Jane Austen and Religion: Salvation and Society in Georgian England

Jane Austen and Religion: Salvation and Society in Georgian England

Jane Austen and Religion: Salvation and Society in Georgian England

Synopsis

Michael Giffin offers a reading of Austen's six published novels against the background of a 'long 18th century' that stretched from the Restoration to the Regency. He demonstrates that Austen is a neoclassical author of the enlightenment who writes through the twin prisms of British Empiricism and Georgian Anglicanism. Giffin's focus is on how Austen's novels mirror a belief in natural law and natural order and how they reflect John Locke's theory of knowledge through reason, revelation, and reflection on experience.

Excerpt

For much of the twentieth century, Austen tended to be read more as a Victorian novelist, rather than a novelist of what is increasingly being recognised as a long eighteenth century that stretched from the Restoration in 1660 to the end of the Georgian period in 1830. This long eighteenth century was markedly different in temperament and in tone from the Victorian period. The Victorians were embarrassed by the Georgians, which is why their history of the Georgian period was either dismissive or censorious in overt and covert ways. This dismissal and censorship affected a great deal of Georgian literature, especially literature written by women, which became submerged and did not re-emerge until relatively recently. Austen was one of the few authors to survive this censorship, and even to remain popular; but, still, the Victorians did not claim her as one of their own, and they did not regard her to be the great author she is now regarded to be.

Also, the Victorians viewed the Anglicanism of the Georgian period harshly; and this has affected the way in which later generations have interpreted or ignored the history of the English church during much of the long eighteenth century. While this history is being re-examined, or in some instances is being examined for the first time, interpretation still tends to be coloured; and the Georgian church continues to be regarded in either a positive or negative light depending on the stance of the historian. Regardless of whatever stance is taken, Austen has her own sense of what is good and bad about the Georgian church, and fresh historical and literary evidence is casting light on how her novels function as social and religious commentaries.

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