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Jane Austen Research Topics


Jane Austen is still one of the most widely read and hotly debated authors in the English-speaking world. In her six completed novels, she perfected the comedy of manners, created memorable characters, sympathetically portrayed the plight of women and exposed the web of social and economic relations that underpinned courtship in her time. Research topics may focus on her treatment of women, portrayal of colonialism, use of social satire and adaptation of the genre of girls' educational novels.

Treatment of Women

Most feminist scholars view Austen's novels favorably, interpreting her strong female characters as a comment on the plight of women in her time. Yet Austen's novels each conclude with marriage, seemingly ratifying the conventional belief that women were the property of men. Research papers could examine Austen's presentation of courtship and marriage, assessing the views expressed in her works in relation to the social mores of her era.

The Effects of Colonialism

Austen often appears indifferent to the social and economic realities of colonialism that lent her characters their privilege. Yet in some of her novels, she comes close to acknowledging its role, as when she has Fanny Price raise the subject of slavery in "Mansfield Park." A research project could focus on the economic impact of colonialism on the landed gentry of Austen's time and assess the evidence of her attitudes about class privilege from her novels and letters.

Irony and Social Satire

In her work "Desire and Domestic Fiction," Nancy Armstrong argues that Austen's works are intended to be read through the prism of irony, undermining social conventions and bolstering the rights of the individual. This is a response to the views of scholars such as Alistair Duckworth, who argued in "The Improvement of the Estate: a Study of Jane Austen's Novels" that the journey Austen's characters take indicates a path of moral education and rapprochement with social norms. Researchers could examine the tone and style of Austen's narratives and take a position on her use of irony and the spirit in which she intended her novels to be read.

Educational Novels for Girls

Critical works such as Jo Alyson Parker's "The Author's Inheritance: Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, and the Establishment of the Novel" argue that Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson strongly influenced Austen's work. Both Fielding and Richardson wrote "coming of age" novels about female characters learning to take their place in society. A paper could focus on Austen's use of these genre conventions, showing how her novels both adapt and subvert their techniques and narrative devices, such as the epistolary form.

References
  • The Author's Inheritance: Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, and the Establishment of the Novel; Jo Alyson Parker; Northern Illinois University Press; 1998
  • Desire and Domestic Fiction; Nancy Armstrong; Oxford University Press; 1987
  • The Improvement of the Estate: a Study of Jane Austen's Novels; Alistair Duckworth; Johns Hopkins University Press; 1971
About the Author

Colby Phillips' writing interests include culture and politics. Phillips received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Oregon and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Boston College.

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