Between Self and World: The Novels of Jane Austen
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988 - 216 strani
In this detailed historical analysis of Jane Austen's fictional representation of the individual subject, Thompson argues that Austen's notions of private experience and public performance are neither natural nor eternal, but are peculiar to her period and that these notions are best understood in Georg Lukacs's terms of the objectification of social relations under capital. In Austen's language and in her descriptive technique, we can discern a recurrent pattern in which the fundamental elements of her fictional world, material things as well as emotions, are indicated but not described--they are briefly exposed and then withdrawn again from view. The "inner life" of characters in general is both presented and protected by a pattern of privacy.
Austen's representational technique, her form of narrative, needs to be related to the social history of privacy. And, when combined with the the later discussions of changing concepts of language, character, and marriage, we can trace the development of some modern notions of individuality, interiority, intimacy, and romance. We see that despite Austen's self-conscious political, moral, and religious conservatism, and despite her class identification with the gentry and their sentiments of noblesse oblige, the way in which Austen's heroine defines herself in relation to all categories of existence is inevitably determined by the alienating effects of capital, under which social relations and practices are externalized and objectified and from which, consequently, the individual is alienated.
Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse as characters embody the interrelation between economic, political, and social changes and their private or domestic consequences. The author's concern is the relation between history and the individual subject and, moreover, the ways in which we have come to think in terms of just this sort of opposition.
If "History is what hurts," as Fredric Jameson puts it, in Austen's novels, love is what soothes, for private or domestic romance comes to function as the ideological negation of history, a refuge into a "natural" and "timeless" world of privacy and intimacy. Intimacy functions to efface the ideological contradiction between social responsibility and private withdrawal. Austen's achievement is to integrate the privatization of human relations into the appropriate vehicle, the courtship narrative or domestic love story.
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