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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?