I'm interested in Jane Austen's strange status with regards to literary period. Her life (1775-1818) straddles the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and although all of her published novels were released between 1811-1819, I'm always tempted to see her as the pinnacle of the eighteenth-century novelist, rather than the progenitor of the nineteenth-century novelist (though of course she can be both!). Yet the period that, like Austen, straddles these centuries and seems nicely to encompass her dates of birth and death -- namely, English Romanticism -- is one in which she isn't necessarily "at home." In this semester's course on romanticism and method, I'm hoping to write a seminar paper that will examine Austen's relationship to romanticism via a reading of Persuasion, which in many ways is her most obviously "romantic" novel.
One thing I think this reading would have to implicitly do is contrast the position of Austen as "romantic novelist" with that of Sir Walter Scott, who is far more often treated under this rubric, but this seems like a difficult task considering I still haven't read any Scott yet. (Oh, the joys of orals list writing...) And I'm actually more interested in thinking about the way Austen contrasts the mode of authorship she employs as a (female) novelist with the modes of authorship employed by famous (male) poets -- especially Wordsworth and Byron, with whom she's obviously in some kind of oblique conversation during Persuasion (both are discussed and/or quoted by Anne in the novel). Scott actually becomes interesting again in this context because Austen's references to Scott in Persuasion are to his poetry, not to his prose! There isn't ever a suggestion that Austen disliked Scott or thought of him as a competitor -- in fact I seem to remember her rather enjoying his novels? will need to check her letters -- but the fact that he's represented he by his poetry and not by his prose suggests that Austen is interested in differentiating authorship across genres.
Sources to consult:
James Chandler, England in 1819: Why does Scott have such a large position when Austen is thoroughly absent? What does this say about the priorities of romanticism and/or romantic studies?
Mary Favret, War at a Distance: read the chapter on Persuasion; although this brings Austen into a history of romanticism, Favret's notion of romanticism is a bit stretchy and stretches into the modern period; when reading Persuasion as romantic because of its thematic treatment of war, what other modes for reading the novel as romantic (or potentially refusing to term the novel romantic?) are lost?
Adela Pinch, Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion from Locke to Hume: read chapter on Persuasion and the emotional insulation of books and quotation
What kinds of definitions of romanticism are likely to involve Austen and which aren't? Do romanticisms which include Austen seem to still possess a kind of internal integrity? How do they do that if they do, and why not if they don't?
Is Austen's interest in modes of authorship and authorial presentation romantic, or novelistic, or both? Where do we draw those boundary lines? What might we learn from drawing them differently?