Jane Austen and the Hazard of Conversation

Jon Mee

in Conversable Worlds

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199591749
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731433 | DOI:
Jane Austen and the Hazard of Conversation

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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Jane Austen is often represented as the doyenne of conversation. This chapter explores the tension between the delight the novels show in sparkling dialogue and their sense of its hazard. Austen’s conversable world is compared with other treatments of conversation in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century novel, especially Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison, Burney’s Evelina, Edgeworth’s fiction, and More’s Coelebs in Search of a Wife. Attention is given both to the representation of conversation and the development of ‘conversational’ techniques of narration. The chapter also returns to the issue of the relationship between private and public conversation, comparing various anti-jacobin novels with Austen’s fiction. Even in the restricted circles of Austen’s novels, it concludes, Emma’s desire for someone who can ‘meet her in conversation, playful or rational’ proves an extremely uncertain business, and one unlikely to provide any firm foundation for wider public sphere.

Keywords: the novel; dialogue; free indirect speech; domesticity; Austen; Richardson; Burney; Edgeworth; More; anti-jacobin novels

Chapter.  15803 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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