University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Study and Writing Journal Guide


English 350: Literary Study Tour:
Jane Austen
Spring Interim 1998
Prof. Julie Shaffer

Links: Study Tour Syllabus; Study Tour Index; Study Tour Schedule
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I am providing various questions for you to answer or explore as you read; these will help lead into discussion on the novels in the first week of interim, before we leave to England. Some questions will be novel-specific; others will apply to all the novels. When you have questions , post them to and we can all join discussion to share problems, possible solutions, and ways of clarifying everything. If, for instance, you don't understand particular terms that Austen uses - 18th-century English is different from ours - post those to the list and we'll try to answer them (but remember that the OED, Oxford English Dictionary, gives definitions of usages of words in different eras): what does she mean by "wit," for example? or prudence? And what is a fortnight, anyhow? Post any questions you may have, however, because if you're uncertain about something, chances are that the rest of the group is too.

Probably the easiest way to deal with these questions is to jot down answers to them as you read and to revise, expand, or elaborate on them as you finish each novel - while the memory of the novel is fresh in your mind. To this end, it may make sense to familiarize yourself with the questions before you read so that you will be reading in part in a directed way, looking for ways of answering these questions. But even if you do so, I would prefer that you simultaneously pretend that you don't know what you're looking for, because one of the things I'd like you to record as you read, as you go from one novel to the next, is what your impression is of the novel, the characters, elements of plot, what themes you see developing, what expectations arise and get reformulated as you read. I'd like you to keep a running commentary, that is, of your experience as a reader (who knows certain kinds of questions to ask of narrative) as you move through each novel, rather than simply recording what you think as you finish each novel.

As you do so, then, consider what your reactions are and what, precisely, in the novels leads you to these reactions. If you don't like a character, what, in the text, leads you to dislike them? Is it their style of speech? What the narrator says about them? Their actions? Think about this: in what ways do you think that your reactions are probably different from those you think Austen may have intended? To what extent do you think that your or our situation, nearly two centuries after Austen wrote these novels, may give us values different enough from those of her original intended readers, to make us not value protagonists adequately or not dislike villains adequately? What might you conclude about what you project or hypothesize as values Austen holds and assumes or would like her audience to share? Do you think we're supposed to have simple reactions to any or all of her characters?

In each of the novels you read, take these foci: how do we get to know what characters are like? Choose at least three characters from each novel, make a generalization about what those characters are like, and choose at least one scene that shows us well what those characters are like and lead us to approve or disapprove of them. Wherever possible, try to find different ways in which a character's personality, so to speak, gets revealed. You might choose a scene in which a character's speech reveals their values; you might choose one in which their behavior is particularly telling. Can you also find places where the narrator directly tells us what characters are like and what we should think about them? Here I'm asking you to identify a number of different narrative techniques authors use to reveal characters' personalities to us and to get us to form particular opinions on those characters. What techniques can you find in addition to those I've enumerated here? The more you find, the better.

One way of dealing with this element of your task in keeping a reading journal might be to choose a particular scene, make a generalization about what we learn from that scene, and then pick out bits of the scene that function in different ways to let us know what a character is like and what we're supposed to feel about that character. I'm asking you here to give close, guided readings to particular passages and to be very precise in your discussion.

Other issues I'd like you to consider as you read and which address Austen's art as a novelist:


Are there particular narrative patterns by which each, many or all of the novels are structured? What might those be? If you keep running notes on what happens in each chapter and then reread these once you finish each novel, this task will be easier to accomplish.

If she uses structures repeatedly, what does this suggest about issues she considers important enough to explore in her writing? To what extent might her interest in these issues have to do with her gender? class affiliation (not of, but related to, landed gentry)? the period in which she lived (1775-1817)? To what extent does her writing fit descriptions of her work and suggestions for others' work that she gives in letters to relatives, located in the Norton edition of Pride and Prejudice (268-70). Is her work really as limited as she suggests there? Does this mean the import of her novels, their implications, are likewise limited? If not, in what ways are they not limited?


Does Austen maintain the same values in people and society in all her novels? Or do you see her attitudes shifting at various points in her career?


What's paramount, plot or characterization? Do you think that one serves the others in Austen's novels as a whole? Or do you think it shifts, plot being there to reveal character in some places, and character being subordinated to rip-roaring plot in others? What might this suggest about how Austen sees the world, and what she values as an author?

Related question: what's Austen's attitude toward character, identity? Is it stable? Do characters change? or do they simply become better revealed, to themselves and to us? What might this suggest about her own or her period's view of identity and character?


What is the importance of place in each novel?


I like to think that after writing one novel, Austen identified a particular "problem" to explore in her next novel, as might any good writer trying to hone their skill, their art. The most obvious instance of this, I think, is that in Pride and Prejudice, her main female character, Elizabeth Bennet, is spunky, outspoken, and self-assured. In her next novel, Mansfield Park, the character with similar traits turns out to have questionable values, while the female protagonist is shy, self-effacing, filled with self-doubts, and physically weak. I like to think that Austen thought, "I ’ve created one kind of female protagonist; can I make her polar opposite a protagonist as well? How would I get my audience to like such a character? What difference might there be in the kind of story I will need to construct which will highlight the kinds of challenges appropriate for such a character?"

Are there other such shifts, taking something presented as positive in one novel then negative, questionable, in the next? To what extent do you see plot shifting, different challenges arising, for different types of male and female protagonists?

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Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park,
Northanger Abbey, Persuasion

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