Today, I wanted to talk about a course I recently completed with FutureLearn and the University of Southampton. It was a two week course, lasting for three hours per week, dedicated to the one and only Jane Austen. It explored her myth, her reality, and her global celebrity. It’s a free course, unless you upgrade for £32 in order to gain a certificate, and is open to absolutely anyone. As an avid lover of Austen, I jumped at the chance of completing this course. You can find out more about it here, and you can find out more about a similar course I completed here dedicated to Wordsworth.
Here’s a break-down of the two weeks:
This week was primarily concerned with education, reading and Austen’s influences. The first section introduced us to the course, asked us what Austen meant to us, and where in the world we were situated. We then focused our attention of 18th century education; we considered the kind of education Austen would have received, and how this may have shaped her writing. By looking at the differences between female and male education, we were able to determine how Austen’s work were a product of this system.
Following on from this, we considered the possible access Austen had to a library, and what kind of literature she read. Many of the books which she knew are now housed at Chawton House Library, which used to belong to her brother. We made possible links between these by looking through some of her letters. Whilst discussing this, we were asked to think about the importance of reading in Austen’s novels. I made a rather lengthy comment on Catherine Moorland’s reading habits from Northanger Abbey!
The last two sections of this week were dedicated to the influences on Austen and how she was described to the world. Firstly, we considered the possible influences on Austen’s writing. We explored social and political factors, in addition to music and art. We took a virtual walk through the Chawton House gardens to think about the importance of nature in her writing. Lastly, we reflected on how Austen is described to the world by others. By analysing family accounts, portraits, and discussing with each other how we viewed Austen, we were able to pinpoint some defining qualities.
The final week was concerned with the afterlife, adaptations, and global celebrity. Firstly, we looked at Austen in translation: from Chawton to the world. We explored how Austen’s novels reached the wider world, and how far different translations have influenced the global perceptions of her. By looking at different translations, we were able to determine how translators change the story to fit with their cultural needs.
Proceeding this, we considered adaptations of Austen. We reflected upon what it means to create a ‘good’ adaptation, whilst exploring recent portrayals we’ve seen. We were asked what our perfect Austen adaptation would look like, and if we have found any recently. Also in this section, we looked at the radical side of Austen. We were asked if Mansfield Park is a controversial novel? and is Fanny Price a worthy heroine?
To end the course, we thought about how modern archivists and curators tell the world about Austen. We considered how her story is told at the Jane Austen House Museum and through Chawton’s regularly changing exhibitions by watching videos from their current curators. To conclude, we were asked to curate our own fantasy Austen exhibition. What would we include? Would it tell the world of the true Jane Austen? Does it solely have to be her possessions, or could it be contemporary artefacts?
…and there you have it. My two week Jane Austen course summed up into one small post.
If you’re interested in Austen, I would highly recommend completing this course. It helped to form an image of Austen in my mind, especially as I was able to converse with other people from different generations, cultural backgrounds, and so on. Although I didn’t learn that much about Austen’s personal life (that’s what biographies are for, I guess), I did learn a lot about her myth, reality, and global celebrity. It was well worth my time, effort and money (!), so I would definitely recommend.
Would you be interested in completing a course like this? Please let me know in the comment below!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X