Jane Austen Behind Bars: Teaching the Humanities to Increase Humanity

By Law, Molly | Corrections Today, January-February 2020 | Go to article overview

Jane Austen Behind Bars: Teaching the Humanities to Increase Humanity


Law, Molly, Corrections Today


"But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to  be observed in them forever."  -- Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice." 

Jane Austen has made new friends in the most unlikely of places, as is her nature. However, it came as quite a surprise to Devoney Looser, Arizona State University's (ASU) Foundation Professor of English and author of "The Making of Jane Austen," as she entered Florence State Prison in Florence, Arizona. According to The State Press, "Devoney Looser said she was nervous and didn't know what to expect from her newest pupils: a group of men imprisoned for sexual offenses. But what Looser said she found was a classroom of men eager to learn about the writings of 18th-century writer Jane Austen." Austen has always had an uncanny ability to find a place amongst the modern reader, no matter who or where they are. Her writings hold a transcendent power to entertain as well as to educate readers not only on society, but on their own personal lives. Iseult Gillespie, in the TED-Ed presentation, "An Animated Lesson on Jane Austen," describes Austen's special effect on her readers, "It is even been said that some readers feel like the author's secret confidant, trading letters with their delightfully wicked friend, Jane." Austen's works also offer a beautiful and authoritative blend of individuality and societal responsibility. This unique combination in a prison educational program provides offenders with the ability to learn, imagine and critique their own lives and behaviors, and evaluate how that will ultimately affect the society in which they will eventually return.

"Investigate and learn to name those mixed and complex feelings that arise out of genuine response to common feelings of common life. Such feelings aren't overly dramatic or go by exaggerated names, to name them and know them is to cultivate a mature understanding of human nature."

According to Lorraine Murphy, associate professor of English at Hillsdale College, this is Austen's underlining message to her readers and fellow writers in the novel "Northanger Abbey." Austen wrote during the highly popular age of gothic and romantic novels. While entertaining, Austen believed they did very little to convey real-life situations, and they often created unrealistic expectations for the reader. According to Murphy, Austen presented fiction as a reminder that "there is a proper relationship between fiction and life..." that it is "most valuable when it deepens our fascination with the reading of real life." However, Austen's belief for the much-needed pragmatism in fiction did not diminish the entertaining and, at times, audacious characters, plots and themes that have "kept Austen prominent on stage and screen and have made her work easily adaptable for modern sensibility," Gillespie said. According to Elizabeth Langland in "Society and the Novel," "Austen keeps her characters' conflicts with their social milieu within a comic framework, not by presenting a benign picture of society, but by including narrative summaries that stress those aspects of behavior and conventions that assure us society will not stand in the way of individual fulfillment." With the established acceptance of Austen's literary and cultural power, from her novels' first conception to now, Looser was able to explore the possibility of Austen being accepted in prison.

Societal expectations

It has been a long-held view that crime and punishment alleviates the burden on society, which was a "truth universally acknowledged" when offenders first enter prison upon sentencing, but it is often forgotten that 95% of offenders [in state prisons] will eventually exit, according to the Bureau of Justice, and the majority of the time they exit the same way they entered. According to the National Institute of Justice (NU), "Returning to the community from jail or prison is a complex transition for most offenders, as well as for their families and communities. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Jane Austen Behind Bars: Teaching the Humanities to Increase Humanity
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.