This fall, I’ll be taking approximately one scheduled class, ENG 513, a class on Jane Austen and her works. I’ve got six classic Austen novels to read this semester. The class is going to be taught by a professor I’ve never had before, so I’m interested to see how it’s going to work out.
I always buy textbooks online, mostly because I can get them anywhere from $5 to $500 cheaper than I can in the school bookstore. I ordered all of these on August 9, and so I’m expecting them to start arriving in the mail very, very soon. A few years ago, I ordered about 30 textbooks (!!!) through the mail, and for about three weeks, every trip to the mailbox was an adventure. I’m sure the mailman hated us because of all the books that came through the mail. He couldn’t leave them in the mailbox, so he had to make the trek all the way up to our front porch to drop them off.
*All book descriptions taken from Wikipedia.
Emma: A novel about youthful hubris and the perils of misconstrued romance. The novel was first published in December 1815. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in Georgian–Regency England; she also creates a lively comedy of manners among her characters. Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” In the first sentence, she introduces the title character as “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich.” Emma is spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.
I’ve never read Emma. In fact, out of all of the books on this list, the only one I have read is Pride & Prejudice. Maybe that says something about me. Maybe it doesn’t. (I’ve also read Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, but that’s a whole other post.) This one could be an interesting novel. The final line of the Wikipedia intro says it’s been continuously adapted into plays/movies/TV shows, so it’s obviously got a great spot in current pop culture media.
Persuasion: The last novel fully completed by Jane Austen. It was published at the end of 1817, six months after her death. The story concerns Anne Elliot, a young Englishwoman of 27 years, whose family is moving to lower their expenses and get out of debt, at the same time as the wars come to an end, putting sailors on shore. They rent their home to an Admiral and his wife. The wife’s brother, Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth, had been engaged to Anne in 1806, and now they meet again, both single and unattached, after no contact in more than seven years. This sets the scene for many humorous encounters as well as a second, well-considered chance at love and marriage for Anne Elliot in her second “bloom.”
I’m not sure about this one. Considering all of the heartbreak I’ve been through this summer, reading about second chances might mess me up more than I already am.
Pride & Prejudice: A romance novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story charts the emotional development of the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, who learns the error of making hasty judgements and comes to appreciate the difference between the superficial and the essential. The comedy of the writing lies in the depiction of manners, education, marriage and money in the British Regency.
The only Austen novel I can say I’ve read all the way through. I’ve never been a huge fan of Jane Austen (don’t let my roommate hear me say that!). I’ve never been into the romantic novel genre, and even though Austen is held in supremely high regard the world over, I never got into her. I enjoyed P&P, mostly because I read P&P&Z first. (Spoiler alert: I loved it until I read Leslie’s review about how much of a cultural disaster it really is. Ouch.)
Mansfield Park: The third published novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1814. The novel tells the story of Fanny Price starting when her overburdened family sends her at age 10 to live in the household of her wealthy aunt and uncle, through to her marriage. The critical reception from the late 20th century onward has been controversial. Paula Byrne, writing in the 21st century, found this to be one of Austen’s best novels, and called it pioneering for being about meritocracy. However, Mansfield Park is perhaps Austen’s most controversial novel due to its brief mention of the British slave trade, and the fact that Fanny’s uncle and benefactor, Sir Thomas, owns a plantation in the West Indies. Some critics characterise Thomas’s trip to Antigua as nothing more than an excuse for his long absence. The late Edward Said criticised the novel for failing to clearly criticise Sir Thomas’s profiteering in the West Indies.
Considering this is one of Austen’s most controversial novels, and deals with a subject that we fought an entire war over in the mid-1800s, this one is probably going to spark some seriously intense debate in the class. At least, I’m hoping it does.
Sense & Sensibility: A novel by Jane Austen, published in 1811. It was published anonymously; By A Lady appears on the cover page where the author’s name might have been. It tells the story of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, both of age to marry. The novel follows the young women to their new home with their widowed mother, a meagre cottage on the property of a distant relative, where they experience love, romance and heartbreak. The novel is set in southwest England, London and Sussex between 1792 and 1797.
I wonder why this one was originally published anonymously. I’m sure we’ll figure it out over the course of the class, but maybe it was because it was her first published novel (if I’m reading the dates on the Wikipedia page correctly)? Someone wouldn’t take a woman writer seriously during this time, so maybe this is the only way she could get something published without shaming her family.
Northanger Abbey: the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be completed for publication, in 1803, but published after her death, at the end of 1817. The novel is a satire of the Gothic novels popular at the time of its first writing in 1798–99. The heroine, Catherine, thinks life is like a Gothic novel, but her real experiences bring her down to earth as an ordinary young woman. The novel is more explicitly comic than her other works and contains many literary allusions that her parents and siblings would have enjoyed, as a family entertainment—a piece of lighthearted parody to be read aloud by the fireside. The novel names many of the Gothic novels of that time and includes direct commentary by Austen on the value of novels, which were not valued as much as nonfiction or historical fiction. As almost all her letters were burned after her death, later scholars appreciate this insight into Austen’s views.
Why was this book the first one she completed, but the last one published — and only then, after her death? I’m looking forward to reading this one, because it sounds intensely comedic, and after the hell I’ve been through the latter part of this summer, I’m going to need something comedic.
It feels incredibly weird only ordering textbooks for one class. (I spent about $45 on these six textbooks, thanks to gettextbooks.com. It really is the absolute best textbook website. You can check out my previous post on buying textbooks for more information.)
What books do you have to read for class this semester? Have you already bought your textbooks? Have you read any of these Austen novels, and if so, which one was your favorite? Which one would you warn me about? Let me know in the comments!
As always, keep reading,