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The University of Southampton
Lifelong Learning

Before Pride and Prejudice: the young Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Module Overview

This module looks at the life and works of Jane Austen beyond her most famous texts. The main focus of the module will be on Jane Austen’s younger years, looking particularly at her family life, education, her adolescent writings and early romances. Each session will introduce a different aspect of Jane Austen’s life, with references to the historical context she was living in, whilst making allusions to relevant parts of her novels. For instance, when discussing her time spent in Southampton, we will consider the city’s position in the eighteenth-century and the implication of the statement made in her work Love and Friendship, ‘beware the stinking fish of Southampton’. You are not expected to be a literature expert, nor even a Jane Austen enthusiast, but you might love reading and want to learn more about the genesis of some of the best fictional works in English.

Course Content

Evaluation of the various views held in the current public sphere of Jane Austen. This includes the enduring image of ‘dear aunt Jane’ as seen in ‘A memoir of Jane Austen’, written by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh, the feisty lover portrayed by Anne Hathaway in ‘Becoming Jane’ and the witty but hardened, older Jane seen in the television program ‘Miss Austen Regrets’. We will attempt to undermine these current assumptions many people have about Jane Austen.

Jane Austen’s Education

Contrasting the schools she attended and at home where she was given unfettered access to her father’s collection of books.

‘Beware the unmeaning Luxuries of Bath and of the stinking fish of Southampton’
Jane Austen’s time spent in both Southampton and Bath and the significance these cities had in the wider eighteenth-century society.

‘A plaything for Cassie’
Jane Austen’s familial relationships with her siblings including her little talked of and disabled brother George. Primary focus is placed on her relationship with her closest companion and sister, Cassandra.

‘Are any of your younger sisters out, Miss Bennet?’
Eighteenth-century society, and what the implications were for a girl such as Jane Austen entering into it. This will include discussion of public activities, such as balls and courtship etiquette under an appropriate chaperone’s eye.

Jane Austen’s Mister Darcy
Jane Austen’s romances:

● the proposal by Harris Bigg-Wither which she initially accepted, then rejected the next day.

● her relationship with Tom Lefroy, her supposed ‘Mister Darcy’.

What was the impact upon her and her writing of these doomed romances?

The creaking of the door frame
The early writings, including her Juvenilia and the beginning compositions of her later works.

Coming to Chawton
Her life in the village of Chawton where she wrote and revised her greatest works.

Chawton as it is now - focussing on the Jane Austen House Museum and Chawton House Library, where her brother Edward Knight lived and which is now a learning centre for eighteenth century studies.


Course start date: 11 February 2016
Day: Thursday
Time: 19.00-21.00
Length: 6 weeks
Cost: £100 (£95 for University Staff and Students)

To book your place, please click here to go through to our secure online booking system.

Please note that your course will only run if it receives a sufficient number of bookings . This will be confirmed closer to the start date of the course. If your course is cancelled due to insufficient booking numbers, you will receive a full refund. Please note that the booking/payment confirmation that you receive should not be taken as a guarantee that the course will run. This confirmation will be sent to you separately once it has been established that the course will go ahead.




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