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Introduction

from Part Two

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 July 2012

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Summary

In the previous chapters, I suggested that Austen's novels provide models of resistance and change for a hypothetical reader, through what William Galperin calls the ‘counter-hegemonic practices of reading’ she makes available. I also proposed the argument that these practices were grounded in gender-related strategies of indirection. In my argument, the hypothetical reader recognizes the tension between, for example, Pride and Prejudice's realistic social criticism and its final ‘aesthetic gratification’, or Mansfield Park's apparent conservative moral ideology and its complicated intertextual structure, resisting collusion with the norms of taste that the novels set up. Reading in this way, I have argued, is both strenuous and ludic. For the hypothetical reader, reading, as Johanna M. Smith puts it, is ‘not passive consumption’ but instead a form of production.

But did Austen's actual historical readers take up the teasing challenges of her prose style? Discussing Richardson's Clarissa, Ruth Perry argues that ‘Clarissa got under the skin of women of Richardson's generation because, as with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, their lives provided the raw materials for his imagination’. Clarissa, in other words, represented women readers to themselves. Austen's novels, drawing on and rewriting Richardson, also ‘got under the skin’ of their readers (and still do). Both troubling and consoling, they, like Richardson's, reflect the experience of intelligent, articulate women in cultural situations unsympathetic to their intelligence and eloquence. Unlike Clarissa, Austen's novels provide happy endings for such women, thus holding out the possibility that society can accommodate, even reward, women like Elizabeth Bennet, witty, impertinent and eloquent.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2012

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  • Introduction
  • Katie Halsey
  • Book: Jane Austen and her Readers, 1786–1945
  • Online publication: 05 July 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.7135/UPO9780857289445.005
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  • Introduction
  • Katie Halsey
  • Book: Jane Austen and her Readers, 1786–1945
  • Online publication: 05 July 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.7135/UPO9780857289445.005
Available formats
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Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • Katie Halsey
  • Book: Jane Austen and her Readers, 1786–1945
  • Online publication: 05 July 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.7135/UPO9780857289445.005
Available formats
×