The Historical Austen

The Historical Austen

The Historical Austen

The Historical Austen

Synopsis

"In a series of readings of the six completed novels, in addition to the epistolary Lady Susan and the uncompleted Sanditon, William H. Galperin offers startling new interpretations, demonstrating the extraordinary awareness that Austen maintained not only of her narrative practice - notably, free indirect discourse - but also of the novel's function as a social and political instrument."

Excerpt

The title of this book is both ironic and embarrassingly earnest. For while I am committed to reading Jane Austen in light of what might be termed her historicity, I pursue this reading as a corrective to “the historical Austen” that currently abounds in literary scholarship. It is surely no accident that well in advance of the “new historicism;’ whose conclusions with respect to other writers are surprisingly consistent with our received sense of Austen as a writer indelibly marked by imperatives of class and context, the historical way with Austen has almost always been to stress the conservative, largely regulatory work of her fictions, over and against any other prospects they may entertain. As a corrective to interpretations of Austen that work better when we forget that she was a minister’s daughter who wrote prayers, such historical readings— whether by Mary Poovey or by Marilyn Butler—carry considerable weight and force. However, in the very way that these readings remain anchored in certain hard facts from which Austen’s writing is in many ways inseparable they are also limited to these facts and to the conclusions on which their modes of contextualization weigh.

There is no question that we must be mindful of the imperatives of gender that made Austen responsive to the claims and virtues of propriety. Nor can we overlook in any way the anti—Jacobin feeling, which became more and more of a consensus during the wars with France that were a counterpoint to Austen’s remarkable, if somewhat misunderstood, insularity. At the same time, in making Austen’s oeuvre a social or political text permeable to elements or influences from which it can no longer beg severance, historical readings invariably make Austen’s writings answerable to a given context instead of appreciating the degree to which the novels are just as much a context in themselves where matters of history, ranging from the literary to the social to the very reality on which the narratives dilate, work to complicated, if often antithetical, ends.

The study that follows, then, is the result of an historicizing process that I have undertaken rather broadly. In addition to literary history, from Austen’s relationship to the contemporaneous romantic movement, to more immediate issues such as the rise of the novel and of women’s writing generally, my . . .

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