Politicizing Jane Austen

Friday, March 4, 2005–Saturday, March 5, 2005
All Day

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

—a conference organized by Anne K. Mellor, University of California, Los Angeles, and Jonathan H. Grossman, University of California, Los Angeles

For years the work of Jane Austen was thought to focus narrowly on, in her own terms, “two or three families in a country village.” But in recent years scholars have drawn increasing – but still insufficient—attention to the way in which a British country village in the late eighteenth-century was necessarily caught up in the influential social and political issues of the day. The conference is based on the belief that Jane Austen, razor-sharp shaper of novelistic form, was a profoundly political writer, one who not only saw herself as having a significant role to play in the formation of the newly conceived British nation that was coming into being in the wake of the French Revolution, but also one capable of striking penetration into such contemporary issues as the crisis over the slave trade, the expanding empire of colonial commerce, the birth of mass literacy in a newly steam-driven print culture, and the increasing demands for women’s and worker’s rights and education. The conference addresses specific ways in which the writings of Jane Austen (both her fiction and her letters) refer to and comment upon the social movements and political events of her times.

In conjunction with the opening up to new examinations of Austen’s political acuity, the conference also will examine the varied ways that Jane Austen has been put to specific political uses in our own era. In the last few years Austen has, for instance, emerged as a marker of a new British national identity, one located in a post-colonial, post-modern moment. The current obsessions with Austen, marked by the plethora of films based on her novels, the distribution of Jane Austen tee-shirts, teacups, and memorabilia of all kinds, the growth of the Jane Austen societies around the world, underscore the continued political potency of the speciously apolitical Austen, whose multiform political engagements this conference seeks to uncover.


Janet Todd, University of Aberdeen
“Jane Austen and the Professions”

Jillian Heydt-Stevenson, University of Colorado, Boulder
“’It appears at once both keen and bright / And sparkles while it wounds’: Political and Sexual Humor in Jane Austen’s Novels”

Robert M. Polhemus, Stanford University
Mansfield Park: the Politics of Male-Bashing and Ordination”

Saree Makdisi, University of California, Los Angeles
“Empire and Desire in Austen’s Fiction”

Alex Woloch, Stanford University
“Character Insecurity in Sense and Sensibility”

Isobel Armstrong, Birkbeck College, University of London
“’Brother and Sister Indeed’: Dangerous Closeness and Family Fortunes”

Deidre Shauna Lynch, Indiana University
“’Young Ladies are Delicate Plants’: Jane Austen and Greenhouse Romanticism”

Andrew Higson, University of East Anglia
“’The Hottest Writer in Show Business’: Jane Austen, Anglo-Hollywood Film Production, and Heritage England”