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Jane Austen: Structure and Social Vision by…

Jane Austen: Structure and Social Vision

by David Monaghan

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If I read many more books like this, I will have to give up my prejudices against literary criticism. This is an interesting, readable and mainly jargon-free look at Jane Austen's portrayals of the social system of her time. I happened to read it at the same time that I was reading Claudia Johnson's Jane Austen, Women, Politics and the Novel and Margaret Kirkham's Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction. I found that the three complemented each other very nicely both as contrasts and comparisons. Monaghan happily refrains from the bad academic habit of referring to his opinions in the third person.

My only cavil with the book is the Monaghan sometimes falls into the habit of attempting to organize the author's works as if they were a lecture series or necessary represented a changing trajectory of thought. Given Austen's maturity when her works were published in their final form, I doubt that she actually changed her mind very much. And I wonder how many authors actually plan their works as a series.

I suppose that we all chose the Jane Austen that we prefer, and I prefer the woman who's penetrating clarity and lack of sentimental delusion has startled a number of her readers. I further like to think that Austen had a complex view of the world and could see both the problems and advantages of say, a hereditary ruling class. I doubt that she had any simple view of almost anything: social class, children, marriage. I am one of those who think that she sympathized with Charlotte Lucas' reasons for accepting Mr. Collins' proposal, even if she deplored the situations that this lead to. If the representatives of the gentry, for example, were more sympathetically portrayed in one book that another, I believe that was not because she had changed her mind, but because she chose to view a different side of the issue.

The book contains an index, but no bibliography other than the notes. The notes themselves are nicely done, with the sections headed by the same running title that appears on the pages so that they are easy to match up. These notes continue additional factual information, so the reader will want to check them from time to time. ( )
  juglicerr | Oct 6, 2007 |
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Jane Austen scholarship has become ever more sophisticated in recent years, and amongst its most remarkable advances have been a number of revelations of the ways in which her novels, once thought of as skilful pieces of escapism, are rooted in their age. Through an examination of her use of and attitude towards formal social occasions like balls, dinners and visits, David Monaghan's Jane Austen: Structure and Social Vision provides further evidence of this. Basing his argument on contemporary attitudes towards the moral role of manners, Professor Monaghan argues that Jane Austen's novelistic career embraces a searching analysis of the ability of the traditional values of the gentry to face up to the individualistic ethic of the emergent middle classes.

For all its excursions into the realm of social history, however, this book never loses sight of Jane Austen's novels as works of art. Each of the six major works is accorded its due weight as a discrete creation and, by demonstrating how Jane Austen uses the formal social occasion not only as a vehicle for social themes but also as a major structural principle, Professor Monaghan offers new insights into the shape of her fiction. [from the jacket]
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