Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood

Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood

Alison G. Sulloway

260 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 1989 | ISBN 9780812281712 | Buy from De Gruyter $79.95 | €69.95 | £70.50
Ebook 2016 | ISBN 9781512807820 | Buy from De Gruyter $79.95 | €69.95 | £70.50
This book is available under special arrangement from our European publishing partner De Gruyter.
An Anniversary Collection volume

Traditional critics of Jane Austen's novels consider her fiction from the perspective of male literature, male social values, and male myths and assumptions about women. These critics often give excellent readings of Austen, but they mitigate their own best efforts by trying to separate her life from the fiction and the fiction from her awareness of women's predicament in society.

In Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood, Alison Sulloway offers a fresh and comprehensive vision of Austen as a moderate feminist. Her studies of the letters, fictional fragments, and minor works, as well as novels, reveal a systematic pattern of feminist plots, themes, motifs, and symbols. She traces the influence on Jane Austen of Anglican conduct literature in addition to the progressive novels written by such women writers as Frances Burney and Maria Edgeworth. Austen's covert acknowledgment of the previously ignored "feminist revolt of the 1790s," Sulloway contends, accounts for the dammed-up energy behind her protective mask of irony.

Sulloway perceives Austen and her heroines as survivors attempting to find decent solutions in a society whose owners and managers saw scant need to consider women's dignity. Her book is mediatory, just as Austen, that "provincial Christian gentlewomen," also mediated between the traditional forces of hostility toward women and the counter-forces of radical disruptions.

Finally, Sulloway contends, the greatest beauty of Austen's fiction is not in her subtle depiction of the strains of eighteenth-­century womanhood but in a certain joy­—"Austenian joy"—that transcends grief and anger at various human abuses. More than stoic resolution, it is a comedic gift and a moral resilience that signifies grace under pressure. Sulloway com pares it to the instinctive courage of a soldier who rejoices when a single bird sings during a lull in the bombing. To read Jane Austen for this vision is to appreciate fully her gallant wit and her compassion.

Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood will benefit any Austen scholar as well as students and teachers of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature.

Alison G. Sulloway is Associate Professor Emerita of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She is the author of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Victorian Temper and many essays on Austen and Hopkins.

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