The Critical Insurgency of Austen’s Suffrage Afrerlife: “I hope I shall not be accused of pride and prejudice”

Elizabeth Shand, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Vol. 41, No. 1 (Spring 2022), 91-112

This article argues for a broader inclusion of public criticism within recep­tion histories, using suffrage discourse on Jane Austen as a case study. It argues that although public criticism, aimed at ordinary and everyday readers, is regularly overlooked in academic discourse, its methodologies invite compelling and timely re-readings; in the case of Austen, public critics originated an unequivocally feminist reception. An exami­nation of the debates over Austen’s femininity or feminism in suffrage periodicals from the 1910s and 1920s locates the origins of Austen’s feminist criticism in suffrage voices rather than second-wave feminist scholarship. This article presents previously undiscussed suffrage articles about Austen and responds to the question of why this history has been untouched in Austen studies. It then turns to current conversations on Austen’s raced and imperial legacy to show how contemporary writers are similarly re-reading Austen for con­temporary audiences. Beyond Austen studies and suffrage history, the essay more broadly contributes to on-going discussions about how and why academics might “undiscipline” nineteenth-century studies. It shows that in order to circumvent gendered, classed, and raced barriers embedded in academic criticism, reception studies must broaden the type of sources considered within any author’s historical reception.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]