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The University of Southampton

ENGL6138 Approaches to Jane Austen

Module Overview

Jane Austen’s modern reception and immense popularity have been moulded and influenced by the ways that she has been read in the 200 years since her death. On this core module for the MA Jane Austen, you will explore some of the debates that have been important in Austen scholarship in the twentieth and twenty-first century: was Jane Austen a feminist? How did she perceive social class? What do her novels tell us about landscape, or nation, or colonialism? You will become familiar with the critical terrain of Austen studies, exploring both foundational works of classic criticism and emerging new directions influenced by recent developments in critical theory.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The key issues and conceptual debates generated by Austen’s six completed novels
  • The major critical treatments of Jane Austen, and the development of Austen criticism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries
  • Different theoretical schools of criticism – feminist, historicist, new critical, queer, materialist, and Marxist – and how they have been used in readings of Jane Austen’s work
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Distil and critically evaluate theoretical arguments and approaches
  • Assess, criticise and intervene in current critical debate on Jane Austen’s fiction
  • Apply a number of theoretical lenses to a literary work
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Identify and summarise the main debates in a given field
  • Formulate and communicate a coherent and persuasive argument in written form
  • Manage your time efficiently


Jane Austen’s modern reception and immense popularity have been moulded and influenced by the ways that she has been read in the 200 years since her death. Whilst the release of her letters in 1884 and a more complete collection in 1932 opened up Jane Austen’s world in unprecedented ways for readers, modern interpretations of her novels continue to change the ways that Austen’s work is perceived in biography, film, and academia. This core module will allow you to revisit Austen’s six complete novels, and to develop a thorough understanding of the key conceptual debates that have been generated by Austen’s work. After an introductory session on biography, the module will chart the ways in which Austen’s novels have been read by twentieth and twenty-first century critics. You will gain a good understanding of seminal works of Austen criticism such as those by Marilyn Butler, Edward Said, Margaret Kirkham and Alistair Duckworth, exploring the way that these scholars have approached some of the important questions of Austen’s novels: gender, marriage, class, money, and Englishness. You will also be introduced to emerging new directions in Austen studies, and encouraged to draw on a wide range of critical theories to develop your own readings of Austen’s fiction. Topics for consideration are likely to include Austen’s politics; masculinity; material culture; desire; imperialism; the body; and the environment.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The main teaching method will be one two-hour seminar each week. Students will be expected to deliver presentations on their research, followed by a Q&A every 2-3 weeks, with a view to developing skills in the organisation and delivery of coherent and persuasive arguments, and in responding to the academic arguments of others. There will be two optional research trips to the Chawton House. Teaching methods include: • Seminars—a mix of tutor-led and student-led discussions • Individual sessions with the tutor to develop an essay topic • Office hours for individual feedback on essays Learning activities include • Individual study and research • Preparatory reading before each seminar • Participating in seminar discussion • Preparing and delivering presentations

Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Follow-up work76
Completion of assessment task100
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Sutherland, Kathryn, Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). 

Duckworth, Alistair, The Improvement of the Estate: A Study of Jane Austen’s Novels (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press,1971). 

Harding, D. W., Regulated Hatred and Other Essays in Jane Austen (London: The Athlone Press, 1998). 

Johnson, Claudia L., and Clara Tuite, A Companion to Jane Austen (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). 

Heydt-Stevenson, Jill, Austen’s Unbecoming Conjunctions: Subversive Laughter, Embodied History (Basingstroke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). 

Austen, Jane, Emma (1816). 

Looser, Devoney, Jane Austen and Discourses of Feminism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1995). 

Kirkham, Margaret, Jane Austen: Feminism and Fiction (Sussex: Harvester Press,1983). 

Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility (1811). 

Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park (1814). 

Johnson, Claudia L., Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel (1988). 

Tanner, Tony, Jane Austen (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986). 

Williams, Raymond, The Country and the City (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973). 

Austen, Jane, Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. Deirdre Le Faye. 

Looser, Devoney, The Making of Jane Austen (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2017). 

Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813). 

Leitch, Vincent B.,The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2nd edn (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010). 

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, ‘Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl’, Critical Enquiry 17 (Summer 1991). 

Lynch, Deidre, The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business of Inner Meaning (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998). 

Austen, Jane, Persuasion (1818). 

Wiltshire, John, Jane Austen and the Body: ‘The Picture of Health’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). 

Dow, Gillian, and Claire Hanson (Eds.), Uses of Austen: Jane’s Afterlives (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). 

Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (1818). 

Copeland, Edward and Juliet McMaster, The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). 

Butler, Marilyn, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975). 


Assessment Strategy

There will be no non-contributory assessments in this module, but classroom activities and individual discussions, should help you to judge how you are progressing in the module.


Oral presentation


MethodPercentage contribution
Critical commentary  (2000 words) 30%
Essay  (4000 words) 70%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

There are no particular cost implications for students. Most critical essays and monographs will be available via the Library. However, students may wish to purchase key literary texts, and could do so cheaply second-hand and/or online. All transportation costs to Chawton House are covered in the course fees. Costs for this module should not exceed £40

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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