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Title: Rereading the past : Jane Austen and reflective selfhood from Lady Susan to Persuasion
Author: Charlton, Linda
ISNI:       0000 0004 9358 6193
Awarding Body: Bangor University
Current Institution: Bangor University
Date of Award: 2019
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Novel-reading in the eighteenth century was both a space for intersubjectivity and an act of contention. Enlightenment philosophy concerning selfhood and moral responsibility suggests that reading novels played a significant role in helping readers to develop both self-awareness and a better understanding of the relationship between the individual and society – in effect, to read themselves and others more clearly. At the same time, the novel’s representation of realistic characters and situations, and the ability of the reader to sympathise with them, led to concerns that they might corrupt the values and judgements of female readers in particular. The discourse on moral instruction and the eighteenth-century novel has informed Austen criticism, which has tended to focus on the extent to which her work offers a clear moral framework within which the actions of her characters can be judged. Some see her as an essentially conservative writer in the anti-Jacobin tradition, maintaining the status quo of a society with rigid class and gender divisions; some see her work informed by Enlightenment philosophy, particularly in relation to the discourse on the nature of virtue; and others identify a radicalism evidenced by a narrative style which raises questions about a patriarchal society, narrative authority and moral clarity. However, none of these approaches fully accounts for Austen’s specific focus on the relationship between reading and self-formation which situates her at a point where discourses on selfhood, reading practice and moral judgement converge. It is that interaction which not only frames the moral and social worlds constructed within her novels, but also informs the narrative style of the texts themselves. My reading of Austen places her work in the context of the philosophy of selfhood and argues that, within that framework, she interrogates the key components of self-formation and uses them to frame the reader’s engagement with the text. These components – memory, imagination, probability, sympathy and self-examination – determine how key characters in each novel read and reread both their social and interior worlds. Austen’s examination of them is rendered in a narrative style which suggests ambiguity, highlights the potential for multiple readings and alternative moral outcomes, and encourages the reader to participate in reflecting on her own reading experience. Bringing together the philosophy of selfhood and innovative narrative techniques, Austen demonstrates the necessity of rereading one’s experiences to reach a fuller understanding of one’s self and one’s relation to the world. In doing so, she also suggests a new model of reading practice which challenges readers to reflect on and reread their own interactions with the text.
Supervisor: McCue, Maureen Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Jane Austen ; reflection ; selfhood ; reading practices