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Jane Austen: Reflections of a Reader

Jane Austen: Reflections of a Reader By Nora Bartlett. Edited by Jane Stabler
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78374-975-1 £20.95
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This exhilarating collection of essays is the product of a lifetime's engagement with Jane Austen's writing. They are modest, searching, wonderfully perceptive essays from which all lovers of Jane Austen, the most knowledgeable as well as those who have just discovered her, will have much to learn.  They are essays that send us back to the novels with a renewed understanding of Jane Austen's extraordinary achievement.
Prof. Richard Cronin, University of Glasgow

This is a wonderful book for Austen enthusiasts – accessible, appealing and fresh. One of the distinctive features of the work is the way in which the author beautifully explains things that readers feel they know intuitively, but do not necessarily understand technically. In Nora Bartlett we find a deeply sympathetic and knowledgeable guide to Austen’s works, who leads her readers to a similar depth of understanding.
Dr Katherine Halsey, University of Stirling

This volume presents an exhilarating and insightful collection of essays on Jane Austen – distilling the author’s deep understanding and appreciation of Austen’s works across a lifetime. The volume is both intra- and inter-textual in focus, ranging from perceptive analysis of individual scenes to the exploration of motifs across Austen’s fiction.

Full of astute connections, these lively discussions hinge on the study of human behaviour – from family relationships to sickness and hypochondria – highlighting Austen’s artful literary techniques and her powers of human observation.

Jane Austen: Reflections of a Reader by (the late) Nora Bartlett is a brilliant contribution to the field of Jane Austen studies, both in its accessible style (which preserves the oral register of the original lectures), and in its foregrounding of the reader in a warm, compelling and incisive conversation about Austen’s works. As such, it will appeal widely to all lovers of Jane Austen, whether first-time readers, students or scholars.

Jane Austen: Reflections of a Reader
Nora Bartlett. Edited by Jane Stabler | February 2021
252pp. | 1 colour illustration | 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 9781783749751
ISBN Hardback: 9781783749768
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783749775
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783749782
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783749799
ISBN Digital (XML): 9781783749805
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0216
Categories: BIC: D (Literature and literary studies), DSBF (Literary studies: c. 1800 to c. 1900); BISAC: LIT004120 (LITERARY CRITICISM / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh), LIT000000 (LITERARY CRITICISM / General), LIT024040 (LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 19th Century),  FIC027070 (FICTION / Romance / Historical / Regency). OCLC Number: 1237191090.

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Preface Download
Jane Stabler

A Note on Texts

1. Reading Pride and Prejudice over Fifty Years Download
Nora Bartlett

2. Sense and Sensibility Download
Nora Bartlett

3. Mothers and Daughters in Jane Austen Download
Nora Bartlett

4. Mrs. Jennings Download
Nora Bartlett

5. Lady Susan Download
Nora Bartlett

6. In Sickness and in Health: Courting and Nursing in Some Jane Austen Novels Download
Nora Bartlett

7. Food in Jane Austen’s Fiction Download
Nora Bartlett

8. Emma and Harriet: Walking Companions Download
Nora Bartlett

9. Emma in the Snow Download
Nora Bartlett

10. What’s Wrong with Mansfield Park Download
Nora Bartlett

11. Jane Austen and Grandparents Download
Nora Bartlett

12. Jane Austen and Burns Download
Nora Bartlett

13. Sanditon and Suspense Download
Nora Bartlett



Nora Bartlett was born in upstate New York but lived in Scotland for most of her adult life, where she was an Honorary Lecturer in the School of English at St. Andrews University.

1. Reading Pride and Prejudice over Fifty Years

This chapter examines some of the techniques Jane Austen uses to enable readers to identify with, as well as feel through and alongside, her characters (particularly Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet). Bartlett explores the way in which one's reading changes at different stages of life; the roles of silence and listening in Austen's novels; and whether the novel is seen as presupposing, or addressing, a female reader. There is a look at characterizing Austen's narrative voice/voices; her use of dialogue and grammar; and the influence of Fanny Burney's Evelina. Finally, Bartlett discusses Austen as a "physical" novelist; Elizabeth Bennet's (and her father's) humour; and the distancing of the reader from Mrs. Bennet.

2. Sense and Sensibility

In this chapter, Bartlett shares why Sense and Sensibility is her favourite among Jane Austen's novels. Discussed are this novel's history and criticism; the role of Austen's early manuscripts in her family life; and the role of her plays in her writing (particularly Sense and Sensibility). Next, Bartlett takes a look at humour, as well as mourning, in this novel. She further examines the novel's narration; "silence"; and Dashwood sisters, including a contrast to one another, in terms of desire for control of feeling. The impact that a concern for certain details (of money, food, clothing, or health) has on Austen’s characters is also discussed. Next, a look at Mrs. Dashwood; and comparisons of this novel to Pride and Prejudice. There is an examination of the importance of the two scenes that end Volume I and begin Volume II, including a closer look at Lucy and Anne. Bartlett discusses "sense and sensibility"; comic misapprehension; and the subject of the novel. Finally, she ends her examination with a look at the impact of Edward's announcement.

3. Mothers and Daughters in Jane Austen

In this chapter, Bartlett examines the mother-daughter relationship in Jane Austen's six novels, particularly Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Regarding the former, the impact of parental death is discussed, as are Mrs. Dashwood's qualities and beliefs—particularly as they relate to motherhood. Regarding the latter, Bartlett explores the personality of Mrs. Bennet; the goals she has for her daughters; and a connection to all of Austen's heroines. Mansfield Park's three sisters are discussed, as well as Mrs. Price's child (Fanny), her adoption, and her mother's attitude toward sons vs daughters. Addressed is the death of Emma's mother (in Emma) for its appropriateness to the eighteenth century; and the role of Miss Taylor. Regarding Persuasion, there is a discussion of Anne Elliot and her family; the impact of her mother's death on her; and the mother-substitute's persuasiveness. Regarding Northanger Abbey, there is a discussion of Eleanor; her being motherless; and her family—particularly the impact of her father General Tilney. Mother-daughter sets in Sense and Sensibility are examined for their problems and personalities. Bartlett explores this novel’s pattern of a mother having one daughter who resembles herself, and the resulting bias; "sense" and "sensibility", as they apply to the Dashwood sisters; and Mrs. Dashwood's behaviour and its impact. Bartlett comments on Austen's heroines’ beliefs in love and honour vs their need for financial security. Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Bennet are compared and contrasted, with Bartlett commenting on the latter's failings, regarding Elizabeth and Jane. Further explored is the topic of marriage and mothers, relating to Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice; the latter's Lydia being prized because she is like her mother; and the weaknesses of the Bennets as parents. Bartlett questions why there are so few sensible mothers in Austen's novels. Finally, a look at Mrs. Austen and Jane's sister Cassandra—and a possible reason why the latter destroyed most of Jane's letters.

4. Mrs. Jennings

This chapter focuses on Mrs. Jennings. Noted is the importance of the Austen family to Jane Austen's writing, as well as the expectations on her after her first novel was published. Bartlett examines the continuity between Austen's juvenilia and her later writing, particularly Sense and Sensibility. The first section is titled, "Books within Books", partly referring to Austen's juvenile writings—and how many of these very short "novels” were drawn together to achieve a long narrative such as Sense and Sensibility. Bartlett comments on how characters' stories in the novel are given ample space (another reference to "books within books”), particularly Mrs. Jennings. The next section is titled "Two Vulgar Women", where Bartlett examines the complexity with which Mrs. Jennings' character is depicted and developed—and contrasts her to Pride and Prejudice's Mrs. Bennet (and the style Austen uses to represent her). Bartlett explores Austen's writing: the capacity to retain a sympathetic sense of the existence of other people when not immediately confronted with them is of the highest importance to her. The final section is titled "The Vulgar Woman and the Lady: Two Matchmakers": a comparison between Mrs. Jennings and Emma, the vulgar woman and the born lady, both matchmakers. Bartlett explores how Mrs Jennings’ matchmaking is very different from Emma Woodhouse’s because it is founded in a realism about women’s aspirations, their opportunities and expectations. That is contrasted with Emma's selfish, ignorant, and unrealistic matchmaking. Finally, Bartlett comments on the end of Sense and Sensibility as it relates to Mrs. Jennings' matchmaking.

5. Lady Susan

This chapter examines the distinctive qualities of Jane Austen's Lady Susan—its form, the class of its main character, and the depth of evil presented in the work—compared to her other novels. Lady Susan is compared to other villainesses of eighteenth-century fiction. Bartlett looks at Austen's use of epistolary style and third-person narration. Given is a brief plot summary, as well as background on Lady Susan (including her reputation and irresistibility), her daughter Frederica, and other characters. Bartlett explores the view that Lady Susan is a psychopath. Lady Susan's friend and confidante, Mrs. Johnson, is discussed and compared to her. The closing of Lady Susan is reviewed. There is a look at Mrs. Vernon; her letter-writing; and her views on Lady Susan. Austen's juvenilia are examined, with especial focus on absurdity, hypocrisy, vanity, and selfishness. Bartlett comments on the De Courcy family; the significance of Frederica's letter to Reginald (letter 21); and Lady Susan's extent of hatred and contempt, as well as the character's view of rivals, enemies, and dupes. Bartlett discusses Lady Susan being unforgettable; Austen's likely view of the character; and Lady Susan's intelligence, lack of education, and ability to manipulate others. Lastly, Bartlett takes a look at Lady Susan and convention.

6. In Sickness and in Health: Courting and Nursing in Some Jane Austen Novels

This chapter examines the narrative role of illness (both real and imagined) in Jane Austen's novels, including a quick run-through of the events in the novels that might be thought to call for medical intervention. Austen’s family history is discussed (including her writing history), as well as her own fatal illness and the relationship she had with her mother. Bartlett explores late eighteenth-century medical care in England, and the larger role that family played in this care. There is a detailed discussion of four of the six novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma). The interactions of characters (including romantic interests) with the sick are explored, as well as the nursing of the ill, and the symbolic imports of "nursing” itself. Bartlett further explores Austen’s underlying interests in presenting illness in her novels: Austen is not interested in a set of symptoms, but in a situation, in the emotional and physical tenderness between people who share an experience. In turn, Bartlett illuminates Austen’s interest in illness as a device to reveal one’s real nature: in illness one cannot hide it, and perhaps the care of the sick is as revealing as illness itself? An "illness" unique to the eighteenth century is discussed—"nerves”—particularly as it applied to Pride and Prejudice. Finally, Bartlett comments on Jane Austen as a novelist; her portrayal of some illnesses being more equal than others; and similarities between these two groups: the sick and the well, on the one hand; and men and women in love, on the other.

7. Food in Jane Austen's Fiction

This chapter begins by discussing an aspect that all Jane Austen novels have in common—all end with weddings—followed by a look at the domestic lives of her heroines in contrast to other characters. Bartlett examines the greater meaning of food in Austen's novels, focusing on Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility; the connection between Austen's heroines and a lack of appetite; and the heroines' avoidance of extremes. There is a brief history of "conduct literature," as well as its connection to Austen and her writing. Bartlett explores Austen's attitude toward food; the quality of food in eighteenth century urban areas; and framing in Austen's writing: the reader watches every scene, participates in it, through one of the heroines. This chapter also discusses late eighteenth and early nineteenth century "fashionable life" late hours, as it applies to Austen's novels; the choice of seasons (in Austen's novels) in which the main action takes place; and how autumn and winter had an affect on what time of day daily routines were performed. Eighteenth-century meals and mealtimes are covered. Bartlett examines the arrangement of dishes and dining style in eighteenth and early nineteenth century England (diagram included); seating arrangements, including "promiscuous seating"; and the social aspect of dinner parties, including its relation to Austen's novels. Finally, a brief look at how gruel has been regarded and its place in Austen's Emma.

8. Emma and Harriet: Walking Companions

In this chapter, Nora Bartlett examines Emma's notions of friendship in Jane Austen's Emma, in particular the "usefulness" of friends, especially as "walking companions"; Emma's friendship with Harriet; and Emma's intrusive and manipulative behaviour (as well as her fragility). Bartlett gives a brief history of walking, as well as a look at its place in Austen’s novels. Taking a more detailed look at its significance in Emma, Bartlett finds that walking becomes a kind of quiet metaphoric powerhouse for the novel, an emblem of its confinement to one place, its deliberate repetitiveness, and its mode of presenting character through comparison and contrast. In turn, Bartlett looks at Emma's special relationship with Miss Taylor, and the topic of female friendship is explored. Characters and events in the three volumes of Emma are touched upon, and there is an examination of Emma’s view toward, and negative impact on, Harriet. Bartlett discusses Harriet becoming Emma's rival; Emma's immaturity, selfishness, and illogical conclusions; and Harriet quickly fading out of focus in the novel. Finally, Bartlett comments on Emma being temporarily remorseful and humbled—and Emma's new relationship providing the perfect walking companion.

9. Emma in the Snow

In this chapter, Bartlett examines how Jane Austen's significant use of weather contradicts beliefs that she is a writer with a narrow compass. Bartlett discusses the seasons covered in Austen's novels—winter being in each novel, but Emma being the only one with a snowfall. Austen's perceived feelings about snow—and how those feelings may have found their way into her novels, are explored. Bartlett presents her own feelings on snow and describes the impact of different types of weather on the characters’ behaviour in Emma, particularly snow in chapter fifteen; there is a closer look at where the main action of this chapter takes place, as well as this chapter's focal characters (and their descriptions). The similar behaviour (regardless of the weather) of George Knightly and Emma, as well as their suitability for each other, is touched on. Finally, Bartlett takes a closer look at the belief that Austen rarely uses symbolism in her writing; how her treatment of weather contradicts this belief; and the impact of weather and war on characters.

10. What's Wrong with Mansfield Park?

In this chapter, Bartlett examines Jane Austen's Mansfield Park as a troubling and complicated novel. Three parts are explored: what's the matter with the estate of Mansfield Park; the presentation of Fanny; and Fanny and the men in her life. Bartlett looks at the novel's opening, including its unique retrospective; card games and their deeper meaning in this novel and Pride and Prejudice; and Mansfield Park's impact on people, especially women. Bartlett comments on something missing in Mansfield Park: that wonderful cross-fertilization between different social strata and contrasting personality types. Discussed is Fanny's intelligence, morality, and growth; her impact in chapter one; and how she changes Mansfield Park. Bartlett comments on Mansfield Park as a psychological study and makes a comparison to Emma. The social aspect (and likeability) of Fanny is explored and compared to Austen's other heroines. There is a revealing examination of Fanny's childhood, including her impactful conversation with Edmund. Bartlett further examines narration in Mansfield Park; the comedy of characters contradicting themselves; and the revealing characteristic dialogue from some characters, excluding Fanny. Bartlett explores the deeper meaning behind the refusal to accept substitutes in this novel; and Fanny's feelings (and treatment) as a "nothing." Discussed is the plot and casting of Lovers' Vows; Austen's involvement with plays; and the Austen family's dislike of Fanny, as well as the problems they found in the novel. Lastly, Bartlett looks at Mr. Crawford, including his failings; lovely moments in the closing pages; and hidden passion in Mansfield Park and Emma.

11. Jane Austen and Grandparents

This chapter examines the degree to which the grandparent-grandchild relationship is explored in Austen's mature novels. Regarding the experience of being a grandparent, Bartlett considers its rarity: in a time of high infant mortality, late marriage, and early death. There is a look at the Austen family history of marriage, remarriage, children, and the extensive grandparental experience described in the Memoir. Bartlett explores the experience of the grandparent and the treatment of grandchildren, in terms of their use in Austen's novels. Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion are examined for their hard look at grandparents and grandchildren. Bartlett discusses dynastic drive; high-intensity scenes in Persuasion; and the depiction of grandparents that reflects Jane Austen’s own experience. Lastly, there is a comment on the connection between grandparenting and character in Persuasion.

12. Jane Austen and Burns

This chapter discusses Jane Austen's unfinished novel, Sanditon—with particular emphasis to a passage in it that relates to the poet and lyricist, Robert Burns. Bartlett goes on to explore Burns' writing and personal life, and compares the two writers (Austen and Burns), observing how both display qualities of attention that enable them to see human lives as complicated, as not simply tragic nor simply comic, as both foolish and moving in their self-deceptions and their desires. One of Burns' poems ("To a Louse”) is examined for its relation to the writing of Austen. Austen's piano-playing is discussed, particularly her relationship with one of Burns' songs—and that song's possible influence on her writing. Another song from Burns ("Their Groves o’ Sweet Myrtle”) is explored for its connection to Sanditon. There is a brief comparison between Austen and her heroines. Finally, Bartlett takes a closer look at an aspect of Austen's writing: in Jane Austen’s novels depth of feeling is most often indicated by the refusal to accept substitutes.

13. Sanditon and Suspense

This chapter explores Jane Austen's unfinished Sanditon and its characters, particularly Mr. Parker and Diana. Sanditon is compared to Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Bartlett examines the closing chapter that was dropped from Persuasion; how it differs from the two chapters that replaced it; and a characteristic shared by that cancelled chapter and Sanditon. There is a discussion of Sanditon's problems and positive qualities. Bartlett discusses Sanditon and contrasts it with Austen's other villages. Next, the author examines Austen's "steady and sensible" viewpoint; her interest in wild imaginations; and invalidism in Sanditon. Bartlett discusses how nursing moves the plot in Austen’s novels; a peculiarity in Sanditon regarding nursing; and suspense (including use of delay; concealment; wit and feeling; and pace) in Austen's novels, particularly Sanditon.

Jane Stabler teaches at the School of English, University of St Andrews. She has published on a variety of topics, including Byron, Jane Austen and the influence of Italy in early nineteenth-century literature.