This year, Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal On-Line and Persuasions, which will be published next June, will offer a provocative glimpse into the varieties and inconsistencies of “Jane Austen’s World”—a world that, like our own, was extraordinarily complex and confusing. “Jane Austen’s World” provided the theme of the 2002 Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (held in Toronto last October), and the articles we include here show how the topic can be approached from a variety of vantage points.
The theme for the conference evolved from a book by Maggie Lane, whose keynote address will be published in Persuasions in spring 2003. The latitude inherent in such a broad theme offers critics a chance to connect the “new” late eighteenth-/early nineteenth-century ideas about politics, religion, society, art, science, and literature with Jane Austen’s comments on or use of those ideas in her novels and letters. During the long Georgian period, new ideas—about race, class, and gender issues, for example, as well as about manners, clothes, and entertainment—startled and challenged the people of Britain; they obviously challenged Jane Austen; and they continue to challenge readers today, particularly because the period encompassed so many international, national, domestic, and personal transformations.
The period under examination ranges from the years preceding Jane Austen’s birth in 1775 to the years following her death in 1817, a period that certainly showed itself to be the best of times and the worst of times. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had global implications, but these events shaped as well the lives of the Austen family members. Did these world events have an impact on Austen’s art? Even as new inventions made domestic Georgian life relatively easier and more comfortable, concerned people began questioning such facts of their daily existence as England’s colonial thrust, woman’s place in society, spiritual fulfillment, and moral and personal responsibility. How did new inventions affect the lives of the Austens? What did Jane Austen think about the slave trade? What does the author want her reader to understand about the morals of her characters? These are some of the questions the essays in this issue seek to address.
Persuasions offers you a selection of essays that explore the ways Jane Austen, her family and friends, and her characters met the challenge of living effective, honorable, and graceful lives in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century world. Our authors take you on a journey that includes not only England but also France, the West Indies, and America. Since our mission in Persuasions is to present issues and concepts that open up Jane Austen’s texts, we offer essays that connect fiction and fact, that link Austen’s creations with the wide world outside Chawton. If we are to reach our goal of becoming better readers and interpreters of Jane Austen’s works and the ideas she depicts, then we must learn as much as possible about her world. We hope that you will enjoy the way the critics here examine—and help us understand—the world Jane Austen knew—and the worlds she created.
Professor of English, Goucher College