Jane Austen’s Romanticism
While modern readers think of Jane Austen as the major novelist of her age, she was in fact only a minor figure in her day, a writer indebted to a variety of literary and cultural influences in the creation of her unique prose style. An understanding of the eighteenth-century culture of sensibility, the gothic craze, contemporary drama and satire, the development of the historical novel, romantic poetry, and the continuous cultural backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars helps modern readers better understand the ideas and imagery Austen’s novels employ. We will read Austen’s works alongside film treatments both faithful (Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility) and unconventional (Amy Heckerling’s Clueless) and examine the ways in which Austen’s own interest in the stage makes her novels such popular subjects for adaptation. We’ll also examine some of the writers who influenced Austen, including Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Maria Edgeworth, Frances Burney, and Ann Radcliffe, and how the “cult of Jane” developed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Class requirements include enthusiastic participation, several short written assignments, an in-class presentation on a topic of your choice, and a final essay.