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.
Fellow:Allison Turner, English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University Respondent:Leah Aronowsky, History, Columbia University Chair:Jennifer Wenzel, English and Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University