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Jane Austen and the Enlightenment
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  • Page extent: 288 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.59 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 823/.7
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: PR4038.P5 K68 2004
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Austen, Jane,--1775-1817--Philosophy
    • Literature and society--Great Britain--History--19th century
    • Austen, Jane,--1775-1817--Political and social views
    • Great Britain--Intellectual life--18th century
    • Enlightenment--Great Britain

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521843461 | ISBN-10: 0521843464)

Jane Austen was received by her contemporaries as a new voice, but her late twentieth-century reputation as a nostalgic reactionary still lingers on. In this radical revision of her engagement with the culture and politics of her age, Peter Knox-Shaw argues that Austen was a writer steeped in the Enlightenment, and that her allegiance to a sceptical tradition within it, shaped by figures such as Adam Smith and David Hume, lasted throughout her career. Knox-Shaw draws on archival and other neglected sources to reconstruct the intellectual atmosphere of the Steventon Rectory where Austen wrote her juvenilia, and follows the course of her work through the 1790s and onwards, showing how minutely responsive it was to the many shifting movements of those turbulent years. Jane Austen and the Enlightenment is an important contribution to the study both of Jane Austen and of intellectual history at the turn of the nineteenth century.

• This study radically revises Jane Austen's engagement with the culture and politics of her time • Knox-Shaw provides a new perspective on the Enlightenment in its British context • Includes much new material on each of the novels and the intellectual aspects of Austen's fiction


Part I. The Eighteenth-Century Legacy: 1. Auspices; 2. Pride and Prejudice, a politics of the picturesque; 3. Northanger Abbey and the liberal historians; 4. Sense and Sensibility and the philosophers; Part II. Engaging with the New Age: 5. Diffraction; 6. Mansfield Park: charting the religious revival; 7. Emma, and the flaws of sovereignty; 8. Persuasion: light on an old genre; 9. Sanditon and speculation; Bibliography.


'An intelligent and inspiring critique that asks us to return to Austen, her contemporaries and her predecessors with an increased sensitivity to the connections between them, and a renewed pleasure in the complexity of the novels themselves.' Michael Caines, The Times Literary Supplement

'Contributes greatly to a new reading of the novels. His demonstration is very convincing … [he] gives historical justification to her progressivisms while other critics only assert it.' Chloé Beccaria, Cercles

'… constantly illuminating and abundantly well written. His exploration of the routine topics – including such hoary old chestnuts as the juvenilia, the picturesque, the Steventon theatricals, and Evangelicalism – is original, informative and effectively harnessed to his overall argument. And what emerges from all this is a more interesting Jane Austen – an author better read, better educated and better informed than we have been given reason to suppose.' Brian Southam, Jane Austen Newsletter

'Jane Austen and the Enlightenment is a triumph: one of the most exciting publications to appear on the author in recent years, and one that genuinely opens new horizons. It is essential reading for scholars of Austen's works and for those interested in the relationship of literature and philosophy. Accessibly and felicitously written, it also has much to offer general readers of Austen.' E. J. Clery, Modern Philology

'… supremely astute and discriminating …' Freya Johnson, Year's Work in English Studies

'… densely argued, readable, and exceptionally exciting … his success in this fine study is a tribute to his cautiously conservative scholarly approach.' Daniel Traister, JASNA News

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