A Lecture on Jane Austen
"What wild imaginations one forms where dear self is concerned! How sure to be mistaken!"
- Jane Austen
A lecture with the awesome title, "Monsters and Monstrosity": Desire and Corporeality in Jane Austen's Novels, gives one pause as to what to expect, even when the lecture is proffered by a proven sage (on Austen and her literature) such as Elisabeth Lenckos, Instructor in the Basic Program of the University of Chicago. When that lecture begins with a discourse on the genre of "mash-up" novels based, loosely, on Jane Austen's original texts the wonder grew until Ms. Lenckos turned her analysis toward Austen's original texts and began to explicate the role of villainy and seduction as it was truly portrayed by the pen of Jane Austen. The result was a delightfully instructive hour of learning about the influences and interests of Jane Austen and how she portrayed both lovers and other strangers without the need of some of the monsters that have been attached to her work in the twenty-first century.
The lecture made clear the familiarity that Austen had with the Gothic novel based, in part, on her novel Northanger Abbey which manages to maintain a basis in reality while referencing the Gothic and suggesting mysteriousness. I enjoyed the recommendation of Anne Radcliffe (among several Gothic novelists referenced by Austen) as a worthwhile and entertaining representative of the Gothic genre in the lecture. And also the discussion of Austen's ability to portray moral 'monsters' such as Willoughby and Wickham while maintaining a classically-balanced presentation of personal and social affairs in her novels. Ultimately Austen's novels were shown to be " dramas of the mind and heart" where one can see the benefits of self-improvement and introspection in Austen's heroines. It was an expansive lecture that limned the breathtaking scope of Austen's consideration of the role of the sensible and human reason in the realms of love.