I have written this account of Jane Austen’s later, or Regency, writings mainly for undergraduates at all levels who are studying the literature and history of this period. The material on the Austen industry at the beginning may also be of interest to those who are working on contemporary British culture. This is not then a specialist monograph aimed primarily at other scholars, even though it is based on detailed research and advances its own distinctive arguments. It nevertheless obviously needs to win the broad support of other Austen specialists. These opening statements will therefore explain to them and others both the aims and organisation of the arguments. I have chosen, at this preliminary stage, to refer to general patterns within both Austen criticism and social history rather than to anticipate the more detailed references and citations that are provided later.
The book is divided into four unequal parts. The first one consists of a single chapter which considers the origins and growth of the Austen industry. It probably requires a little more explanation than any of the subsequent chapters since it could be argued that the facts about Austen’s Victorian biographers are too well-known to bear repetition. My own particular experience has been that this is not a familiar story, or mouldy tale, for many students in Britain and elsewhere. This may be the result of the fact that some of the relevant texts are not always easily available to those who do not enjoy access to good research libraries. The main reason, however, for starting with the origins of the Austen industry is that the early biographers often tried to suppress the very connections between her writings and the Regency period which form the main subject of this study. The short survey of their anxieties about Regency values therefore provides a necessary introduction to the more detailed account of the period that follows.
This opening chapter also considers some of the mythologies that circulate around the figure of Austen in contemporary British culture.