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The World of Jane Austen

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Abstract

England from the 1790s was a jittery nation. The upper classes were terrified that the radical ideas from France were going to take root in their society. The lower classes were increasingly squeezed by enclosures, the forces of the new industrialization, and, towards the end of the decade, near famine conditions (brought on by freak weather but attributed by many to governmental policy); they seemed to be moving ever closer to the revolt that the upper classes feared. These currents would have been part of the perceptions of anyone in Austen’s circle. Whether Austen was especially conscious of social movements or not, whether the people around her were socially conscious or not, so pervasive were these social realities that Austen had to have been aware of them. Austen’s adolescence was punctuated by the French revolution (she was fourteen in 1789), and her adulthood was marked by the seemingly endless years of the war with Napoleon’s France, repeated references to which we have just remarked in Persuasion.

Keywords

Lower Class French Revolution Military Family Social Unrest Thames Estuary 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    H. T. Dickinson, British Radicalism and the French Revolution 1789–1815 (Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell, 1985), 1.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For fuller discussion of these issues see Mona Scheuermann, Social Protest in the Eighteenth-Century English Novel (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1985), chap. 3, passim.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The best discussion I have found of the Dissenters and their role both in the industrialization of Britain and the radicalization of her politics is Isaac Kramnick’s Republicanism & Bourgeois Radicalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Clive Emsley, British Society and the French Wars 1793–1815 (London: Macmillan Press, 1979), 169.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    At the end of a very long letter to Cassandra on the third of January, 1801 Austen says, with no context at all, “The threatened Act of Parliament does not seem to give any alarm.” This offhand comment suggests both that Austen and her sister indeed followed the news and that Cassandra as well as Jane would have known what the “threatened Act” was and how to consider it in terms of its effect on their own lives. Jane Austen, Jane Austen’s Letters, coll. and ed. Deirdre Le Faye (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 69. Le Faye suggests that the reference is to “one of the measures proposed to meet the distress of the winter of 1800–1” (374).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Both remarks are quoted by E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage, 1966), 56.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Elizabeth Kowaleski-Wallace, Their Fathers’ Daughters: Hannah More, Maria Edgeworth, and Patriarchal Complicity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 65.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Henry Thompson, The Life of Hannah More: with Notices of Her Sisters (Philadelphia: E. L. Carey & A. Hart, 1838), 1:101. For a more detailed discussion of these attitudes see Mona Scheuermann, In Praise of Poverty: Hannah More Counters Thomas Paine and the Radical Threat (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2002), chaps. 6 and 7.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage, 1966), 57.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Warren Roberts, Jane Austen and the French Revolution (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979), 19. The following discussion is largely based on Roberts’ account.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 14.
    Clive Emsley, British Society and the French Wars 1793–1815 (London: Macmillan Press, 1979), 2–4.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Common Sense and Other Political Writings, ed. Mark Philp (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995), 175–76.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    John Keane, Tom Paine: A Political Life (Boston and New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1995), 305.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    David Freeman Hawke, Paine (New York and London: Norton, 1974), 223.Google Scholar
  15. 23.
    John Adams, one of the signers of the American Declaration of Independence, expressed views similar to Burke’s about the violence in France. “I know not what to make of a republic of thirty million atheists,” and, later, “Danton, Robespierre, Marat and company are furies…. Dragon’s teeth have been sown in France and come up monsters,” he wrote. Thomas Jefferson for years embraced the French Revolution, seeing in it a parallel to the American Revolution, many years later to confess to Adams that he, too, had come to Adams’ view. See David McCullough, John Adams (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001), 418, 436, 443.Google Scholar
  16. 25.
    Edward Royle and James Walvin, English Radicals and Reformers 1760– 1848 (Columbus: The University Press of Kentucky, 1982), 81.Google Scholar

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© Mona Scheuermann 2009

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