Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Welcome to Reading and Writing with Jane Austen (http://readwriteausten.com)

Welcome! My name is Anne Waldron Neumann. This blog, Reading and Writing with Jane Austen (http://readwriteausten.com), analyzes Austen’s novels for general readers and also suggests what fiction writers can still learn from Austen’s writing techniques.

Would you like to be a better Austen reader or write better fiction yourself? Please submit questions about Austen’s moral and social meanings or her writing methods. I will try to answer as many of them as I can.

Here are some questions you might consider asking:

Manners, Morals, and Meanings in Austen’s Novels

  • What should we think when we learn, in Emma, that “the less worthy females” (including Jane Fairfax) are invited to the Coles’s party—but only in the evening, after dinner?

  • In Northanger Abbey, we hear that Catherine Moreland’s mother doesn’t entirely disapprove of novels. In fact, Catherine says, her mother “very often reads Sir Charles Grandison.” Why is this funny?

  • Do we ever hear Lydia Bennet’s thoughts in Pride and Prejudice?

  • In Sense and Sensibility, Lady Middleton believes the the Dashwood sisters must be “satirical” because they are “fond of reading.” Is being satirical good or bad in Lady Middleton’s view? Is reading? Why?

  • Though Emma denies it, Miss Bates completely understands the cruel joke Emma makes about her during the picnic on Box Hill. We can therefore understand Mr. Knightly’s reproof. But what might Miss Bates’s understanding tell us about how Austen’s contemporary readers would have understood her novels?

  • Why does Lady Catherine de Bourgh call Elizabeth “Miss Bennet,” though she is usually “Miss Elizabeth Bennet,” and “Miss Elizabeth” to Mr. Collins? Who is more often called “Miss Bennet”?

  • After Frank Churchill rescues Harriet Smith from the gypsies, Emma imagines what “a linguist, a grammarian, even a mathematician” would have concluded from the event. What on earth does she mean?

  • What should a lady say in accepting a marriage proposal? What should a gentleman say in making one? In which Austen novel do we see this? And why are the formulas for men and women different?

  • Emma claims that she comes from the younger branch of a very ancient family. Should we be impressed?

  • Who thinks in Mansfield Park, who doesn’t think, and who only talks about thinking?

  • Austen wrote in a letter to her sister that Mansfield Park would be about “ordination.” Is it?

  • After Marianne Dashwood recovers from her nearly fatal illness, she plans to spend the summer with walks to “Barton-Cross,” “the Abbeyland,” and a ruined priory, to “try to trace its foundations as far as we are told they once reached” (343). What does this tell us about Marianne?                                                                                                                                      
  • Why are there no good mothers in Jane Austen’s novels? Or are there?


Austen’s Writing Techniques

  • What on earth is free indirect discourse or style (which, by the way, I suggest we call free indirect speech and thought)? Free of what? What are some examples in Austen’s novels? What is it good for? And did it, whatever it is, originate with Austen?

  • Can you name some ways in which Austen’s writing was influenced by the novels she read? How did she differ from her predecessors? And how do you think she influenced her successors?

  • What are “objective correlatives,” and are there any in Austen’s novels?

  • How many kinds of narrators are there in fiction, and which kind does Austen use?

  • What else do narrators do besides tell the story?

  • What does Austen mean by referring to both the heroine’s “biographer” and her “contriver” in Northanger Abbey?

  • Are Austen’s novels ever allegorical?

  • You probably remember that foreshadowing means giving subtle clues in a story about what will happen later. Can you imagine such a thing as “after-shadowing”? What about “counter-foreshadowing”? Are there examples of any of these literary devices in Austen’s novels?

  • Suppose you are a novelist, and suppose the events of your heroine’s life, as you imagine them, are A, B, C, D, E, and so on, in order. Then suppose you decide to begin your novel with L, M, N, O, P and leave out events M and O. Maybe you also decide to devote many pages to event L and only a few sentences to P. What are you doing? And what sort of choice might you make if you were writing a murder mystery whose heroine is a detective?