Teaching Jane Austen and the Male Romantic Poets

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Teaching Jane Austen and the Male Romantic Poets

Beth Lau
California State University, Long Beach

1.         Throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century, Jane Austen was not treated—in published criticism or in the classroom—in relation to the major male Romantic poets or thought to participate in the period’s defining events and concerns, either political or literary. As late as the 7th (2000) edition, the Norton Anthology's "Introduction to the Romantic Period" referred to Austen as “the only important author who seems to be untouched by the political, intellectual, and artistic revolutions of her age” (Abrams 20). In recent decades that situation has at last begun to change, and an increasing body of criticism connects Austen in various ways to the Romantic movement. [1]  But old habits apparently die hard. Most scholarship on Austen still treats her either in isolation, in relation to other novelists, or in conjunction with other women writers. Anecdotal evidence also indicates that many instructors still have trouble integrating Austen in Romantic period courses and either omit her altogether, or, if they include one of her novels, emphasize its differences from the poetry of the major male poets. My most recent experience of this response was at a NASSR 2013 roundtable discussion of the various period courses in which Austen is taught (Eighteenth-Century, Romantic, Victorian), when an audience member declared that Austen has nothing in common with the male Romantic poets. [2] 

2.         I am committed to teaching Austen in my Romantics classes alongside William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. In the first place, I consider it essential to include the major novelist of the period in such courses—indeed, it is as inappropriate to leave her out as it would be to omit Wordsworth or any other central figure of the age. Moreover, one need not view Austen’s work as a departure from trends that characterize Romantic poetry. Many central connections can be explored between Austen’s novels and Romantic poems that have been, as it were, hiding in plain sight all along. I do wish to make clear that I’m not arguing for teaching only the “big six” poets plus Austen, or for viewing her solely in relation to these writers. In my courses I do include other women writers (and often, due to time constraints, leave out one or more of the major male poets) and address various similarities and differences among all of the works treated. In this essay, however, I focus on connections between Austen and the major male poets because her supposed differences from them are what kept her out of the Romantic canon in the past and, I believe, still prove a stumbling block for many instructors.

3.        One of the major distinctions commonly made between Austen and the male poets is that her works advocate relationships and community whereas theirs celebrate the isolated self, but Austen’s novels definitely participate in the philosophy of individualism that evolved in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as a result of various developments. These include an increasing emphasis on the subjective nature of reality in response to the empirical, skeptical, and associationist philosophies of mind prevalent in the eighteenth century, according to which each individual’s perception of the external world is unique and no universal values or conceptions may be assumed. In addition, the rise of capitalism and new modes of labor and production broke down traditional feudal and familial ties and encouraged competition and self-reliance, but also alienation from stable relationships and rhythms of life. Protestantism contributed to individualism with its emphasis on self-analysis and a direct personal relationship between each person and God. Finally, the growth of a more democratic and fluid society encouraged personal ambition and the desire to aspire beyond the condition in which one was born. The question of whether Austen was conservative or progressive in her political outlook has been hotly debated, but as Mary Poovey states, even those with conservative sympathies “were influenced during this period by the rhetoric and practices of individualism” (181). [3] 

4.        As several critics have noted, Austen shares with the Romantic poets a new understanding of the self as developmental, evolving over time. [4]  All of her novels can be characterized as Bildungsroman, a genre that developed in the late eighteenth century, which depicts the maturation or coming of age of a unique individual (see Stelzig 1-15). Wordsworth is especially relevant to compare with Austen on this point, as many of his best-known poems—"Tintern Abbey," "Intimations of Immortality," The Prelude—are concerned with the passage from childhood or youth to adulthood, but all of the male poets address this issue in some fashion. Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience are concerned with stages of mental development, and Coleridge’s poems depicting a fall from one state to another ("Ancient Mariner," Christabel) can also be read as explorations of psychological evolution. Keats frequently addresses the need to progress through the stages of life from a youthful and sensuous to more intellectual and compassionate, both in his poems and in letters such as those describing life as a “Mansion of Many Apartments” and of life as a “vale of Soul-making” (Letters 1: 280-81, 2: 101-4). [5] 

5.        Marlon Ross argues that “rituals of maturation” in literature of the Romantic period are “culturally and gender-determined,” so that models of development are starkly different for male and female writers, the latter of whom do not depict a “struggle toward self-discovery” (234). Womanhood during the early nineteenth century “is assumed . . . to be something stable,” and female maturity involves “the agreement not to desire independent individuality” (Ross 159, 161). [6]  Although variations can be noted in female and male life stories in Romantic literature, Austen certainly is similar to her male contemporaries in depicting the passage of an individual from immaturity to adulthood, and her heroines also clearly “struggle toward self-discovery” and achieve “independent individuality” in their maturation process.

6.        On the other hand, some might say that Austen champions maturity whereas many of the male poets celebrate childhood and lament the passage to adulthood (e.g., Mellor 275, 279), but in truth all of these writers reflect nuance and complexity as they explore the advantages and disadvantages of innocence and experience. Two works that are particularly relevant to compare on the topic of the pros and cons of maturation are Sense and Sensibility and “Tintern Abbey.” Both Marianne Dashwood and the speaker in Wordsworth’s poem go through a similar process of evolving from a passionate state to a more sober one as they relinquish their youthful love for what seemed an all-consuming sublime or heroic presence (Willoughby for Marianne and Nature for Wordsworth), that they come to realize was largely a self-created projection of their own desires. Wordsworth in many ways seems to prefer and yearn for his earlier intense relationship with Nature, just as many readers feel that Marianne’s relationship with Willoughby remains more vital and authentic than that with the flannel-waistcoated Colonel Brandon, whom she marries after acquiring a “more calm and sober judgment” (429) and diminished expectations. [7] 

7.        Another way in which Austen’s novels reflect the Romantic period’s focus on individual subjectivity is in their depiction of the heroines’ inner lives. It is commonplace to observe that little significant action occurs in Austen’s fiction; the drama takes place in the internal struggles of her characters. Although the heroines certainly interact with others, their most significant moments—and often the climaxes of the novels—involve solitary meditation. One thinks of Marianne’s serious reconsideration of her conduct during her illness, which she only later confesses to her sister; of Elizabeth’s reflections and self-recriminations after reading Darcy’s letter as she strolls about the grounds of Hunsford; of Emma’s mortified private analyses of her behavior and feelings after Mr. Elton’s proposal, the expedition to Box Hill, and Harriet’s confession of her love for Mr. Knightley; of Catherine’s remorseful hours alone with her own thoughts after Henry learns of her dark suspicions about his father; and of Elinor’s, Fanny’s, and Anne’s many periods of private reflection on past events and probable future outcomes. The latter is the most introspective of all Austen’s heroines: Adela Pinch notes how “Anne is often so occupied with her own rumination and recollection that impressions from the outside seem to have a hard time finding their way in” (152).

8.        Wordsworth declares that one of the chief characteristics of his Lyrical Ballads is that “the feeling therein developed gives importance to the action and situation, and not the action and situation to the feeling” (448), and in poems such as "Hart-Leap Well," "Simon Lee," and "The Idiot Boy," he confronts the reader’s expectation for some sensational “tale” and announces that instead of plot-driven narratives he tells “simple song[s] for thinking hearts” ("Heart-Leap Well" 97, 100), where the interest lies in personal responses to experiences of everyday life. In the quintessential Romantic lyric (such as Coleridge’s conversation poems, Percy Shelley’s "Ode to the West Wind," and Keats’s odes), a drama unfolds in the speaker’s inner debate as he struggles with a personal conflict and eventually achieves a measure of resolution. In Austen and the Romantic poets, the focus of literature moves from external events to the inner life of the individual.

9.        Walter Scott noted the revolutionary quality of Austen’s novels when he contrasted the “Big Bow-Wow strain” of his own works, which feature major historical events and provide little psychological depth in their depiction of characters, to her “talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life” (Southam 106). As the 8th edition of The Norton Anthology's "Introduction to the Romantic Period" notes, Austen’s model proved to be more influential than Scott’s in the history of the novel, which has continued to emphasize “the mind in flux” over action-driven plots (Greenblatt 22). Clifford Siskin argues that both Austen’s novels and Romantic poems reflect a “lyric turn” in literary history, and claims that in Austen we see the beginning of the “lyricization of the novel” (132). Gabrielle Starr, like Siskin, insists that fiction and poetry of the Romantic period share in the same developments and ought to be studied together. According to Starr, Romantic poetry was influenced by the novel, which was the first genre to depict “private experience and the inner world” of middle-class people in domestic settings (7). Whether the Romantic novel was lyricized or Romantic poetry was novelized, both genres reflect the period’s new emphasis on depicting personal thoughts and emotions.

10.        The fact that Austen’s novels revolve around courtship plots may appear to challenge the claim that her works subscribe to an individualist ethos. However, the very notion that marriage ought to involve love, compatibility between partners, and personal fulfillment is associated with new beliefs in “affective individualism” and the validity of personal happiness (Johnson 90-91; see also 77-84). Elizabeth Bennet clearly suggests the association of romantic love with democratic notions of each individual’s right to “the pursuit of happiness” (in the words of the Preamble to the American Declaration of Independence), when she tells Lady Catherine, who wants Elizabeth to promise that she will never marry Darcy, “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me” (396). By refusing to acknowledge the superior claim to Darcy of Miss De Bourgh, who was intended as his wife by both Lady Catherine and Darcy’s mother, Elizabeth is branded an “‘Obstinate, headstrong girl’” and an “‘upstart . . . young woman without family, connections, or fortune’” (394-95). Mrs. Bennet makes a similar charge after Elizabeth refuses to marry Mr. Collins on the ground that her “feelings in every respect forbid it” (122). For Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth is a “headstrong foolish girl” who “car[es] no more for [her family] than if we were at York, provided she can have her own way” (123, 126). By insisting on marrying for love instead of for the benefit of her own or her husband’s family, Elizabeth is regarded by those who adhere to a more traditional view of marriage as guilty of the sin of selfish individualism, associated with progressive, “upstart” elements of society. Fanny Price is likewise considered by Sir Thomas to exhibit “wilfulness of temper, self-conceit, and every tendency to that independence of spirit, which prevails so much in modern days” when she refuses to accept the socially eligible Henry Crawford on the grounds that she “cannot like him . . . well enough to marry him” (367, 364). The fact that the heroines of Austen’s novels are chosen for their personalities rather than their wealth, beauty, or status also bespeaks the new ethos of the uniqueness and worth of each individual. As Robert Polhemus notes, “the need to be noticed and loved for your own distinctive self” expresses “the passion of modern individualism” (45; see also 31, 54). [8] 

11.        One type of romantic relationship common to both Austen’s novels and many Romantic poems (and, in the cases of Wordsworth and Byron, their personal lives) is that involving sibling incest. Both Elinor Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse marry their brothers-in-law. Colonel Brandon finds in Marianne the image of his cousin Eliza, who grew up in his own family like a sister. This pattern in most pronounced in Mansfield Park, where Fanny Price’s strongest feelings are divided between her brother William and her cousin Edmund, the latter of whom has lived in the same house with her like a brother since she was ten years old. One explanation for the Romantic fascination with incest is that it participates in the age’s celebration of childhood; brother-and-sister bonds are uniquely strong because they are based on shared childhood experiences. According to the empirical philosophy of eighteenth-century thinkers such as John Locke, David Hume, and David Hartley, each individual is born as a blank slate and develops his or her opinions, values, fears, and desires through idiosyncratic personal associations. Siblings are more likely to share personality traits than people who meet later in life because they have the advantage of similar formative experiences and associations (see Richardson 744). Colonel Brandon says of his beloved cousin Eliza, “Our ages were nearly the same, and from our earliest years we were playfellows and friends. I cannot remember the time when I did not love Eliza” (Austen, Sense and Sensibility 233). In Mansfield Park, after describing the happy reunion between Fanny and her brother William, the narrator comments on the way “even the conjugal tie is beneath the fraternal. Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply” (273). [9] 

12.        Austen is keenly aware of the errors of selfishness, self-absorption, and detachment from others; indeed, nearly all of her flawed characters suffer from some version of these traits. Such characters include Marianne as well as John and Fanny Dashwood, Sir Walter Eliot, Mary Musgrove, the “bad boys” Wickham, Willoughby, and Henry Crawford, Isabella and John Thorpe, Lydia Bennet, Mrs. Elton and many others, including to some extent Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennet, the latter of whom like her father initially uses her wit as a defensive technique to distance herself from intimacy with others. But many Romantic poems likewise explore the dark side of individualism, as they depict the dangers and misery of solipsistic isolation. Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner is one of the most disturbing poems ever written on the horrors of solitude and the disastrous consequences of self-assertion, and in Dejection the speaker laments his loveless state and attributes to it a loss of imaginative power. Shelley’s Alastor is also a cautionary tale about “The Spirit of Solitude” and the danger of rejecting a proffered human relationship (the Arab Maid) for an illusory ideal. Wordsworth’s Excursion features a misguided character called The Solitary, and in "Elegiac Stanzas, Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle, in a Storm" the speaker renounces his deluded, youthful conception of nature, which disconnected him from the human community (“Farewell, farewell the heart that lives alone, / Housed in a dream, at distance from the Kind!” [53-54]). This poem, written in response to John Wordsworth‘s death in a storm at sea, is perhaps an extreme statement of this position, but many of Wordsworth’s most famous poems, including Tintern Abbey, the Intimations Ode, and The Prelude, describe a process of growth in which “Love of Nature Lead[s] to Love of Mankind,” as the title of Book 8 of The Prelude announces. [10]  Keats’s odes progressively expose the emptiness and sterility of a timeless, ideal realm among the society of gods and goddesses, which the speaker in Ode to a Nightingale ultimately finds “forlorn” of human companionship (70) and the speaker in Ode on a Grecian Urn rejects as “cold” and “desolate” (45, 40). Austen shares her awareness of the dangers of excessive individualism with the male poets. All of these writers explore the advantages and disadvantages, the gains and losses, of their age’s new conception of the unique self.

13.        As has already been suggested, another major similarity between Austen’s works and those of the male poets is their treatment of commonplace people and settings as fit subjects of literature, written in language close to that of ordinary speech. William Hazlitt famously allied Wordsworth’s celebration of humble life to the French Revolution’s deposition of kings and aristocrats, but as Anne Rowland notes, Hazlitt could just as well have attributed Wordsworth’s embrace of ordinary subjects and language to the influence of the novel (125). [11]  Or, one could say that both the novel and Romantic lyric poetry reflect the democratizing movement of the time, the shift away from hierarchical to more egalitarian, meritocratic models of society and literature. Both genres could be written and read by men and women outside of the literary elite, without a knowledge of classical languages and traditional conventions of subject matter, style, and diction: the novel in that it depicts contemporary, usually middle class people and their affairs in standard prose, and the lyric poem in that it conveys the personal thoughts and feelings of the individual speaker in language at least close to that “really spoken by men,” in Wordsworth’s phrase (446).

14.        Wordsworth provides the most obvious parallel to Austen on the adoption of commonplace characters and subjects, but many of the other Romantic poets share in this trait. In Don Juan, for example, Byron contrasts his “pedestrian Muses” to those of poets who deal in the mystical or sublime ("Dedication" 57). In addition, Byron’s choice of Don Juan for his protagonist, in stark contrast to the heroic figures of previous epics (Canto 1, stanzas 1-5), is similar to Austen’s choice of Catherine Morland as the protagonist of Northanger Abbey, a girl who has none of the grandiose virtues, talents, or physical attributes typical of previous novel heroines. Both Byron and Austen present their unconventional leading characters as revolutionary departures from previous literary tradition, in a shift from the heroic, ideal, and implausible to the ordinary, down-to-earth, and natural. [12] 

15.        Although the depiction of common life is an important characteristic of Romantic literature, the period got its name from its association with romance, involving the remote, exotic, passionate, dark, and mysterious, or even supernatural. Austen’s satire of these Romantic aspects in Northanger Abbey and other works might seem to set her apart from the other major writers who defined the era. Austen's treatment of romance is complex, however, as is that of most of the male poets. The happy endings of Austen’s novels involve elements of fantasy and wish-fulfillment, and many critics have argued that Northanger Abbey actually follows Gothic conventions. The works of the male poets too reflect tensions between romance and reality, the commonplace and the exotic. Byron’s oeuvre can be divided into the verse romances and the realistic satires (as well as his witty, sociable letters); Keats’s career can largely be defined as a struggle between the attractions of romance and commitment to the mortal world of pain and suffering; Coleridge wrote poems of the supernatural but also the colloquial conversation poems, with their close observation of the natural world; and Wordsworth’s poetry too, despite his condemnation of Gothic sensationalism in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads (which itself may be compared to Austen’s ridicule of the Gothic in Northanger Abbey), actually includes Gothic figures such as characters who suffer from madness and guilt, and a brooding, mysterious, chastising presence in nature. [13]  Exploring conflicts or tensions between romance and reality yields many similarities between Austen’s works and those of the male poets. Two particular works I have compared on this topic are Northanger Abbey and Keats’s The Eve of St. Agnes. Both express a criticism of young women who lose touch with reality from their engagement with supernatural tales, but both also participate in the romance they ostensibly satirize (“Jane Austen and John Keats” 99-107).

16.        Austen traditionally was regarded as an advocate of reason and common sense, in contrast to the male poets who were considered celebrants of the creative imagination. [14]  Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Sense and Sensibility are among the novels that appear to condemn flights of imagination and urge rationality and reliance on empirical evidence in its place. The male poets, however, also frequently treat the dangers of a visionary imagination that can lead one astray and cut one off from connection to flesh-and-blood human beings. Works such as Shelley’s Alastor, Wordsworth’s Elegiac Stanzas, many of Keats’s poems including Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn, and Coleridge’s Eolian Harp and Constancy to an Ideal Object convey this cautionary attitude toward the imagination. In his 1813 lecture on Hamlet, Coleridge analyzes the protagonist’s problems in terms that directly recall the errors of Emma Woodhouse and Catherine Morland. Hamlet is said to suffer from an “overbalance of imagination,” so that his mind “is for ever occupied with the world within him, and abstracted from external things: his words give a substance to shadows: and he is dissatisfied with commonplace realities” (Lectures 1: 544).

17.        On the other hand, claims that Austen’s novels unequivocally condemn flights of imagination are undermined by many readings that note ways in which imaginative heroines supposedly rebuked—Catherine, Emma, Marianne—actually engage our sympathies, and a strictly rational perspective is also revealed to be flawed or impossible to maintain. Catherine Morland’s mother is completely devoid of imagination (“Her own family were plain matter-of-fact people” Catherine reflects [Austen, Northanger Abbey 62]), but she is imperceptive about the nature of her daughter’s unhappiness when she returns from Northanger Abbey suffering from a wounded heart. Elinor Dashwood, supposedly the exemplar of rational common sense, invents fictions when she believes the hair in a ring Edward is wearing must be her own, even though she never gave him a lock, and when she assumes Edward’s mother must be the cause of his coolness toward herself. Rather than oppose the male poets as celebrants of imagination and Austen as an advocate of rationality and empiricism, as with other issues treated above it is more accurate and productive to explore the balance or conflicts between reason and imagination in the works of these writers. As Lucy Newlyn notes, many scholars see a “duality [in] Romanticism, [a] tendency towards ambivalence, irony, and self-critique” (9) rather than a single, confident perspective. William Deresiewicz argues that Austen’s depiction of ambivalent feelings and relationships allies her with the Romantic poets, “for whom ambivalent feelings are their favorite feelings of all” (46).

18.        Austen’s novels unquestionably convey support for one type of imaginative activity that the male poets also championed: the sympathetic imagination, or the faculty by which individuals project themselves into the thoughts and feelings of others. Percy Shelley claims that “The great instrument of moral good is the imagination” in that it allows one to “put himself in the place of another and of many others” (517). Keats also celebrates this quality, which he calls “disinterestedness” (Letters 2: 79), using a term and concept he adopted from Hazlitt. All of Austen’s vindicated heroines possess this capacity, which often distinguishes them from other, less empathic characters. Elinor Dashwood is sensitive to the needs of others while Marianne remains wrapped up in her own concerns and rudely ignores those around her. In this sense, Elinor is more imaginative than Marianne. Similarly, one can say that Emma does not need to suppress her imagination but shift from one form to another, from a visionary to a sympathetic imagination that is directed toward entering into others’ perspectives. [15]  Keats likewise comes to redefine the role of imagination, from an agency that transports us “away from all our troubles” (“I stood tip-toe upon a little hill” 138) to an ideal realm, one that engages us with mortal men and women and the natural world of process. [16] 

19.        Another related form of imagination Austen can be said to endorse as the male poets do is the ability to lose herself in her creations. Keats praised the identityless poet of “Negative Capability,” in contrast to the “[W]ordsworthian or egotistical sublime” (Letters 1: 193-94, 386-87). For Keats, Coleridge, and Hazlitt, Shakespeare was the supreme creative genius because of his protean or chameleonic ability to efface his own personality as he entered into his characters. Austen has often been compared to Shakespeare in her ability to create a range of fully realized characters that betray little of the author’s personal identity. Indeed, Austen can be said to exemplify more than any other writer of the period the Romantic ideal of the protean, Shakespearean, Negatively Capable writer. [17] 

20.        One of the major traits usually associated with Romantic poetry is a celebration of nature, and Austen’s novels of manners may not appear to participate in her contemporaries’ love of the nonhuman world. A growing body of criticism, however, notes various ways in which nature figures significantly in Austen’s work and allies it in this respect with Romantic poetry. Like Wordsworth she finds cities like London, Bath, and Portsmouth uncongenial and prefers rural villages and country houses, often presenting these as more conducive to moral health than urban spaces. Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park declares that “We do not look in great cities for our best morality” (108), much as Wordsworth in The Prelude insists that “Love . . . does [not] thrive at ease / Among the close and overcrowded haunts / Of cities, where the human heart is sick” (1850; 13.202-4). As Jonathan Bate states, many of Austen’s heroines such as Fanny Price “read Cowper rather than Wordsworth, but they would be broadly in sympathy with the argument of the preface to Lyrical Ballads that . . . the essential passions of the heart ‘find a better soil’” in the country, where “the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.” In her support for human communities that are closely integrated with rural life and rhythms of nature, Bate argues, “Austen comes closer to the sensibility of Romanticism than we usually allow her to be” (550). [18] 

21.        In addition, many key scenes in Austen’s novels take place out of doors. This is typically where the hero and heroine finally come to an understanding and reveal their love for one another, when they are free from the constraints of social decorum. This pattern applies in Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion, and it is especially pronounced in Pride and Prejudice, where Mr. Darcy’s first proposal made indoors is rejected, whereas his second proposal, made while he and Elizabeth are engaged in a long walk in the country, is accepted. Elizabeth first begins to reassess her opinion of Darcy when she reads his letter while walking along a country lane in Hunsford, where she has gone to “indulge herself in air and exercise,” and she gains even greater respect for him when she views his well-managed estate, notable for its “natural beauty . . . so little counteracted by an awkward taste” (Pride and Prejudice 217, 271). For his part, Darcy is also attracted by Elizabeth’s engagements with the natural world. The Bingley sisters disapprove when Elizabeth walks across the muddy countryside to visit her sister at Netherfield Park and when she shows up at Pemberley “brown and coarse” or suntanned from her summer travels (299), but in each situation her outdoor exercise enhances her appeal for Darcy. Alison Sulloway points out that Darcy is uncomfortable among strangers in drawing rooms and more at ease at home in the country, alone or with a few close friends, and this fact, along with his pride and aloofness, allies him with Mr. Rochester in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a character who is usually considered a quintessential Romantic hero (206-7). In addition, as Barbara Seeber notes, some critics have seen in Darcy’s management of Pemberley a type of proto-environmentalism (5). Both Elizabeth and Darcy are allied with nature and this can be seen as one of the major shared values that draws them together. [19] 

22.        One can of course note many differences between aspects of Austen’s works and those of the male poets. One can also note major differences among the male poets themselves, however, but these distinctions do not prevent them from being studied together as participants in the same historical moment and literary movement. I believe Austen shares as many key traits with the major male poets as each one shares with the others, and that she can be seamlessly integrated into a Romantic period class. Studying Austen in context with the major male poets not only reveals aspects of Austen’s works not traditionally emphasized, it also sheds new light on the male poets’ works and thus helps transform our understanding of the Romantic era.

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[1] One indication of this change is that, beginning with the 8th edition of the Norton Anthology (2006), the statement about Austen’s detachment from the concerns of her age is gone, and in several passages she is linked to the Romantic poets (Greenblatt 22; see also 14). For other studies allying Austen with Romanticism, besides works cited above, see essays by Nina Auerbach, a special issue of The Wordsworth Circle devoted to the topic (7.4 [Autumn 1976]), Ruoff, Thomas, Tuite, Harris, and Walker. BACK

[2] The session was entitled “Austen Over Time,” organized and moderated by Debra Gettelman and Shawn Maurer. BACK

[3] See also Thompson 7-8. Other critics who explore the rise of individualism, subjectivity, and privacy in relation to Austen and other Romantic writers include Hart and Swingle. BACK

[4] See Morgan, “Jane Austen and Romanticism” 366-68; Siskin 3, 11-13, and chap. 6. In related but somewhat different terms, Deresiewicz argues that Austen’s last three novels convey a new sense of time similar to Wordsworth’s (28 and passim). Although he doesn’t compare her to the Romantic poets, Thompson notes that “Austen’s narrative presents its major characters as growing or maturing or developing as separate or distinct or different individuals,” and he comments on “The historicity of this life story,” saying “Austen is the first English novelist to portray this myth in a fully fashioned form” (159). BACK

[5] Jay Clayton compares Fanny Price’s development to the scheme Keats outlines in his analogy of life as a mansion of many apartments. As Clayton notes, Keats’s pattern of growth is itself indebted to Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, and Fanny significantly keeps a transparency of Tintern Abbey in her East room sanctuary (67-72). Deresiewicz offers an extended comparison of Fanny in her East room and Tintern Abbey (56-62). Morgan sees parallels between Emma’s pattern of growth and that outlined in Wordsworth’s Intimations Ode, as well as in Blake’s poems (In the Meantime 44-50). Karl Kroeber employs Blake’s terms to describe the development of central characters in Northanger Abbey when he says that “the heroine progresses from innocence to experience, the hero from experience to redeemed innocence” (292). BACK

[6] It should be noted that Ross is treating women poets Felicia Hemans and Mary Tighe, rather than female novelists. BACK

[7] See my “Sense and Sensibility and Tintern Abbey: Growth and Maturation.” BACK

[8] See also my “Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice” 222-23. BACK

[9] For further analysis of sibling incest in the works of Austen and the male poets, see my “Placing Jane Austen in the Romantic Period” 257-59. BACK

[10] Laura Dabundo insists that Wordsworth has been mischaracterized as a poet of ego and solitude, and she finds many similarities between his and Austen’s treatment of the value of community (see especially chap. 2). BACK

[11] Stuart Tave was one of the first critics to connect Wordsworth’s and Austen’s embrace of common life and simple language (65-67). Hazlitt allies Wordsworth’s poetry and the French Revolution in his lecture “On the Living Poets” (161-62). BACK

[12] For other comparisons of Austen and Byron, see Brownstein, Fisher, Knox-Shaw, and Wootton. BACK

[13] On Gothic elements in Austen and the male Romantic poets, see Galperin 85-87. BACK

[14] This point is made by Mellor 275-76, 278-80. BACK

[15] On this point see Morgan, "In the Meantime" 36-39; Deresiewicz 114. BACK

[16] A succinct and influential statement of the shift in Keats’s attitude toward the imagination is Jack Stillinger’s “Imagination and Reality in the Odes.” BACK

[17] For further development of points on similarities between Austen’s and the male poets’ treatment of imagination, see my “The Uses and Abuses of Imagination in Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets” and “Jane Austen and John Keats” 84-93. BACK

[18] Bate quotes from "Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads" 447. Stuart Tave also notes Austen’s and Wordsworth’s shared aversion to cities and belief that the provinces are “the center of life” (65). He compares Mansfield Park to Wordsworth’s Michael. BACK

[19] On the importance of the outdoors in Pride and Prejudice see my “Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice” 222, Curry, and Altomari; all draw parallels to Wordsworth or other Romantic poets. Seeber’s book is devoted to exploring Austen’s engagement with non-human nature, a practice that for Seeber situates her novels within the Romantic movement (6-7). Deresiewicz believes Austen’s last three novels “display a new receptivity to nature” informed by her reading of Romantic poetry (19; see also 20-21, 134-45). BACK


Published @ RC

April 2015