Throughout Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice,” characters instruct each other, and the third-person narrator instructs the reader, as to the proper social behavior in the various situations depicted. Most notably, Austen subverts the formula of the nineteenth century conduct book to advocate the importance of reading novels at a time when novels were often considered undesirable or dangerous. For both the characters in “Pride and Prejudice” and readers of it, a particular kind of reading and writing becomes a means to achieving greater social status. Given that the middle-class readership was expanding in Austen’s time, and given the number of characters in the novel who are on the brink of upward or downward mobility, I argue that Austen’s prescriptive approach to literary culture is a way of offering a chance at social and economic salvation. By using a novel as a means for this prescription and by celebrating the culture of novel-reading within the story, Austen subverts the conduct book formula to include a kind of literature previously considered undesirable and lays out a recipe for literary culture that persists today in new, online discursive practices.
|Keywords:||Jane Austen, Readers, Literary Culture|
Graduate Student, English Department, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
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