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Jane Austen and the Old

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Claire Lamont


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Walter Scott and Jane Austen are antitheses of each other, in that Scott wrote historical fiction and Austen was a novelist of the contemporary. If history reveals the continuum of time pressing forward towards the present it is unlikely to be entirely absent from even works determinedly modern. Traces of the past are found in Austen's novels in references to things that are old: old people, old families, old buildings and the old objects associated with them, old places and societies, and old ideas and fashions. These references show her characters mostly favouring the new, and preferring the old only on the few occasions when either the prestige or the comfort it can offer override the excitement and liberation afforded by the new. Three passages, from Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park, all referring to old religious architecture, show the negotiations Austen's characters make with the past. The majority of her characters have moved on into a self-conscious modernity which turns history into something decorative and consumable which does not make too many claims. In the language of today, her novels show history being rewritten as heritage.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lamont C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Review of English Studies

Year: 2003

Volume: 54

Issue: 217

Pages: 661-674

ISSN (print): 0034-6551

ISSN (electronic): 1471-6968

Publisher: Oxford University Press


DOI: 10.1093/res/54.217.661


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