Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title
Jane Austen, arguably the most beloved of all English novelists, has been regarded both as a feminist ahead of her time and as a social conservative whose satiric comedies work to regulate rather than to liberate. Such viewpoints, however, do not take sufficient stock of the historical Austen, whose writings, as William Galperin shows, were more properly oppositional rather than either disciplinary or subversive.
Reading the history of her novels' reception through other histories—literary, aesthetic, and social—The Historical Austen is a major reassessment of Jane Austen's achievement as well as a corrective to the historical Austen that abides in literary scholarship. In contrast to interpretations that stress the conservative aspects of the realistic tradition that Austen helped to codify, Galperin takes his lead from Austen's contemporaries, who were struck by her detailed attention to the dynamism of everyday life. Noting how the very act of reading demarcates an horizon of possibility at variance with the imperatives of plot and narrative authority, The Historical Austen sees Austen's development as operating in two registers. Although her writings appear to serve the interests of probability in representing "things as they are," they remain, as her contemporaries dubbed them, histories of the present, where reality and the prospect of change are continually intertwined.
In a series of readings of the six completed novels, in addition to the epistolary Lady Susan and the uncompleted Sanditon, Galperin offers startling new interpretations of these texts, demonstrating the extraordinary awareness that Austen maintained not only with respect to her narrative practice—notably, free indirect discourse—but also with attention to the novel's function as a social and political instrument.
PART I. HISTORICIZING AUSTEN
Chapter 1. History, Silence, and "The Trial of Jane Leigh Perrot"
Chapter 2. The Picturesque, the Real, and the Consumption of Jane Austen
Chapter 3. Why Jane Austen Is Not Frances Burney: Probability, Possibility, and Romantic Counterhegemony
PART II. READING THE HISTORICAL AUSTEN
Chapter 4. Lady Susan and the Failure of Austen's Early Published Novels
Chapter 5. Narrative Incompetence in Northanger Abbey
Chapter 6. Jane Austen's Future Shock
Chapter 7. Nostalgia in Emma
Chapter 8. The Body in Persuasion and Sanditon
"In this engrossing revisionary experiment, what gets contextualized with immense and unprecedented subtlety is no less than the evolving and period-bound operation of narrative technique itself."—Garrett Stewart, University of Iowa"Consistently provocative and frequently excellent."—TLS
"A signal work for current Romantic studies and for this historical moment."—Romantic Circles Reviews
"In a style that displays a gift for startling turns of phrase and wit, Galperin offers a learned, vigorous, innovative reconsideration of Austen and her critics. . . . Galperin is equally informative about narrative techniques that work or fail and on how Austen represents early capitalism. . . . Informed by feminist criticism, the book could also serve as an advanced primer on the history and theory of representation, especially its picturesque and realist variants. . . . Essential."—Choice
"Galperin presents an Austen far less consistently conservative or progressive, far more self-reflexive, and infinitely more complicated than the Austen of much recent scholarship. His book is far richer than any brief review can suggest. . . . This book is so extraordinary. Galperin offers a compellingly revisionist view of Austen's works."—JASNA Newsletter
"Important, intelligent, engaged, and engaging. . . . The best study of Austen published during the past twenty years."—Clio
"Impressive and often dazzling."—Studies in Romanticism
"Startlingly original, scrupulously researched, and formidably smart, The Historical Austen is the most important book on Jane Austen's works to appear in the last fifteen years."—Deidre Lynch, Indiana University
"A book that will revolutionize Jane Austen studies."—Adela Pinch, University of Michigan
"Insightful, learned, intense, and challenging, William Galperin's The Historical Austen offers a new turn in a critical conversation that appeared to have reached its limits. More than a new reading of Austen, however, Galperin also brings historicist criticism to a new level."—Eighteenth-Century Life
"A major reexamination of both Austen's oeuvre and the history of the novel."—Albion
"An exemplary instance of one ideal of literary scholarship, the reflexive evaluation of literary forms in and as history."—Studies in English Literature