English Faculty Publications

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Book Chapter

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Publication Source

New Windows on a Woman's World: Essays for Jocelyn Harris


In Jane Austen’s Art of Memory and other works, Jocelyn Harris has demonstrated the importance of Austen’s literary contexts for understanding and appreciating Austen’s art. One context for understanding Pride and Prejudice is the conduct book it mentions by name, James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women. Mr. Collins chooses it to read aloud to the Bennet girls, and when Lydia interrupts him, he responds: “I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit.” I would argue that reading Pride and Prejudice next to Fordyce’s Sermons reveals that Austen was not only “interested” in this text, but actively engaged with its proscriptions. Mr. Collins’s statement, then, becomes ironic, hinting at Austen’s playful response to this “serious” book. While critics have examined Austen’s works in light of the conduct literature of the period, they argue either that Austen falls in line with conduct books or that she completely rejects their advice. However, reading these two texts together illuminates a more complex relationship between Austen and the prevailing ideology of her time.

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Included in repository with the permission of the publisher, Otago University Press, New Zealand.

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University of Otago Press



Place of Publication

Dunedin, New Zealand


Austen, etiquette, Victorian era