In this talk, I situate Jane Austen’s fiction within a larger conversation about worlds and worlding that has emerged over the course of our Thursday Lecture Series this semester. The main part of my presentation focuses on Austen’s fiction to show how the formal trajectory of the English novel helped to create and complicate new ideas about the shape and extent of the social world. I center on Austen’s three novels named after places—in particular, Mansfield Park—and argue that these works can be understood as comparative analyses of various settings and of their suitability as environments in which disparate and distant persons might coexist. In these works, Austen ironizes any notion of the sufficiency of representations to capture the extent of the social world. Her conclusion is not a wholly negative one, however. By virtue of the completeness of novelistic form—a work’s accountability to its own materials—her novels sustain a political demand for fuller representations of the world, even as they insist on the necessary insufficiency of those efforts.
By way of conclusion, I will propose some ways that rhetorical and literary analysis might help us better understand the political significance of more recent moves to personify the world or planet.
Note: Although I make reference to prior conversations in this year’s Thursday Lecture Series, you will not need to have been present for these other events to follow my talk.
Click here to register via Zoom. Please note that registering for this event will sign you up for the entire Thursday Lecture Series for the Fall 2020 semester.
Talks in this series will be followed by discussion, including a Q&A session with the audience.
Please email [email protected] to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.