Option 2

Academic Programmes at Oxford

Jane Austen In Text And Context

Dr Catherine Dille




The enduring appeal of Jane Austen’s novels crosses boundaries of gender, generation and nationality, as evidenced by paperback sales, the proliferation of films, spin-offs and Jane Austen societies worldwide. Austen may be both the darling of the book club and the subject of serious academic discourse but the exact nature of her power as a writer resists easy explanation. As Virginia Woolf observed, ‘of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness.’ This course invites students to explore in depth aspects of Austen’s narrative technique and themes in the process of becoming critically perceptive readers of her work.


In this five-week course will consider how Austen viewed her fiction within the evolving genre of the novel and how she departed from the models of her predecessors to develop her own narrative voice and method. An overview of the novels’ cultural and historical contexts will inform our understanding of her writings against the ideological and political background of Regency Britain. Structural and textual analysis will illuminate how Austen’s plotting reinforces her themes and how she employs irony, tone, syntax and dialogue. We will give particular attention to her narrative technique, especially her innovative use of free indirect discourse.


In addition to the six principal novels, students will also reada selection of Austen’s letters, juvenilia and ‘Sanditon’, her final unfinished work of fiction, as well as key crirical texts. Seminar discussion will focus on a range of themes developed in the novels, including female reputation, economics, and the rise of the female consumer, education, the significance of of social rank and shifting gender dyamics in Regency society. Throughout the course we will be attentive to how traditional Austen criticism is being challenged and revised by current trends in critical opinion.



Weekly Tutorial and Seminar Programme


Week One – Novel Approaches: Juvenilia, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility


Austen’s boisterous early experiments in epistolary fiction anticipate her handling of genre fiction in her first two novels. Northanger Abbey burlesques the features of the Gothic novel and parodies the novel of manners, while Sense and Sensibility more subtly subverts expectations for the literature of sensibility. Students will consider thenovel form that Austen inherits and how she positions herself in its developing tradition and we also explore how the experiences of reading itself shapes Austen's authorial choices.


Week Two – Economies of Affection: Pride and Prejudice


Pride and Prejudice depicts a social milleu in which young women must negotiate a careful course through the rituals of courtship while remaining ever mindful of the code of conduct governing female behaviour and hard economic circumstances faced by women without independent incomes. This seminar addresses financial and reputational anxieties that underpin the narrative of this most celebrated of Austen’s novels.


Week Three – Revision of the Estate: Mansfield Park


Considered by many to be the most challenging of Austen’s novels, Mansfield Park has been read as both a deeply conservative work and a text with a reformist agenda. This seminar will explore the significance of setting and space in the novel in relation to the changing social values and attitudes it reflects.


Week Four – Education and Enigma: Emma


The plot of Emma revolves around the ambiguities created by the fictions of its characters – particularly Emma Woodhouse as its principal storyteller. The text abounds with riddles, word play and double meanings, and we will investigate its covert implications regarding social rank and moral development.


Week Five – The Rhetoric of Persuasion


In its treatment of time, the isolation of the self and the representation of speech, Austen’s last completed work anticipates many of the preoccupations of the modern novel. We will consider how Persuasion invites a new interpretation of the role of the individual in relation to gender and social expectations. In closing, we will look at how readers’ responses shaped Austen’s works and reputation and examine the ways in which her unfinished ‘Sanditon’ marks a departure from her earlier fiction.


Field Excursions


The visits to Bath and Chawton form an integral part of our course, enabling us not only to see where Austen lived and worked, but also to consider the ways in which the various exhibitions devoted to her writings represent her to the twenty-first century reader.


Primary Bibliography


Students will please have read all six principal novels before the start of the course in a modern critical edition. Please avoid using unannotated one-volume editions, especially that published by Barnes and Noble.


Modern critical editions recommended for this course are Oxford World’s Classics, Penguin Classics, the Norton Critical or Broadview Press editions. The latter two editions also provide excellent supplementary materials that students will find useful. ‘Lady Susan’ and ‘Love and Freindship’, which will be covered in the first week, are often published together with other of Austen’s works.


Jane Austen, ‘Love and Friendship’ (included in the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Catharine and Other Writings)

‘Lady Susan’ (included in the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Northanger Abbey)

Northanger Abbey ; Sense and Sensibility; Pride and Prejudice;Mansfield Park; Emma; Persuasion

‘Sanditon’ (included in the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Northanger Abbey)


© Dr Ken Addison, St.Peter's College, University of Oxford: for 2018





Courses & Options

A range of available Academic Courses and Options are available, see below, and follow the links for further information.

Intending participants select the Course of their choice and are then asked to elect to study one of its particular Options in order of preference. Most students are likely to secure their first-choice Option.

The Medieval Studies Course also has an Interdisciplinary Seminar studied by all participants, irrespective of their Option choice.


English literature

Option 1: Rediscovering Shakespeare

Option 2: Jane Austen in Text and Context

Option 3: The Inklings In Oxford (J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis et al.)

Option 4: Introduction to Topics in the English Language


Option 5: Prison Literature : The Freedom of Imprisonment

Environmental studies

Option 1: Climate Change In The Anthropocene : Global Catastrophic Risk & Management

Option 2: Environmental Change & British Landscape Development 11,500 BP -1700 AD


Residential Field Programme: The Development of British Landscapes (required for Environmentalists, Medievalists; optional for others)

Medieval studies

Option 1: Conquest and Colonisation : England and her neighbours: 1016-1296

Option 2: Death, Nature and the Supernatural in Medieval Literature

Option 3: Medieval Margins: Identity and Otherness


Interdisciplinary Seminar: The Arthurian Tradition (required study taken by all Medievalists)