Foto: Matthias Friel
Jane Austen (1775-1817) belongs to the very few writers who enjoy both the canonical status of a classic and a massive international fanbase of dedicated ‘Janeites’ who find her novels of clever women, complicated love interests and match-making schemes, rural gentry domesticity, and social mores simply irresistible. Moreover, all of Austen’s six completed novels have been adapted to screen and TV time and again, periodically provoking veritable waves of Austen mania. What is it that makes such peripatetic novels as Pride and Prejudice or Emma so interesting and alluring in the era of social media and Netflix? One strand of Austen criticism has strongly emphasised how Austen deliberately delimits the world of her fictions to a very narrow circle of family and close friends, and that this restriction to domestic privacy has offered an appealing and plausible alternative to the great scenarios of national and imperial politics. Austen herself has famously likened her writing programme to the painting of miniatures with a very ”fine brush”. But in the same passage she also indicates that this fine brush paints not on paper or canvas but on a ”little bit (two inches wide) of ivory” – a material, then, that connects the ostensibly small world of Austen’s fiction with the large networks of transnational trade and colonial exploitation.
In our seminar we will try to come a bit closer to this tension between the ‘fine brush’ and the ‘bit of ivory’ by reading and discussing two of Austen’s most popular pieces, Pride and Prejudie and Mansfield Park as texts that subtly articulate how the enclosed sphere of protected privacy is nested into the large global traffic systems of nation, capital and empire.
* Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Oxford World's Classics, ed. James Kinsley)
* Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (Oxford World's Classics, ed.James Kinsley)
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