Jane Austen’s Novels
Choose two topics from the following, and on each one write a short essay of several pages. Each essay should consist of two sections, one on the topic theme in the context of Persuasion, the other on the treatment of the same topic in one other novel read this term. Set the theme in an argument. (e.g., “The military man in Austen is always seen, not as a warrior, but in the context of a domestic society.”) Each essay will be worth a total of 50 points (25 points on each section). Extra credit will be granted for insights of unusual brilliance. Persuasion excepted, do not discuss a novel in more than one essay.
Houses play an important part in these novels. They are obviously settings. But like characters, they possess names, and they also own distinctive traits. Discuss what we learn about Austen’s characters from the houses they live in or visit. (for argument’s sake, you may include here The White Hart Hotel in Persuasion.)
How does Austen develop the character of the military man in Persuasion? Compare Captain Wentworth to other military figures in the novels of Austen.
How does Austen use the device of letters and letter-writing to shape her novels? What kind of an event is a letter? Are there styles of letter-writing? Can a letter reveal character? You may expand your scope to take penmanship into the argument’s consideration.
Consider the role of the sudden catastrophe or accident in Austen: the injury to Louisa Musgrove in Persuasion; the illness of Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, or of Jane Fairfax in Emma; the elopements of Lydia and Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, or of Maria Rushworth and Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park. (These examples are given only to suggest the topic’s possible range; for example, there are also comic possibilities: turkey theft in Emma.)
Travel in Austen’s novels can be on foot, horse, or carriage (by ship in Persuasion, although that is talked about rather than shown). Discuss the use that is made of travel and methods of travel in these novels. Consider the role of space and of the time involved with space. Do issues of gender enter travel?
How does truth emerge in an Austen novel? Is it a matter of plot or perception? Who comes to know it: the main characters? society? the narrator or author? the reader? Is truth one or many? Consider, if you wish, a truth that does not fully emerge: for example, Mr. Knightly does not learn (immediately? ever?) of Emma’s fears regarding Harriet and him.