The included letter in Jane Austen's fiction

Robbins, Susan Pepper, Department of English, University of Virginia
Carlisle, Janice, University of Virginia

Jane Austen began her career as an epistolary novelist at the end of the eighteenth century when the novel In letters was the most popular kind of fiction. By 1797 however, she had rejected the "pure"' letter narrative structure for narratives that included letters in them. The reasonsfor her change are suggested in the dissertation: the epistolary novel exemplified in Richardson's Clarissa is a form which depends on public referents, which assumes that the nature of man and his social order are essentially -uniform and stable, and which defines itself as a series of documents attesting to these fixed orders. Austen's concerns with the ambiguous relationship of the private life to public norms and with the changing nature of the family are not compatible to the epistolary structure.

In the decade of the 1790's, Austen wrote' four epistolary works: Love and Freindship, Lady Susan, Elinor and Marianne, and First Impressions. Of these, only the first has a subject compatible to its vehicle of the letter;: the later three because they were reworked into narratives with included letters suggest that Austen felt that letters were inadequate for her emerging theme of the collapse of social order. We see the narrating voice replace the ennervated public consensus of the eighteenth century. She abandoned the letter-structure with its implications of order and trust in public authority .for a narrative strategy that allowed her to explore a community -whose order had been shaken. The included letters in the novels function to show the loss of community, the decadence of the family, the shift from a Lockean to a Kantian world view, and the assertion of private values against public ones.

The included letters in each novel are examined and their functions defined. In Pride and Prejudice, the letter functions to discriminate between eighteenth and nineteenth century characters or between characters who remain essentially the same and those who change. In Northanger Abbey, the included letters frame and thereby expose the two "Gothics" of the novel. The letters of Mansfield Park mark the difference between the two languages of the novel - the language of the theatre and the language of real feeling. Only one letter is quoted completely in Emma: it tells its readers what they already know. Its function is to show us that we do not know as much as we need to know in order to be civilized. It defamiliarizes the familiar. In the revision of the finale of Persuasion, Austen embedded a letter which completes the shift from the function of the eighteenth century "public document" letter to the new function of the letter as a private "affective gesture." From Sense and Sensibility where the letter is rejected as evidence to! Persuasion where it is used as gesture, we see Austen's redefinition of the device of the letter in the structure of fiction.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:22.

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