Though some scholars have maintained that Jane Austen closely adheres to the ideology of courtesy novels and conduct literature, I argue that Austen uses her knowledge of this ideology to reveal the flaws in reader assumptions about the presumed commonsensical nature of the courtesy novel and its feminine ideal. Austen is familiar with the conventions of eighteenth-century fiction, but, rather than adopting its tropes in her own work, she uses realism to parody its excesses and improbabilities; this realism then works against reader expectations and exposes paradoxes inherent in the courtesy novel and in conduct-book literature itself. In my thesis I observe how Austen uses courtesy novel tropes to expose or even mock the courtesy novel's inherently unrealistic qualities, and I do so by examining the act of "reading" in her novels: specifically, I argue that the literal reading that Austen's characters engage in does not produce the expected outcomes predicted by conduct books and courtesy novels; that the figurative reading of one character by another demonstrates the dangerousness and unsuitability of the heroine as "open book," as conduct books and courtesy novels urged her to be, as well as the irrationality and hypocrisy of acting the part of "closed book" to her intended lover; and, finally, that the act of reading an Austen novel is intended to prevent the absorption or interpretation of unrealistic ideals, through insistence on (more) realistic outcomes and through narrative intervention.
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Oliver, Kathleen M.
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic;Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities
Length of Campus-only Access
Honors in the Major Thesis
Dickens, Faith B., ""Unnatural Conduct & Forced Difficulties:" Austen, Reading, and the Paradox of the Feminine Ideal" (2011). HIM 1990-2015. 1766.