Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Jane Austen's Persuasion

Kathryn Davis discusses teaching and writing about my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion, in The National Catholic Register:

What do your students enjoy about her writing?

I have taught two novels:
Persuasion and Mansfield Park. Mansfield Park is tricky; its comedy is different from that of other novels with witty heroines like Lizzy Bennet [in Pride and Prejudice] or Emma [in Emma]. Here [in Mansfield Park], the heroine is quiet and humble, and the “light and bright and sparkling” character, Mary Crawford, is really more like a “villain.” Most of my students have read the other novels and are perplexed by this inversion: The humor is with the morally unprincipled character. Some love it — but see how interesting and instructive it is to see that the funny and interesting character lacks a moral sense.

Persuasion is my favorite — I can’t get enough. I wrote my dissertation on Persuasion.

You’re working on a book about Jane Austen. What will readers learn from your scholarship?

My forthcoming book,
Liberty in Jane Austen’s Persuasion (Lehigh University Press), is about Persuasion and the theme of liberty of soul understood as self-governance. There are fine studies like After Virtue (1981) that have come out on Austen’s ethics and devout Christian sense. My study explores ways in which Austen’s Christian faith influenced and shaped her way of thinking about political questions. In Persuasion, the hero, Capt. Frederick Wentworth, has the qualities needed for engaging in practical political leadership beyond a ship. My book focuses on the moral sense required for individuals to govern well.

Rowman & Littlefield has this description of Professor Davis' forthcoming book:

Liberty in Jane Austen’s Persuasion is a meditation on Persuasion as a text in which Jane Austen, writing in the Age of Revolution, enters the conversation of her epoch. Poets, philosophers, theologians and political thinkers of the long eighteenth century, including William Cowper, George Gordon Byron, Samuel Johnson, Hugh Blair, Thomas Sherlock, Charles Pasley, and Edmund Burke, endeavored definitively to determine what it means for a human being to be free. Persuasion is Austen’s elegant, artful and complex addition to this conversation. In this study, Kathryn Davis proposes that Austen's last complete novel offers an apologia for human liberty primarily understood as self-governance. Austen’s characters struggle to attain liberty, not from an oppressive political regime or stifling social conventions, but for a type of excellence that is available to each human being. The novel's presentation of moral virtue has wider cultural significance as a force that shapes both the “little social commonwealth[s]” inhabited by characters of Austen’s own making and, possibly, the identity of the nation whose sovereign read Persuasion.

Of course I noticed that Davis includes Hugh Blair, whose sermons and Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres Austen certainly knew. That's because I wrote my M.A. thesis at WSU on "Hugh Blair's Rhetoric and Jane Austen's Persuasion".

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