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The development of Jane Austen's comic process of education Sait, James Edward

Abstract

This study of Jane Austen's six novels examines the relationship of comedy and education. Austen carefully constructs two kinds of comedy in her novels: surface comedy derived from inaccurate perceptions and conceptions of the world, and deep comedy, the vital rhythm of growth which is elaborated as growing love and self-awareness. All six novels develop complex relationships between reason, emotion, imagination, aesthetics and ethics. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland, victimized by the sterile surface comedy of artificial social conventions and her Gothic fantasy, an artificial aesthetic convention, moves toward a recognition of the deep comedy and vitality which her love for Henry Tilney inspires. Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility perceives and judges the superficialities of life and reacts in an emotional and picturesque fashion, while her sister, Elinor, in love with Edward Ferrars, cannot give surface expression to her emotions. Each sister is educated through tragicomic experiences to the demands of both views of life. Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy, victims of the prevailing social delusion of objectification in Pride and Prejudice, gradually develop a sense of the deeper values in life through expanded aesthetic sensibility and mutual affection. Fanny Price in Mansfield Park possesses deep feelings for Edmund Bertram but must learn to be independent and give her emotions sincere expression in a society deluded by false ceremony. Emma presents surface comedy as a product of Emma's attempt to superimpose her imagined life-patterns on a benevolent world. Educated by sympathy and her attachment to Mr. Knightley, Emma recognises the world below Highbury's glittering surface and the necessity for maintaining society's existing structures. In Persuasion, Anne Elliot achieves surface expression and the capacity to act as Wentworth, a victim of society's delusions of fixed social place, comes to realize the depth of Anne's emotion. Jane Austen's novels portray a complex picture of education through the interaction of surface and deep comedy.

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