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Title: Jane Austen and reading women
Author: Halsey, K. E.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2005
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Part One of my dissertation explores Jane Austen’s attitudes towards female readers, as manifested both in the fictionalised scenes of reading in her novels and in her complex and allusive use of her own reading in both the novels and her letters. I contextualise Austen’s novels within eighteenth-century anxieties about reading women and women’s reading, specifically discussing Austen’s interactions with the conservative conduct literature of the mid- to late-eighteenth century. Through a discussion of Austen’s relationship with her literary predecessors, I suggest that her style presupposes a reader familiar with both the allusions she makes and the constraints of propriety within which a female writer must express herself indirectly or allusively. I argue that such a style, itself enacting the dictates of propriety, actually encourages readings that question the conservation ideologies that the novels’ marriage plots appear to support. Part Two examines the responses of female readers to Austen’s novels, to some extent testing the hypothesis set out in the first half, and, in the process, reassessing Jane Austen’s place in female literary history. In these chapters, I consider extra-textual factors, such as the changing cultural status of the novel, the varying significance of Austen’s literary reputation and social pressures on female readers, which play an important role in determining women readers’ responses to Austen. I argue that Austen’s influence on her literary successors and on female literary history needs to be reconceptualised in ways that focus not only on literary influence, but on the culturally-contingent motivations that push female readers towards complicit, oppositional or appropriate readings of a female author. This kind of reassessment elucidates Austen’s relationship to her literary successors as well as challenging the assumptions that underpin existing versions of Austen’s reception history.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available