Jane Austen and the Neighbour

Project: Research project

Project Details

Description

This project targets at a specific niche in contemporary Austen criticism: it examines the concept of the neighbour in Austen’s works, and the ethical and political roles of women as diplomatic builders of the eighteenth-century gentry neighbourhood. As the daughter of Rev. George Austen, Austen is all too aware of the injunction that one should “love one’s neighbour as oneself;” however, in one of her letters to Cassandra, Austen proclaims that she “cannot anyhow continue to find people agreeable” (13 May 1801). In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Bennet openly declares, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” The neighbours are of extreme importance in the world of Austen: everyone has neighbours, but few know how to live with them.

This project investigates the collapse among the concepts private/public, neighbourliness/enmity, hospitality/estrangement, care/control, and self/other. It is a logical development from my previous work (Jane Austen and the Dialectic of Misrecognition), but this project approaches Austen from a totally different angle. My proposed study endeavours to (1) redirect Austen studies from the parochial domestic sphere to highlight what Austen calls the neighbourly politics of the “little social commonwealth” (Persuasion); (2) analyze Austen’s definition and representation of the neighbour in her letters and major works; (3) investigate the Austenian problematics of neighbour-love, hospitality, selfhood, and performative subjectivity in light of religious, philosophical, and psychoanalytical, and feminist theories on the neighbour; (4) address the basic but complex issue of women as active builders and members of the gentry neighbourhood, and the ethical and sociopolitical implications of the neighbour in the society/empire building process; (5) examine the diverse ways in which cinematic adaptations often ignore certain neighbours in order to give A-list stars visual dominance, and evaluate the consequences of these omissions.

I conclude this project by exploring Austen’s ideological construction of neighbourliness. I will locate Austen’s novels in relation to the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, and how her attitudes toward the neighbour are affected by contexts familial, social, and international. Fraternity, brotherhood, and hegemonic individualism all lead to sociopolitical and international disasters. By the end of her life Austen is ready to see that there will never be any union of wills between the self and the neighbour, but personal ambition and interpersonal dispute need not mean war and social rupture. The impact of Austen on the contemporary world is not just about disciplining love and the schooling of the self, but about the importance of diplomacy and neighbhourhood re-form.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date1/01/1330/06/15

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