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Permanent URL to this publication: http://dx.doi.org/10.5167/uzh-46411

Steiner - Karafili, Enit. Jane Austen and the civilized woman: moral development and gender. 2009, University of Zurich, Faculty of Arts.

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Abstract

“Jane Austen and the Civilized Woman: Moral Development and Gender” examines Austen’s juvenilia as well as her six completed novels, and explores the interconnections among theories of (Western) civilization and gender, such as those discussed in the long-eighteenth century and in recent times. Critics have more often than not perceived Austen as the archetypal author of civil society and romance, concluding that her attention to propriety and courtship impairs her heroines’ moral independence and establishes them as “proper ladies”. The present study argues that this interpretation rests on a post-modern concept of the individual as a self-sufficient entity – an ideal inherent in the Enlightenment project, reinforced by influential psychoanalytic studies and associated primarily with masculinity. This thesis suggests instead that Austen’s concern with moral behavior in relationships contests this ideal, and in doing so Austen participates in the debates of the late-eighteenth century and anticipates important feminist perspectives on moral agency. The thesis takes account of the way manners, moral behavior and gender were integrated in the philosophical thought of the long-eighteenth century as part of a collective consciousness that was referred to as “civilization”. The Scottish philosophers engaged extensively with the progress of civilization, discussing human behavioral life at different economic stages. Their work paved the way for the twentieth-century German sociologist Norbert Elias and his account of a theory of Western civilization. Drawing on these writings, the present study takes as its starting point the idea of an embedded, relational subjectivity that emerges thanks to and in constant exchange with communities of other selves. Elias’s investigations, in particular, allow us to read Austen’s female protagonists as being immersed in a civilizing process which presupposes that not absolute independence, but rather the balance between an “I” and a “we” identity within the individual is the condition upon which the progress of Western civilization depends. The present work reads Austen’s simultaneous emphasis on a thinking and a relational subject as a shift from the selfeffacing “proper lady” to a socially-informed and socially-involved civilized woman.

Item Type:Dissertation
Referees:Esterhammer A, Reddick A
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of English Studies
DDC:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:2009
Deposited On:21 Feb 2011 21:31
Last Modified:26 Sep 2013 14:17

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