‘A Developement of Self: Character and Personality in Jane Austen’s Fiction

  • A. Walton Litz


Reviewing a recent work of fantasy and science fiction, Joyce Carol Oates declared that the world of science fiction ‘is far more credible than that of Jane Austen’1 The comparison is cleverly framed to shock the reader, to challenge his scale of literary values, since of all English and American novelists Jane Austen is perhaps the most secure in her reputation as a writer who delivers a compact and credible fictional world, orderly and sufficient within itself yet tangential at every point to our own disordered lives. In spite of her distance from us in time and experience, and her austere decision to make her fictional world far more limited than her actual observation, most of us are content to live within the created world of Jane Austen’s novels. This sense of completeness surely has much to do with the way in which she invents, establishes, and develops the characters in her fiction. I would like to speculate in this essay about Jane Austen’s authority in characterisation, and perhaps the best place to begin is with some thoughts about the coherence and apparent inevitability of her created world.


Science Fiction Fictional World Literary Extract Dramatic Action Psychological Essence 
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  1. 8.
    William Hazlitt, ‘On Certain Inconsistencies in Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses’, in Table-Talk, World’s Classics (London, 1901) p. 185. For background to this debate see Houghton W. Taylor, ‘“Particular Character“: An Early Phase of a Literary Evolution’, PMLA, 60 (Mar 1945) pp. 161–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 15.
    Rawdon Wilson, ‘On Character: A Reply to Martin Price’, Critical Inquiry, 2 (autumn 1975) p. 194. In this response to an essay by Martin Price on Forster’s A Passage to India, Price’s view is developed with a rigour and inflexibility that Price himself would never accept.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1976

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  • A. Walton Litz

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