Teaching Jane Austen and the Literature of Love Advice

Teaching Jane Austen and the Literature of Love Advice

Sarah Raff
Pomona College

1.         Since January 2012, a dozen volumes that claim to purvey Jane Austen’s love counsel have appeared in print. This explosion in the dating manual corner of the Austen market is no boon for morale in college Austen classes. To those students who have absorbed the lesson that literature ought not to serve any practical purpose, the visibility of so many Austen guides to love suggests that Austen’s novels, useful as the book trade proclaims them, must not be literature, or at least not literature of the highest kind. And to any student, there is the embarrassing matter of what Austen is supposed to be useful for. I have been told that in certain college-age circles, it has come to seem widely acknowledged that a single man or woman in possession of Austen’s novels must be in want of—and desperate to find—a romantic partner. [1] 

2.         Austen is, of course, one among legions of literary writers who have either claimed for themselves a love-advisor persona or had such a persona ascribed to them by readers. In a freshman seminar called “Advice about Love and the Literary Narrator,” my students and I examine some of the texts these writers produced. The topic of love advice serves in this course as an occasion for surveying the history of literary criticism, for investigating literary theoretical problems such as the nature of “belief” in fiction, for considering the ways speech acts can establish relations between narrators and readers, and for delving into the particulars of a wide variety of literary texts. The essay that follows will lay out some of the questions the course addresses, sketch the material we cover in the course’s first, pre-Austen half, and finally discuss how we bring that material to bear on one of Austen’s novels most explicitly concerned with love advice, Emma (1815). I will suggest that what makes literary love advice an especially fruitful topic for classroom study is the tension between what it says and what it does, the interplay—mobilized by Austen with special dexterity—between its constative and performative dimensions.


3.         The topic of love advice has a certain automatic psychological interest quite apart from its relations with literature. Students arrive in class already equipped with a fund of extra-literary experience that informs their answers to such questions as: Why do so many people seem to share the intuition that some elusive rule or piece of information holds the key to love and happiness? Why would anyone ever accept advice about something so private and individual as love? What, if anything, could qualify one to give such counsel? What relations of power or erotic investment between a giver and receiver of love counsel does a given scene of advising imply?

4.         Further questions arise when we turn from scenarios involving real persons or fictional characters to ones taking place between narrators of fiction and their readers. Do special constraints or opportunities come into play when the source of advice is a piece of literature? When narrators present themselves as advice-givers to readers, what other kinds of relationships with those readers do they thereby initiate or imply? Can the mixed motives and hidden agendas that so often influence real-world advisors and matchmakers still come into play when the advisor/advisee relation includes only one embodied person? What, on the other hand, do readers mean when they say that they are “in love” with a particular author, book, narrator, or literary character? What does a literary work’s status as object of love contribute to its authority as advisor about love?

5.        Is it even possible for a literary narrator or work of art to give a reader advice? Students may be tempted to answer “no” to this last question from a sheer sense of respect for the difference between fiction and fact. After all, if the poet “nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth,” as Sir Philip Sidney claimed in his Defense of Poesy (1595), [2]  then the poet would seem to abstain altogether from offering readers direction. Indeed, to borrow formulations that first-year college students are more likely to have encountered in their previous studies, if poetry makes “pseudo-statements” rather than verifiable statements (I. A. Richards), if “A poem should not mean / But be” (Archibald Macleish), if to focus on the propositional content of a literary fiction is to miss its (aesthetic) point (Cleanth Brooks), then any reader who attempts to take guidance from a fiction is already misguided. [3] 

6.         To be sure, the long chronological sweep of the course helps to deprive this skeptical view of its air of inevitability. As we march through the centuries from Ovid to George Saunders, we have many occasions to notice how dominant has been the Horacian duo “utile” and “dulce.” Viewed in the context of the many Western commentators who take it for granted that literature should and can be useful as well as sweet, instructive as well as entertaining, the Sidneyan or New Critical insistence on the incommensurability between the claims of fiction and the world of facts seems pedantic. There is also the difficulty of imagining a work of literature that could offer no guidance to anybody. A geographically ignorant reader of Balzac’s Le Père Goriot (1835) would learn from that novel that Paris is the capital of France even if she were resolved not to accept as guidance any of the narrator’s discursive comments.

7.         Yet even those modern readers who agree that they can receive instruction from a work of literature may balk at the idea that they can receive advice from it. When I ask students how “advice” differs from “instruction,” a speech-act that can, after all, take exactly the same form, they usually decide that an “advisor” guides someone she knows, while an “instructor” can guide acquaintances and strangers alike. Unlike “instruction,” “advice” is custom-tailored to the specific circumstances of the addressee. Thus, the distance of time or space separating authors from readers—the fact that authors cannot be personally acquainted with all the readers whom their books may eventually attract—would seem to rule out the transmission of advice from literary text to reader.

8.        The fact that readers do think of themselves as taking precisely advice from works of literature bears pondering. To examine that peculiar belief, as well as some of the other illusions fiction can create, we draw on Robert Newsom’s book A Likely Story: Probability and Play in Fiction, pursuing several lines of questioning. When I read Pride and Prejudice (1813), is my feeling that Austen’s narrator is my advisor like my feeling that there was once a person called Elizabeth Bennet who talked with Mr. Darcy? Are both feelings, in other words, phenomena deliberately orchestrated long ago by the writer Jane Austen and unlikely ever to fool me into acting as if Austen’s creative product were part of my own world of facts? Or is the credence I give to the notion that Austen’s narrator can advise me more like the credence with which I greet the circumstances of daily life? Perhaps my belief in the narrator’s ability to advise me is stronger than my belief in Elizabeth Bennet’s existence. After all, I myself have supplied real-world particulars to the sentences I take as Austen’s “advice.” Upon encountering, for example, the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” I may think of a single man I know and imagine that Austen’s narrator is offering me personal guidance concerning this man (3). My real-world experience of the man I have in mind informs my sense of the narrator’s advice. Then again, perhaps my experience of real-world women with “light and pleasing” figures similarly informs my sense of Elizabeth Bennet (23). However one decides the question of belief, it seems clear that one way a narrator can foster the illusion that she offers readers custom-built guidance is by inviting their personal applications to her general statements. The result looks like a reciprocal exchange: the narrator sets the topic, the reader thinks of relevant material, and the narrator in turn gives an interpretation of that material.

9.        The process does not end there: the novel’s incidents and characters further inflect moments of advice-giving. In Pride and Prejudice, our sole Austen novel in some iterations of the course, we find it fruitful to compare the narrator who speaks the novel’s famous opening sentence with Charlotte Lucas, that cynical inventor of prescriptions for courtship (“In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better shew more affection than she feels” [22]); with Mr. Collins, the plodding reciter of such prescriptions (“I am not now to learn that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour” [107]); and with Elizabeth Bennet, a disdainful observer of the calculations of each. The opening sentence’s most immediate counterpoint comes, however, from Mrs. Bennet, whose first-chapter airing of her wishes concerning Mr. Bingley’s marriageability reflects back upon the narrator. Inviting us to recognize Mrs. Bennet as Austen’s joking self-portrait, the novel’s opening statement, we find, has borrowed the universalizing impulse of the matron of the Bennet household and dressed up in stately language her wish concerning single men. The labors of Mrs. Bennet to find marriages for her daughters become a facetious representation of Austen’s matchmaking efforts on behalf both of her nubile female characters and of the readers whom her narrator addresses with advice.

10.        Thanks to the famous irony of the opening sentence, this alignment between Austen’s narrator and the novel’s foolish would-be matchmaker is decidedly temporary. The first sentence parrots not just Mrs. Bennet herself but Mr. Bennet’s disgruntled parroting of Mrs. Bennet, we suddenly realize. Our double-take anticipates one of the plot’s more unexpected rhymes with the opening sentence, which takes place when Elizabeth catches herself giving voice to her mother’s opportunistic attitude toward Netherfield Park’s occupants, then hastily backtracks with the remark that “perhaps Mr. Bingley did not take the house so much for the convenience of the neighborhood as for his own” (178). This playing out in a speech by Elizabeth of two contrary impulses in the opening sentence’s reader suggests one effect of the narrator’s fleeting adoption of the love-advisor persona. In spellbinding cadences that initially seem to draw the reader under the wing of an ideal mentor, then gradually reveal themselves to be an unfriendly mimicry of Mrs. Bennet, the narrator gives the reader the same double experience of unthinking complicity and compensatory revulsion that mark Elizabeth’s response to her mother and to the very idea of courtship that proceeds “by design” (22). The response is not unlike that with which an admirer of Austen’s novels might encounter the love guides of modern Janeism.

11.        I have found this kind of inquiry, in which the class compares a narrator’s discourse with episodes in the diegetic realm, helpful throughout the many versions of the course I have taught. In the case of Pride and Prejudice, such comparisons throw into relief the contrast between what the narrator begins by saying about single men and what her words do, namely show us that if we believe what she says, then we will deserve ridicule. [4]  Discussing Persuasion (1817), another Austen novel sometimes included in the course, we find many curious points of contact between Anne Elliot’s relationship with books, her interactions with the love-advisor characters—Lady Russell, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Musgrove, Mrs. Croft, even Charles Musgrove—and the narrator’s dry comments about love. Sometimes we begin the course with Ovid’s tale of Pygmalion, in which love crosses the border between art and the real world. We follow this story of a statue that comes alive when kissed with Molière’s play The School for Wives (1662), in which a would-be Pygmalion finds that the woman he has fashioned harbors her own ideas about whom she will kiss; with Henry James’s novel The Awkward Age (1898-1899), in which adults contend for influence over a girl who may already be shaped by books; and with Tommaso Landolfi’s comical story “Gogol’s Wife” (1963), which imagines the Russian author as unhappy husband to an adjustable blow-up doll. The alternative sequence of texts I lay out in the following section is just one of innumerable possibilities.


12.        The seminar opens with two intensely entertaining, raunchy books by the Roman poet Ovid: The Amores (c. 15 BCE) and The Art of Love (2-1 BCE). The Art of Love is the more explicit love guide, but The Amores is particularly interesting for the relationships it establishes between its speaker, its reader, and Corinna, the woman whom the speaker professes to love. We begin the class on Ovid by considering one of his obsessive topics, the go-between, whom The Amores’s speaker represents first as a witch-like procuress, then as a lady’s maid, a writing tablet, and the verses of the speaker. Noting that The Amores returns repeatedly to scenarios in which a go-between displaces one of the principals in a love affair, we examine this pattern at work in the opening poem of book 2, in which the speaker declares his intention to act as facilitator of his readers’ love affairs but ends up admitting that he is versifying on his own behalf, for his own erotic benefit.

13.        This intimation of author/reader rivalry gets a comical twist near the end of The Amores, when the speaker discovers that he has shot himself in the foot, so to speak, by writing about his beloved. As he laments, “That girl whom the town / Spoke of — till lately — as mine, my solitary obsession, / I fear I must now share / With all comers” (160). In Peter Green’s lively translation, Ovid’s speaker wonders, “Could my poems have made her a public figure?” and concludes, “That’s it: she was prostituted by my art, / And serve me right for trumpeting her beauty abroad! If my darling’s / On the market, it’s all my fault— / I’ve pimped her charms, I’ve marked up the route for lovers, / It was I who let them in at her front door.” Some of the speakers’ readers are now his erotic competitors because they have—with quixotism avant le lettre—believed the speaker’s assertions about Corinna’s perfections instead of dismissing the praise as “fiction” (161). In this preview of one of the most trumpeted of fiction-reading’s putative dangers—the reader’s inability to distinguish fiction from reality—the figure victimized is not the reader but the author.

14.        I enjoy moving from Ovid—so inflammatory yet familiar, who never fails to prompt students’ recollections of rap songs—to the medieval cleric Andreas Capellanus, who often alludes to Ovid but whose treatise The Art of Courtly Love (1184-6) offers a glimpse of a world markedly unlike our own. In answer to the first question I ask in the Capellanus class, “What surprised you in the reading?”, students point to Capellanus’s regimented list of the “four stages of love”: “the giving of hope,” “the granting of a kiss,” “the enjoyment of an embrace,” and “the yielding of the whole person” (42). They note the contrast between Capellanus’s dry, scholastic style and the carnal goal toward which he guides his readers. Pondering the strange idea that by performing miscellaneous good deeds a man could be thought to earn and be owed a woman’s love, students give an airing to the perennial question: does the system of courtly love advance or impede women’s empowerment? By the time we get to Capellanus’s series of dialogues demonstrating how men and women of various social classes ought to debate and, it often seems, bicker with one another—the man seeking to initiate a courtship, the woman refusing, and the man sometimes ending the exchange by announcing in defiance that the woman’s words of rejection have given him hope and thus enabled him to achieve the first stage of love—students are eager to discuss whether and where the treatise writer might be joking. That anyone should refer to a script concerning matters so personal often strikes students as uncanny, but Capellanus presents love as a highly formal endeavor, elaborately codified, full of rules.

15.        With Don Quixote (1605, 1615), about a reader deranged in his attempt to follow the rules he has found in literature, Cervantes launches the modern novel by asking whether readers are ever justified in taking pointers from fiction. While The Amores’s speaker takes it for granted that his readers occupy the same space as himself and can consequently steal his girlfriend and subject matter, Don Quixote notices how strange it can be when a figure crosses from the literary realm into the reader’s. Cervantes’s novel questions the premise upon which the act of taking guidance from any work of fiction seems to be predicated, namely that the literary world is continuous and commensurable with the “real” one, that prescriptions found in one can apply to the other. Don Quixote has in mind the rule that if he ever defeats a giant, he ought to send that giant to his lady as a tribute, but he does not meet any giants in his wanderings; he has to content himself with windmills. The disdain so marked in some responses to Janeite advice-seeking starts here, in the wonder and laughter with which we are invited to greet both the absurd content of the counsel that Don Quixote takes from previous genres and his very assumption that a literary source can accurately guide him.

16.        Don Quixote also explores advice taken from non-textual sources, as we discover when we turn from the novel’s first fourteen chapters to a later inset story called “The Tale of Inappropriate Curiosity.” In this take-down of male sexual jealousy, Anselmo decides to test his wife’s fidelity, asks his best friend Lothario to try her willingness with flattery and gifts, and finds himself betrayed by his wife and friend, who run away together. Before marrying, Anselmo courted his future spouse by using his advisor Lothario as go-between, but after marriage Anselmo becomes the unwitting go-between connecting his wife and friend. I ask students in what relation the tale stands to the surrounding narrative, and we debate whether Anselmo’s skepticism of his wife’s fidelity might be the counterpart to Don Quixote’s readerly credulity: insane, ruinous in its effects, and apt to shape the world into the form it expects. We try to define Anselmo’s motives for testing his wife and for engaging Lothario’s aid, and we conclude by examining René Girard’s famous model of triangular or mediated desire, which we apply not just to the characters in “The Tale” but to Don Quixote’s reading and to modern-day advertising.

17.        The conclusions we have drawn in the first weeks of the course about go-betweens in Ovid, the codification of courtship in Cappelanus, and mediated desire in Cervantes all come into play when we arrive at the eighteenth-century novel. I introduce students to the vehemence of anti-novel sentiment in this period through the handout included in the Appendix to this essay. Examining the handout in class, we observe that some anti-novel warnings, with their visions of female readers misled by novels and falling victim to a kind of textual molestation, seem not just attacks on quixotism but expressions of it. Detractors, we note, often imagined the novel as a pander whose prescriptions for love would link the reader with a seductive fictional character, a corruptive author, or another reader. At this point in the semester, we talk about the female quixotes of the eighteenth-century, those heirs of Don Quixote and ancestors of contemporary Janeites. We read a masterpiece of the French libertine novel, Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782), with its multiple overlapping love triangles and letter writers who destroy the advisees they claim to help. Finally, we consider some of the many scenes in the British novel in which marriage proposals take the form of requests for advice, marriage acceptances the form of counsel. Unlike most of the previous scenes of advising we have encountered, these are dyadic exchanges, with no third-party go-between. Why, we ask, do proposal scenes in Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722), Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740), and Frances Burney’s Cecelia (1782) insist on this coincidence between declaring love and requesting or dispensing advice? [5]  It is here that Austen enters the seminar, for Emma’s culminating proposal scene, which carries on this tradition, suggests an answer.


18.         In this scene, Emma brilliantly juxtaposes the dyadic advisory model of the eighteenth-century novel’s proposal scenes with the triangular model we examined earlier in the semester. The slipperiness of the triangular model has been causing trouble, of course, throughout Austen’s novel, for Emma Woodhouse has reprised to unhappy effect some of Ovid’s favorite scenarios in her attempts to make matches for friends and acquaintances. Where she intends to preside over a union between two subordinates, she finds herself mistaken for one of the principals, and where she expects to see a grateful advisee, she finds herself saddled with an unexpected rival. Despite these bad precedents, Emma and Knightley’s best chances for happiness appear to them to hinge, in the lead-up to their love scene, upon further love-triangle rearrangements. Imagining that Emma loves Frank Churchill and is heart-broken at the news of his secret engagement to Jane Fairfax, Knightley visits Emma with the plan to “soothe or counsel” her concerning Frank. Emma, in turn, believes that Knightley seeks her encouragement to proceed with a marriage proposal to Harriet. Knightley and Emma would each gladly become the love guide who forms a new couple with one of the original (putative) principals.

19.        However, although both would like to supplant in the affections of an advisee the person concerning whom they plan to offer love counsel, [6]  no supplanting proves necessary, for Emma and Knightley love not Frank and Harriet but one another. Knightley is the first to be released from his misunderstanding. Once Emma has assured him that she does not love Frank, Knightley begins impulsively to “tell you what you will not ask” only to be interrupted with the words “don’t speak it, don’t speak it” from Emma, who, in her eagerness to avoid hearing about Knightley’s love for Harriet, now wishes for the first time to avoid the role of confidante and advisor (429). But Emma relents. She generously invites the man she loves “to ask my opinion of any thing that you may have in contemplation,” and Knightley now submits himself, uncharacteristically, to Emma’s advice. He agrees to “accept your offer” and “refer myself to you as a friend.” The object of his question to Emma, however, is not Harriet, who “was nothing,” but Emma herself: not three parties but two are in question here (430). The erotic triumph of Emma the advisor comes about not because she detaches her advisee’s affections from a third party but because she proves to have monopolized those affections all along.

20.        Emma’s version of the advice-laden proposal scene contains a clue to its popularity among Austen’s eighteenth-century predecessors. Knightley addresses Emma in the following terms: “Tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?” (429, 430) Wonderfully, this question keeps the object of Knightley’s love unspecified as ever. It also neglects to pin down the kind of success, namely success in love, that Knightley seeks. Although Knightley wants to know whether he will succeed in winning Emma’s hand, his question seems to ask, “Have I no chance of ever succeeding in life?” or “at anything?” and to demand in answer a prediction of similarly broad scope. The vagueness of the query acknowledges that to Knightley’s sense, any resolution of the pressing uncertainties concerning his fate and future will depend upon Emma’s response. To be in love and in doubt of return is to make the beloved an oracle, the keeper of the answer to the burning questions commonly posed to advisors: “Where shall I look for happiness, where shall I live, and what kind of life shall I lead?”, “Will I win the love of the one I love?”, “Will I ever marry at all?” Because practical considerations of all kinds hang upon the success or failure of a given love relation, requests for love—like requests for advice—get answered with implicit predictions. The beloved becomes wrapped up not just in the desire to love and be loved, but in the desire to know the future.

21.        The overlap Emma emphasizes between beloved and oracle bears upon the popular image of Austen the advisor. For, of course, Emma does not get to speak her advice to Knightley in phrases the reader can hear. Instead, the narrator summarizes these phrases in her own words. These words appear to offer advice to the female reader about how to respond to a marriage proposal: “What did she say?—Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.—She said enough to show there need not be despair—and to invite him to say more himself” (431). Like the speaker of The Amores, Austen’s narrator becomes an advising lover to the reader, for her counsel occupies the place of a speech by Emma to Knightley that accepts and declares love even as it advises. The narrator’s Capellanus-like script for courtship brings to fulfillment eighteenth-century fears about the novelist’s demand for the reader’s affection, for even as it says how ladies respond to marriage proposals, it performs a love scene between the narrator and the reader. Although Austen’s narrator advises the reader about how to respond to a third party’s proposal, we gather that the third party will not remain in the picture long. After all, the narrator has just shown us a scene in which triangular advising gives way to dyadic advising: the match the advisor makes is her own. Austen’s love-advisor persona is a lover persona as well. Far from desperate for some real-world third-party lover, the Janeite who pauses over Austen’s love counsel may instead be enjoying the solicitations of Austen’s seductive narrator herself.

22.        By tracing the literary history of love advice, by linking works of unquestioned excellence and influence not just to Austen but to Austen’s scenes of advising per se, students come to see that it need be no put-down of Austen to note that her authorial persona often looks like a counsellor to the reader. Having encountered Austen in the context of a didactic tradition marked by the assumption that, far from purpose-free, novels ought to offer readers instruction in the momentous choices they may face, among them whom to marry, students are well-equipped to track the modern permutations of that tradition. Near the end of the semester, we read Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), the short novel by Nathanael West about an advice columnist driven to despair by the intractability of the problems he is asked to address, and George Saunders’s story “Winky” (2000), about a sad sack who attends a self-help convention and risks losing his best feature, his charitable impulse. We think about the place of advice in popular culture—television comedy, fortune cookies, YouTube videos—and appreciate the sheer complexity of advice-giving as a speech act.

23.        Instead of attempting to convince students that Austen never sought the advising role with her reader, I invite them to notice the complicated valences of her narrator’s advice: its implicit commentary on established ideas about the role of the author as well as its resonances among Austen’s own plots, the intricate dance by which Austen’s characters develop patterns set in motion by the narrator. Austen’s ability to speak as a bustling Mrs. Bennet at one moment and a sophisticated seducer the next; to give a rule while taking it away, as in the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice; to cast us as Elizabeth Bennets, scornfully brushing off counsel, as quixotes, who would deny any boundary between the novel and the real world, and as Mr. Knightleys, making petitions for guidance that seem like requests for love—all this, students end up agreeing, helps make Austen great. Janeite guidebooks might still inflict a social stigma on Austen-reading students, but the pleasures of Austen’s art deliver abundant compensation.

Handout, Advice about Love seminar

Ovid is the surest Guide,
You can name, to show the Way
To any Woman, Maid, or Bride,
Who resolves to go astray.
—Matthew Prior, “Lines Written in an Ovid” (1718) [7] 

“The power of example is so great as to take possession of the memory by a kind of violence, and produce effects almost without intervention of the will.”

—Samuel Johnson, Rambler 4, 1750 [8] 

“Miss reads—she melts—she sighs—Love steals upon her—
And then—Alas, poor girl!—good night, poor honour.”
—George Colman the elder, Polly Honeycombe (1760) [9] 

“Jamais fille chaste n’a lu des romans, et j’ai mis à celui-ci un titre assez décidee pour qu’en l’ouvrant on sût à quoi s’en tenir. Celle qui, malgré ce titre, en osera lire une seule page est une fille perdue; mais qu’elle n’impute point sa perte à ce livre, le mal était fait d’avance. Puisqu’elle a commencé, qu’elle achève de lire: elle n’a plus rien à risquer.” [Never has a chaste girl read novels, and I have given this one a title sufficiently decided that upon opening it one knows what to expect. The girl who, despite this title, dares to read a single page, is lost. But let her not impute her loss to this book. The evil was done in advance. Since she has begun to read, let her finish: she has nothing left to risk.]

—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, preface to Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761) [10] 

“[The novel] The Way to Lose Him is very proper to debauch all young ladies who are still undebauched.”

The London Magazine, 1772 [11] 

“Novels ... are the powerful engines with which the seducer attacks the female heart; and, if we may judge by every day’s experience, his plots are seldom laid in vain.”

Lady’s Magazine, 1780 [12] 

[Those “pimps” or novelists are to be condemned]
Who, kindling a combustion of desire
With some cold moral think to quench the fire. ....
Howe’er disguised the inflammatory tale,
And cover’d with fine-spun specious veil,
Such writers, and such readers, owe the gust
And relish of their pleasure all to lust.
—William Cowper, “The Progress of Error” (1782) [13] 

“[The novel is] a descriptive manual of speculative debauchery, with infallible rules for reducing it into practice.”

Miniature, 1804 [14] 

“Literature is a seducer; we had almost said a harlot.”

Westminster Review, 1824 [15] 

“Not tonight, dear. I’m reading Jane Austen.”

—Slogan on t-shirts for sale at a Jane Austen Society conference, c.1996 [16] 

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Emma. The Novels of Jane Austen vol. 4. Ed. R. W. Chapman. 3rd edition. London: Oxford UP, 1932-34. Print.

---. Pride and Prejudice. The Novels of Jane Austen vol. 2. Ed. R. W. Chapman. 3rd edition. London: Oxford UP, 1932-34. Print.

Brooks, Cleanth. The Well-Wrought Urn. New York: Hartcourt Brace, 1947. Print.

Burney, Frances. Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress. Ed. Peter Sabor and Margaret Anne Doody. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988. Print.

Capellanus, Andreas. The Art of Courtly Love. Trans. and notes John Jay Parry. New York: Columbia UP, 1990. Print.

Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha. Trans. John Rutherford. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. Print.

Colman, George the elder, Polly Honeycombe, a dramatick novel of one act. As it is now Acted at the Theater-Royal in Drury-Lane. London: T. Becket, T. Davies, etc., 1760. Reissued as a machine-readable transcript, English Prose Drama Full-Text Database. Cambridge: Chadwick-Healey, 1997. Web.

Cowper, William. “The Progress of Error” (1782). Ed. Rev. George Gilfillan, The Works of William Cowper (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1854), I.2543. Print.

Defoe, Daniel. The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Ed. G. A. Starr. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. Print.

Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Sir Philip Sidney. The Oxford Authors. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Print.

Girard, René. Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. Print.

Halperin, John, ed. Jane Austen: Bicentenary Essays. London: Cambridge UP, 1975. Print.

Johnson, Samuel. Samuel Johnson: The Major Works. Ed. Donald Greene. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984. Print.

Macleish, Archibald. Collected Poems 1917-1982. New York: Mariner Books, 1985. Print.

McMaster, Juliet. Jane Austen the Novelist: Essays Past and Present. London: Macmillan, 1995. Print.

Miller, D. A. Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003. Print.

Robert Newsom, A Likely Story: Probability and Play in Fiction. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1988. Print.

Ovid, Publius Naso. The Erotic Poems: The Amores, The Art of Love, Cures for Love, On Facial Treatment for Ladies. Trans. and notes Peter Green. London: Penguin, 1982. Print.

Prior, Matthew. The Poetical Works of Matthew Prior: With the Life of Matthew Prior. Vol. 1. London: William Pickering, 1835. Print.

Raff, Sarah. Jane Austen’s Erotic Advice. New York: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.

Richards, I. A. Poetries and Sciences, A Reissue of Science and Poetry (1926, 1935) with Commentary. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970. Print.

Richardson, Samuel. Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. Ed. Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse. Ed. Michel Launay. Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1967. Print.

Taylor, John Tinnon. Early Opposition to the English Novel: The Popular Reaction from 1760-1830. New York: King’s Crown, 1943. Print.


[1] That this wished-for partner is often assumed to be male whether the reader be woman or man is perhaps connected to Austen’s association with love advice. On the social circumscriptions awaiting the boy who loves Austen, see D. A. Miller, Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style, 1-9. I thank my former student Erin Reeves for alerting me to the alleged desperation of the woman Austen reader. BACK

[2] Katherine Duncan-Jones, ed., Sir Philip Sidney, 235. BACK

[3] I. A. Richards, Poetries and Sciences, 59; Archibald Macleish, “Ars Poetica”; Cleanth Brooks, “The Heresy of Paraphrase.” BACK

[4] For a fuller explanation of the way the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice reverberates through its plot, see my Jane Austen’s Erotic Advice, 42–57. BACK

[5] See, in Moll Flanders, the banker’s proposal and Moll’s response (136–37); in Pamela, the first time Mr. B mentions marriage to Pamela (251–52); and in Cecilia, Mr. Delvile’s request that Cecilia advise him but first qualify herself for offering advice by marrying him (553–54). BACK

[6] For a more extensive reading of Emma’s proposal scene, see my Jane Austen’s Erotic Advice, 85–90. BACK

[7] The Poetical Works of Matthew Prior, 261. BACK

[8] Samuel Johnson, Rambler 4 (March 31, 1750), 176. BACK

[9] Colman, Polly Honeycombe, xv. BACK

[10] Rousseau, Julie, 4. BACK

[11] Taylor quotes this complaint in the course of describing an angry exchange of letters between representatives of a circulating library and the editor of The London Magazine in 1772 (Early Opposition, 48). BACK

[12] Lady’s Magazine XI (Supplement, 1780), 693, quoted in Taylor, Early Opposition, 77. BACK

[13] William Cowper, “The Progress of Error,” lines 315-21. BACK

[14] Miniature, No. II (April 30, 1804): 21-22, quoted in Taylor, Early Opposition, 54. BACK

[15] Westminster Review 2 (1824), 346, quoted in Halperin, “Introduction: Jane Austen’s Nineteenth-Century Critics” in Halperin, ed., Jane Austen: Bicentenary Essays, 3-42: 5. BACK

[16] Quoted in McMaster, Jane Austen the Novelist, 13. BACK