Judgment, Propriety, and the Critique of Sensibility: The “Sentimental” Jane Austen

Hina Nazar

in Enlightened Sentiments

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780823240074
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780823240111 | DOI:
Judgment, Propriety, and the Critique of Sensibility: The “Sentimental” Jane Austen

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This chapter interrogates a persistent premise of the dynamic critical industry that has flourished around Jane Austen's fiction in recent decades: its argument that Austen was an “anti-sentimental” conservative who opposed the new individualisms exemplified by late-century sensibility and romanticism. The chapter suggests that Austen's career-long critique of the cult of sensibility should not be confused with an “anti-sentimental” posture since the terms of her critique come from within the sentimental tradition itself. The most important of these are “judgment,” “taste,” and “propriety,” all of which stand at the centre of Sense and Sensibility, Austen's first published novel, and the work that situates her fiction most clearly in relation to eighteenth-century sentimentalism. While the novel's informing conflict between the two Dashwood sisters is often viewed as a battle between propriety and sensibility, or traditionalism and individualism, it is best read as a family quarrel within sentimentalism. Both sisters value independent judgment but view the relationship between judgment and feeling differently. Austen, like feminist thinkers of her time such as Mary Wollstonecraft, understands judgment and the independence associated with it to be the goal of women's education; through the control enabled by third-person narration, she transforms the sentimental epistolary novel's commitment to women's independence into the reality of a female Bildungsroman.

Keywords: Jane Austen; Judgment; Propriety; Taste; Sensibility; Bildungsroman

Chapter.  12008 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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