Syllabus: Jane and the Austenites

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Honors Seminar in Humanities: Jane and the Austenites
Spring 2011

Donna S. Parsons
University of Iowa


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Course Description

Jane Austen is arguably one of those rare authors whose novels and life story transcends time and a multitude of boundaries. As a clergyman’s daughter her literary prowess was influenced by the dynamics of family and village life. Because she published her novels anonymously, only her family and a few friends were aware of her accomplishments when she died in 1817. Yet, from the publication of James Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoir of Jane Austen in 1870 to the release of the film Becoming Jane in 2007, interest in Jane Austen’s life has grown unabatedly. Indeed, Austen’s life story has become so fictionalized and commodified that we risk losing the novelist herself. In this seminar we will chart Jane Austen’s ascendancy from obscurity to that of a cultural icon and even a highly marketable product. We will examine the development of Austen’s popularity in American and British culture and how her life and work is bifurcated between academic scholarship and popular culture. Simultaneously we will analyze Austen’s novels for the insights they provide on marriage, class, finance, genteel society and Regency culture. As we discuss the reception history of the novels we will look at how the formation of the Janeites, the Austenites, and the Pemberleans as well as how film adaptations of her novels and life have driven her canonical and celebrity status.

Course Objectives and Goals

  • to gain an in-depth knowledge of Austen’s fiction
  • to gain a greater understanding of the social, cultural and historical contexts in which Austen wrote and her relevance to 21st-century readers
  • to develop an awareness of how film adaptations, biographies, fictional prequels and sequels, and reception history influence our interpretation of Austen’s characters, narratives and plots
  • to develop and refine skills in critical reading, discussion, and writing

Texts (available at the University Book Store)

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen, Emma

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey/Lady Susan/TheWatsons/Sandition

Jane Austen, Persuasion

Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World

Grading System and the use of +/-

Plus and minus grading will be utilized.

Grading Scale

Percentage Grade Corresponding grade point
98-100 A+ 4.33
93-97 A 4.00
90-92 A- 3.67
87-89 B+ 3.33
83-86 B 3.00
80-82 B- 2.67
77-79 C+ 2.33
73-76 C 2.00
70-72 C- 1.67
67-69 D+ 1.33
63-66 D 1.00
60-62 D- 0.67
0-59 F 0.00
Computation of Grades Important Dates
Class participation/attendance 20% Essay #1 due: February 16
Discussion questions 20% Essay #2 due: March 9
Essay #1 20% Essay #3 due: May 4
Essay #2 20%
Essay #3 20%
100%

Course Requirements and Policies

1. Class Participation and Attendance: Since this class meets only once a week, we cover the material at a very quick pace. Regular attendance and active class participation is necessary in order to facilitate thorough discussions of the texts. One unexcused absence will not affect your grade. Thereafter, your participation/attendance grade will drop a letter grade per week for each unexcused absence. Please let me know in advance if you will be unable to attend a class session.

2. Discussion Questions: There is so much information to cover when we engage in close readings of Austen’s novels as well as when we critique the impact her work and life has had on nearly two centuries of readers. To ensure that we are covering topics that interest the class, each week (excepting the three when your essays are due) you will submit to me via email 2-3 discussion questions about Austen’s novels or Jane’s Fame readings that you would like the class to consider. Your questions can focus on specific scenes, characters, turning points in the plot, themes, cultural references, reception of Austen’s work, etc. Your questions should also be detailed. Why do you think a specific scene, theme, character development, or literary reference is important to our interpretation of the novel? Why do you think generations of readers have been captivated by Austen’s novels and her life? Make sure you list the volume number, chapter number, and page number for each question. I will compile everyone’s submissions into a set of anonymous discussion questions for us to analyze during class. Questions will be listed chronologically and then thematically. Each set of discussion questions is worth 10 points. Questions are due by Tuesday 11:59 pm each week. Due dates include: January 25; February 1, 8, 22; March 1, 22, 29; April 5, 12, 19, 26. No late papers will be accepted.

3. Essay #1: Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility, & the Making of a Brand – Due February 16th

In the first chapter of Claire Harman’s Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered The World we are told that “[t]he longer Austen remained unpublished, the more experimental she became, and the more licence she assumed with bold, brilliant moves.” (p. 38) Inyour opinion how is Sense and Sensibility “experimental?” What are some examples of the “bold, brilliant moves” that Austen makes in her narrative? Think of it this way: Why are 21st-century readers still drawn to this novel? How does it hold our attention? What does the narrative make us question and why? With which characters do we empathize and why? What do we learn about writing from Austen? There are many questions to ask, and you are not limited to those posed above. On the same note, you are not expected to answer every question listed in the description. Basically, I want to know why you believe this novel was successful and how it became the blueprint for Austen and subsequent novelists to follow. I am not looking for the “right answers” but rather for a persuasive argument. You will need to include a thesis statement, develop your argument, provide examples to support the points you make, and draw your own conclusions. You need to cite in a footnote or endnote any source from which you paraphrase or quote. You can use parenthetical citations. You will also need to include a bibliography. Your paper should be 4-5 pages in length. The paper will receive a letter grade.

4. Essay #2: Completing The WatsonsDue: March 9th

After Jane Austen’s death the manuscript for The Watsons was found among her papers. Imagine that a publisher has purchased this manuscript, and an editor has hired you to revise and complete the novel. This essay asks you to consider how you would develop the plot so that 21st-century readers will believe they are reading an original novel by Jane Austen. You are NOT expected to write a novel, but rather to explore how you believe Austen would have expanded this particular work. Your exploration is guided by your readings of Austen’s novels. For your new version, you will need to consider the following:

  • Have all the characters been introduced?
  • Will you add or delete any characters?
  • What new scenes will you add and why?
  • Who is your villain/villainess and why?
  • Who is your heroine? What does she have in common with Austen’s other heroines?
  • Who is your leading male character? What does he have in common with Austen’s other leading male characters?
  • What will be the novel’s central theme(s)?
  • How will you develop the plot?
  • What are the subplots?
  • How will you incorporate historical events such as the Napoleonic Wars?
  • What elements of Regency culture will you exemplify?

There are many questions to ask, and you are not limited to the ones listed above. On the same note, you are not expected to answer every question posed in the description. Basically, I want to know what you think about the manner in which Austen would have revised this novel and why. I am not looking for the “right answers” but rather for a persuasive argument. You will need to include a thesis statement, develop your argument, provide examples to support the points you make, and draw your own conclusions. You need to cite in a footnote or endnote any source from which your paraphrase or quote. You can use parenthetical citations. You will also need to include a bibliography that includes a minimum of 8 sources. 3 sources may come from the internet. The remaining sources should come from Austen’s novels, letters, peer-reviewed scholarly articles, and/or chapters from books. Your paper should be 5-6 pages in length. The paper will receive a letter grade.

5. Essay #3: Jane Austen and Popular Culture – Due May 4th

Even though Jane Austen was virtually unknown as an author during her lifetime, today her novels are more popular and more widely read than those by her contemporaries or later British novelists. The question is why. Why do readers find her fiction so appealing? Why is her life so intriguing? What do we learn about ourselves when we study her novels, her letters, and her story? What do we learn about Regency culture and society? Your final essay will require you to study an aspect of Jane Austen’s narrative life and to contextualize it within a particular time frame, society, or culture (i.e. discuss the relevance of your topic to the period in which it was produced). Examples of paper topics include

  • re-writings of Austen’s life (family memoirs, biographies)
  • critical reception of Austen’s works (G. H. Lewes, Q. D. Leavis, Lionel Trilling)
  • other authors on Austen (Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf)
  • cinematic adaptations of Austen’s novels
  • sequels and prequels
  • re-writings of Austen’s novels (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)
  • the accomplishments (drawing, painting, music, dancing, embroidery, sewing)
  • Regency fashion
  • Austen and landscape
  • Austen and the clergy
  • Austen and the navy
  • Austen and satire or irony
  • Austen societies, fan clubs, websites
  • Austen tourism (Bath, Winchester, Chawton, Lyme Regis)
  • themes in her novels (courtship, marriage, social status, money, secrecy, gossip, food, weather, walking, etc)

You will need to include a thesis statement, develop your argument, provide examples to support the points you make, and draw your own conclusions. You need to cite in a footnote or endnote any source from which you paraphrase or quote. You can use parenthetical citations. You will also need to include a bibliography that includes a minimum of 10 sources. 3 sources may come from the internet. 6 sources should come from peer-reviewed scholarly articles and/or chapters from books. Your essay should be 5-6 pages in length. The paper will receive a letter grade.

Calendar of Course Assignments:

January 19: Modern Day Biographers’ Jane Austen

January 26: Writing and the Austen Family

read: Sense and Sensibility, pp. 3-102 (Vol. 1)
begin reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 1 (pp. 1-26)

February 2: Circulating Libraries and Reading Societies

read: Sense and Sensibility, pp. 103-191 (Vol. 2)
finish reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 1 (pp. 1-26)

February 9: Familial Assessments of Jane Austen

Austen Research with Janalyn Moss in the UI Main Library’s Information Arcade classroom
read: Sense and Sensibility, pp. 193-289 (Vol. 3)
begin reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 2 (pp. 27-60)

February 16: Austen and the Prince Regent

read: Pride and Prejudice, pp. 1-101 (Vol. I)
finish reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 2 (pp. 27-60)
Essay #1 due

February 23: Posthumous Publications

English Country Dances with Professor Anne Stapleton, English Department
read: Pride and Prejudice, pp. 103-184 (Vol. II)
begin reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 3 (pp. 61-93)

March 2: Austen and Her Publishers

read: Pride and Prejudice, pp. 185-298 (Vol. III)
finish reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 3 (pp. 61-93)

March 9: Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries

Meeting with Greg Prickman in UI Main Library’s Special Collections
read: Lady Susan (pp. 191-249) and Sandition ( 295-346)
Essay #2 due

March 23: Austen and the Victorians

read: Emma, pp. 5-119 (Vol. I)
read: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 4 (pp. 94-122)

March 30: The Janeites

read: Emma, pp. 121-245 (Vol. II)
begin reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 5 (pp. 123-159)

April 6: Austen in the Trenches

read: Emma, pp. 247-381 (Vol. III)
finish reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 5 (pp. 123-159)

April 13: R. W. Chapman and the Canonization of Jane

read: Northanger Abbey, pp. 5-92 (Vol. I)
begin reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 6 (pp. 160-196)

April 20: Jane Austen Societies

read: Northanger Abbey, pp. 93-187 (Vol. II)
finish reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 6 (pp. 160-196)

April 27: Cinema and Austen

read: Persuasion, pp. 1-98 (Biographical Notice and Vol. I)
begin reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 7 (pp. 197-229)

May 4: The Austen Brand

read: Persuasion, pp. 99-213 (Vol. II and Appendix A)
finish reading: Claire Harman, Jane’s Fame, chapter 7 (pp. 197-229)
Essay #3 due

Electronic Communication

University policy specifies that students are responsible for all official correspondences sent to their University of Iowa e-mail address (@uiowa.edu). Faculty and students should use this account for correspondences. (Operations Manual, III.15.2. Scroll down to k.11.)

Accommodations for Disabilities

A student seeking academic accommodations should first register with Student Disability Services and then meet privately with the course instructor to make particular arrangements. See www.uiowa.edu/~sds/ for more information.

I would like to hear from anyone who has a disability which may require seating modifications or testing accommodations or accommodations of other class requirements, so that appropriate arrangements may be made. Please contact me during my office hours.

Academic Fraud

You are expected to be honest and honorable in your fulfillment of assignments. Plagiarism and other activities when students present work that is not their own are academic fraud.

Making a Suggestion or a Complaint

Students with a suggestion or complaint should first visit with the instructor and then the departmental DEO (i.e. Dr. John Nelson). Complaints must be made within six months of the incident.

Understanding Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment subverts the mission of the University and threatens the well-being of students, faculty, and staff. All members of the UI community have a responsibility to uphold this mission and to contribute to a safe environment that enhances learning. Incidents of sexual harassment should be reported immediately. See the UI for assistance, definitions, and the full University policy.

Reacting Safely to Severe Weather

In severe weather, class members should seek appropriate shelter immediately, leaving the classroom if necessary. The class will continue if possible when the event is over. For more information on Hawk Alert and the siren warning system, visit the Public Safety web site.

Disclaimer

Depending on how the class progresses throughout the semester, I reserve the right to make changes to the syllabus.

Published @ RC

April 2015

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