Imagining publics, negotiating powers: the parallel evolutions of romantic social structure and Jane Austen’s free indirect discourse

Date

2021-01-29

Authors

Seatter, Lindsey Marie

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Abstract

The Romantic era, from roughly the middle of the eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century, was a period of rapid and revolutionary social change. Progressing in parallel was the form of the novel, which rose from relative disrepute to the foremost literary genre. While neither a prolific writer nor one that was very popular during her lifetime, I argue that Jane Austen and her inimitable style can be figured at the nexus of these two transitions. This dissertation presents a comprehensive study of Austen’s style across her body of work, from her early manuscripts through her published novels and ending with her unfinished draft. Using historical, digital, sociological, and narratological methods, I interrogate Austen’s style on three interrelated levels—moving from the most insular effects to the broadest applications of her narrative technique. First, I explore the progression of Austen’s style across her canon, particularly focusing on the development and maturation of her free indirect discourse. Second, I locate Austen’s style in the evolution of the novel. I begin with constructing her literary lineage, which I argue is tied to female writers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and move towards understanding how her use of free indirect discourse was necessary for the emergence of the novel’s modern form. Third, I consider Austen’s style as a means of imagining and critiquing the changing social spaces of her contemporary moment, specifically in terms of how the layered vocality of her narrative technique reflected Britain’s movement from the rigid structures of rank and honour to the fluid categories of class and dignity.

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Keywords

Jane Austen, Free Indirect Discourse, Novel, Narratology, Romanticism, Society, Women Writers

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