Jane Austen

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Join Evelyne Ender in this exploration of questions and reflections of Jane Austen's works. This mini-course is shaped as a set of interrelated lectures. Their aim is to explore questions that will be unraveled along a common thread.  

From the instructor: "My presentations will, each in their own way, respond to the following challenge: if, as the political philosopher Jürgen Habermas wrote, the Enlightenment saw 'an explosion of speech aimed at persuading others,' how can novels persuade us at a time of crisis to rethink – without sentimentality but with the help of reason and imagination – our relation to ourselves and to others?"

The bold move, here, is to imagine that characters can become proxies for this kind of investigation, trusting all the while that fiction can enlighten us, even on that small map drawn by a woman author who could not travel. For lectures 2, 3, and 4 recommended short readings from Austen’s novel will be emailed to students upon request.

Lecture 1.  “Austen’s brilliant designs”: an introduction
Watch Session 1 

Emma and Persuasion, two novels written in Austen’s late style, can do more than nourish an attraction towards the romance. In exploring such volatile entities as beauty, wit, secret loves, or fatal attractions, they invite an exploration of social configurations that do not necessarily lead to happiness.  With marriages as their focal point, they canvas a subtly delineated world of social and political arrangements of balletic complexity that we will explore together.

Topics:  conduct, values, propriety – sentimental educations – companionate marriages – the economics of owning or earning a living – in search for a husband – freedom?

Lecture 2. “Confined to home”
Watch Session 2

In Persuasion, Austen provides us with a line-up of characters who are forced by circumstances or illness to watch and experience life from the sidelines. What defines their predicament, what lessons can be drawn from an overview of such figures?  Does sickness necessarily entail disempowerment?

Topics:  on being ill – inner world and outer exploration – style and “interiority” – women authors and the invention of the psychological novel – Austen’s vicarious living

Lecture 3.  Fevered minds or “Reader, I married him”

Paying particular attention to plot, we consider the two novels in a comparison built around the contrast between Emma Woodhouse, the “imaginist” and child of privilege, and Anne Elliot, the late bloomer who dwells in melancholia. A shared desire for intimacy is the driving force behind the heroines’ actions (which happens to a large degree in their minds!), but why does it take so many pages to get to a good dénouement?

Topics:  gender differentials – the virtues: resilience and reticence – the challenge of raising children – the maiden aunt phenomenon – “unkindness” –  judging character – ideals of intimacy

Lecture 4.  A test of characters: the case of Mr. Perry’s new carriage

Focused on social satire and intent on tracking the heroine’s foibles, the most recent film adaptation of Emma (2020, available through Amazon) raises to a new pitch the blend of feelings, well-meaning intentions, gossip and secrecy that propel Emma’s towards a fatal realization, namely, that there are limits to her “heroism of sentiment” – and that she is blind to her own feelings.

Topics:  solidarity and inequality – the importance of letters – friends? – charitable gestures – communities and transparency – can love ever be genuine?


Dr. Evelyne Ender is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Comparative Thought and Literature, at Johns Hopkins University. She earned her doctorate ès lettres at the University of Geneva, where she taught for several years. Her dissertation appeared in 1991 as Sexing the Mind: Nineteenth-Century Fictions of Hysteria. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literature as well as in the medical humanities, and she is currently finishing a book on handwriting.

Her passion for texts and for the creative potential of literature nourish her interdisciplinary research as well as her teaching.  Body-mind issues and the psychological aspects of human existence represented in modern fiction and autobiography are at heart of her work. This course reflects her research on gender, on personal memory, illness and hysteria, the science on reading, and on desire. A Professor of French at the University of Washington in Seattle, she came to JHU from the CUNY Graduate Center and Hunter College in New York. She has held visiting appointments at Yale, Harvard, and MIT.

Ender’s ArchiTexts of Memory: Literature, Science, and Autobiography (2005) won the Aldo Scaglione Prize for best book in Comparative studies. Her many articles and book chapters in English and French are driven by one conviction, namely that an ever-renewed attentiveness to what words and language(s) can tell us is key to our humanity.

 Event Date
Friday, May 8, 2020
Start Time: 11:00am
End Time: 12:00pm


Zoom Lectures
Baltimore, MD 21218

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