Raymond Williams on Jane Austen, Again

In The Country and the City (1973), Raymond Williams launched an investigation into the historical character of Jane Austen’s fiction which has profoundly influenced our understanding of the novelist’s work and the period in which she wrote. This essay first examines Williams’s curiously static representation of Austen, offered by a critic otherwise attuned to a literary and social history conceived as unsettled and agitated. The limitations of his approach reflect both gender bias and a bias toward realism, especially evident in Williams’s reliance on the figure of perspective. To loosen understanding of the history in Austen, this essay proposes a turn to Williams’s later reflections on media, notably Television: Technology and Cultural Form (1974), where rhythm, sound, and temporality replace the geometries of visual perspective. Doing so asks us to reconsider the work of reading as Williams depicts it and to move Austen off the page and elsewhere, to less familiar horizons and other media.