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Additional info for Jane Austen the Reader: The Artist as Critic

Sample text

Austen’s novels, writes Walter Scott, ‘belong to a class of fictions which has arisen almost in our own times, and which draws the characters and incidents introduced more immediately from the current of ordinary life than was permitted by the former rules of the novel’. The typical novel that flourished under these ‘former rules’, as Scott conceives of it, closely resembles the typical ‘heroic romance’ of Johnson’s essay: The heroine was usually condemned to equal hardship and hazards. She was regularly exposed to being forcibly carried off like a Sabine virgin by some frantic admirer.

108 This is partly because Austen is in a very different position to the Romantic poets who are the major subject of Bloom’s study. Her critical readings are just as important as her creative contributions in developing, establishing and remaking the genre of the novel. Austen was not alone in performing critical work. She is joined by many contemporaries who begin to read, and to write, in a manner we can see as critical, with respect both to novels and to other genres. It is clear that in the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, women had acted and continued to act as critics of all literary genres.

All that the quixote figure can learn is, after all, to behave like a character in a novel, rather than one in a romance. Cervantes’s hero was a dominant literary figure in England long before Smollett’s well-known translation from the Spanish was published in 1755. 21 His popularity persisted through the Romantic period, as did his usefulness as an archetype of the reader. William Hazlitt wrote that the knight ‘presents something more stately, more romantic, and at the same time more real to the imagination than any other hero upon record ...

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