ENLT 2552.001(Austin)

Course Name: 
Women in Literature: Austen & Her Contemporaries

Before Jane Austen’s place in the literary canon was a truth universally acknowledged, she was just another woman novelist writing at the end of the eighteenth century. This course will re-position Jane Austen’s novels within the context of the eighteenth-century novel and the writing of her contemporaries Frances Burney, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Maria Edgeworth. Just before the appearance of Austen’s quaint assemblies and country houses, Burney, Inchbald, and Edgeworth were writing about wild masquerades, the pleasures of shopping, and the surprises of London life. However, they also described “female difficulties” in detail: the sexual harassment women experienced in public spaces, the restraints placed upon them by propriety, and the state of dependence in which they lived.
Placed in the context of the eighteenth century, Austen’s novels stand out, provoking new and exciting questions about both Austen and her contemporaries. Why do Austen’s contemporaries refuse to call their works “novels”? Why does the epistolary novel fall out of fashion? What is the significance of Austen setting all of her novels in the country?  Why doesn’t Austen describe women dueling in breeches, the seduction of Catholic priests, or monkey attacks?  Other topics we will consider are: the history of a young lady novel, the anxieties of female authorship, the gothic, the dos and don’ts of female conduct, the rules of eighteenth-century fashion, and the impact of British imperialism on the novel.

Kelly Fleming