Welcome to 8354: Jane Austen and the Paths of Literary History

English 8354: Jane Austen and the paths of literary history

Course Overview:

I have been thinking a lot about literary history lately, and I’ve decided to approach this course about Jane Austen through the prism of reading and writing.  How did she read? How did her reading affect her writing? How was she read? And how did her readers use her for their own writing?  What kinds of evidence might we use to pursue such inquiries?

These are partly historical questions, but they also inevitably involve the experiences of many readers and writers, past and present, confronting, incorporating, and using these books in a multitude of ways. We will therefore examine how some mid-18th century sentimental novelists contributing to a range of gendered novelistic traditions. These include the psychological realism of the literary novel, but also novelistic genres like the anti-romance, the gothic, or the radical novel, as well as contemporary pop culture genres like the rom com or the zombie novel.

Genre becomes a cue for readers as well as writers as they try to make sense of the world or fill up the blank page. The writers who lead us towards and away from Austen help us understand her, her preferred genres, and her followers’ creative responses that much better.

These contemporary legacies of Austen and the earlier period’s genres should help answer the other question of this course, “How can we teach Austen’s novels to contemporary readers and students?”  This question centers on how the literary-historical Austen, the complex historical figure who helped consolidate a novelistic tradition, can be taught to a radically different, and far more diverse, student population holding vastly different assumptions about themselves and their reading than her initial audiences. For this reason, I will also be asking students to reflect, research, and write a bit about their own reading practices, and how these might illuminate these legacies of Austen in contemporary culture and genres. The final research assignment will be a comparison between one of the assigned texts and an historical or contemporary text demonstrating some generic affiliation with its counterpart.

Primary Texts:

Segment I (wks 1-6):

Eliza Haywood, Fantomina (1725) PDF (distributed over email and course-blog) https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/haywood/fantomina/fantomina.html

Mary Davys, Coquet (1724) PDF (distributed over course blog)


Samuel Richardson, Clarissa (1747-8) (Penguin, unabridged: ISBN 9780140432152)

Segment II (wks 7-9):

Frances Burney, Evelina (1778) (Broadview: 155111237X)

Mary Wollstonecraft, The Wrongs of Women, or Maria (1798) (Broadview; 1554810221)

Anon., The Woman of Colour (1808) (Broadview: 1551111764)

Segment III (wks 10-14):

Jane Austen’s Manuscript Works(1787-93) (Broadview: 1554810582)

Northanger Abbey (1803/1818) (Broadview: 1551114798)

Mansfield Park (1814) (Broadview: 1551110989)

Persuasion (1817) (Broadview: 1551111314)

Theoretical Readings: TBA, distributed via PDFs on course blog

[To print out the MS Word version of this document, please click on the link below]

8354 Fall 19 course description