Essays in Romanticism

The Secular Jane Austen: Radical Reflexivity and the Nova Effect

Essays in Romanticism (2012), 19, (1), 1–18.

Abstract

In the received view Jane Austen was understood to occupy an innovative place in literary history as a novelist, but a conservative one as regards sensibility and outlook. Typically, she was regarded as a dyspeptic moralist, with Johnsonian and Burkean tendencies, who as such was more eighteenth-century than Romantic. Recent critics have sought to debunk this view—arguing for Austen's Romanticism in the process—by stressing a hidden, "subversive" Austen. This essay instead argues that Austen's place in literary history, her Romanticism, is best understood as arising out of her apparent conservatism. To understand Austen appropriately, as a religious writer working at the historical moment in which modern secularity was first fully instantiated, is also to understand the modernity of her use of the novel form. It is in her formal innovations that we discover her Romanticism.

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Miles, Robert