1: Entering Jane Austen’s World
Begin your journey with a brief look at the aims of the course, and get a quick overview of the historical, cultural, and literary context that shaped the life and work of Jane Austen. Grasp why it is so vital to understand Austen’s place in history to better appreciate the impact of her novels on literature and the world.
2: Life and Letters: The Genuine Austen
Despite the treasure trove of information that we have about Jane Austen’s historical time and place, we actually have very little direct knowledge about her life. Look at what we do know from her surviving letters and take a closer look at the facts and fictions that have persisted over time about her life.
3: Juvenilia: Austen’s Raucous Early Works
Many readers come to Austen’s fiction thinking that they are about to encounter sedate, small-scale, realistic stories. But as you will see in this lesson, when Austen first began writing as a teenager, her style and her subjects were far more risk-taking and boisterously comic. Explore her juvenilia and discover the surprising beginnings of her literary efforts.
4: Sense and Sensibility: Sisters United
Jane Austen’s first published novel is often overshadowed by her second; but as you will see, Sense and Sensibility is a deeply felt and complex look at romantic and familial relationships. Meet the Dashwood sisters and follow the ups and downs of their pursuit of happiness as you also get an introduction to Austen’s moving style and her clever humor.
5: Pride and Prejudice: Universal Truths
The most beloved of Austen’s novels, Pride and Prejudice has a deeply devoted fanbase of both literary critics and everyday readers. Look at what makes this novel so popular and long-lived as you examine the humorous details of Austen’s characters, the appeal of her heroine Elizabeth Bennet, the epigrammatic style of her prose, the book’s emotionally resonant plot, and more.
6: Mansfield Park: Silence, Place, and Price
Mansfield Park is perhaps the most controversial of all of Austen’s finished novels. Meet Fanny Price, the unassuming heroine at the center of this slower, more serious entry in Austen’s oeuvre, and see why Austen’s third novel is the most divisive among readers. Through Fanny’s travails and quiet rebellion, Austen would create a complex story that examines the dynamics of family, power, work, and gender.
7: Emma: The Proper Use of Power
If any novel invites an enriching experience through multiple readings, it’s Emma. See why many consider Austen’s fourth published novel to be her masterpiece and how this story rewards those who revisit it over time. Consider the many dimensions that make Emma more than just a love story and discover why the personal development of a heroine like Emma Woodhouse is so deeply satisfying.
8: Northanger Abbey: Defending the Novel
One of the two novels published after Austen’s death, Northanger Abbey is Austen’s love letter to the gothic novels of her youth. Look at the gothic tradition of the late 1700s and how Austen’s gentle mocking of the melodramatic flourishes of the genre inform the experiences of her impressionable young heroine, Catherine Morland.
9: Persuasion: A Second Bloom
Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion, is slower in pace and more melancholy in tone than her earlier work. As you follow the story of Anne Elliot and her second chance at happiness, you will look closely at two defining features of the story: its focus on age and aging and its more direct approach to real-life political events of the time. Better appreciate the many complex dimensions of Austen’s final published work.
10: Regency Romance and Courtship
Turn now to the realities of Regency life with a look at romance and courtship, something that lies at the heart of every Austen plot. Examine the power dynamics between the genders and how they shaped courtship, the opportunities young people had to meet, and how various couples in Austen’s novels exemplify or subvert the heavily controlled nature of Regency romance.
11: Marriage and Family in Austen’s Era
Austen’s plots all end with marriages, but do her novels really endorse matrimony? As you look at various examples from her work, you will see how a deep thread of skepticism about the idealized nature of marriage makes its way into her stories. Look below the surface of Austen’s bright, comedic work to uncover her perspective on the inner workings of the marriage bargain.
12: Money, Inheritance, and All They Entail
Austen’s stories may seem obsessed with money. But to understand the characters and relationships in her novels, it is vital to grasp her culture’s economic and social structures. Learn about money, inheritance, and ownership in Regency England and see why so many characters are concerned with the financial situations of others.
13: Class and Courtesy in Regency Society
Regency England was a highly stratified world, with well-known cues to signal one’s rank in the social hierarchy. Investigate the intricacies of early 19th-century social status and what it communicated about one’s supposed worth. Learn the vocabulary of rank and status, as well as the many ways that Austen’s fiction offers a pointed critique of the world in which she lived.
14: British Life in Revolutionary Times
A generation and more ago, critics accused Austen of ignoring the larger political events of the day in her fiction. That myth hasn’t stood up to scrutiny. The early 19th century was a time of revolutions and upheaval, as Austen well knew and as her fiction demonstrations. In this lesson, you will learn how Austen viewed the events of her day and how they influenced her life and fiction.
15: Clerks, Clergy, and Other Men’s Professions
Look at Austen’s heroes and other men that populate her stories and examine the professions available to well-born men of her day, especially in the clergy, the law, the military, and medicine. Although social class might dictate what kinds of labor were considered most acceptable for men, Austen considered employment and activity—as opposed to wealthy indolence—essential to good character, as you will see in this lesson.
16: The Accomplished Woman
What made for an “accomplished” woman in the Regency period? Look deeply at the list of activities and talents expected of young women of means and how these accomplishments contrast with being well read or learned. Along the way, you’ll see what Austen thought about these accomplishments and what she believed were the greater benefits of an education of knowledge and ideas for middle-class women.
17: Luxury, Fashion, and Labor in the Regency
The Regency may now be as notable for its fashions as for its political upheavals and wars. Take a tour of the finer points of Regency clothing and luxury items and see how Austen uses descriptions of dress and accessories to make subtle (and not-so-subtle) observations on both the social status and the moral values of her characters. Better understand how “frivolous” distinctions about what one wears take on significant meanings in Austen’s fiction.
18: Travel and Leisure in the Georgian Era
A trip to the seaside is never just a vacation in Austen’s novels. Look at some of the forms of travel and leisure activities in Austen’s fiction, and how entertainment was dictated by gender, money, and social class. See how travel outside the country was affected by the Napoleonic Wars. Also, gain invaluable insight into the rules of visiting, public dances, and other social occasions, which serve an important role in the novels.
19: Health and Wellness in Austen’s England
Consider wellness, sickness, and the finer points of the medical profession in Austen’s fiction and in her day to deepen your knowledge of the genius of her books. From valetudinarians and deadly fevers, to sprained ankles and gout, look at the important role that physical health—both good and ill—plays in Austen’s novels and how medical professionals treated patients in the Regency era.
20: After 1817: Austen’s Growing Posthumous Fame
How has Jane Austen been remembered? And how much about what we know about her is true? Consider both the myths and the realities of Jane Austen’s fame over the years following her death in 1817, beginning with her brother Henry’s caricaturing, if loving, biographical essay. Then, look at a few of the famous figures who loved her—and some who didn’t—and close with an examination of her first full biography and her enduring legacy.
21: Lady Susan: Austen’s Merry Widow
Beyond her six novels, Jane Austen also had unpublished minor works that went unknown until several decades after her death. Here, you will dig into one of her most surprising pieces of fiction: Lady Susan, an epistolary novella that stars a charismatic and morally bankrupt widow. Lady Susan, may seem the opposite of the more famous Austen heroines, but you may find that she has a certain charm that is hard to resist.
22: Sanditon and Austen’s Unfinished Fiction
As Jane Austen’s health declined near the end of her life, she continued to work on a manuscript that she would never finish: a would-be seventh novel entitled Sanditon, which satirized health fads and introduced new complexities of character into her fiction. Despite only consisting of 11 incomplete chapters, this unfinished work nevertheless shows us a novelist at the height of her powers.
23: Austen’s Relations: From Family to Fandom
Jane Austen’s literary career was a family affair. Broaden your view with a look at the impact of Austen’s literary family, which offers a crucial lens through which to examine her writings, authorship, and legacy. You will see how Austen’s family, from her parents and siblings to her nieces and nephews and beyond, nourished her talent and grew her eventual fame.
24: Pop and Popularity: Austen’s Enduring Fame
Both Jane Austen’s reputation for literary greatness and her pop-culture cachet continue to grow with each new adaptation and every new generation that encounters her work. How has pop culture helped shape Austen’s long afterlife? Answer this question and more as you close the course with an examination of the lesser-known twists and turns of Austen’s popularity in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Together we will explore the life and work of Jane Austen to better understand her novels.
Together we will explore the life and work of Jane Austen to better understand her novels.
About Devoney Looser
Your professor is Devoney Looser, a Foundation Professor of English at Arizona State University. She was named a Guggenheim Fellow and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar. She is the author of The Making of Jane Austen and editor of The Daily Jane Austen.