Summer Research: Sociability


While my plan for the summer was to spend most of it researching and writing about Austen, probably I will not get to do as much of that as I had hoped. Don’t you hate it when “life” (in my case, my health) gets in the way of all of the fun things you want to do?

That said, today I spent some time reading chapters from the second edition of The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. I am writing a paper on readers and sociability, or at least I planned to continue writing a paper on this topic this summer, so I turned to this trusted companion to expand my knowledge on sociability.

What a joy it was to read Gillian Russell’s chapter on sociability. If you have any interest in the topic, check it out. Russell has written on sociability elsewhere, too, so she’s your scholar to follow.

Here’s a teaser passage from page 176:

“Jane Austen’s fiction represents one of the most sophisticated analyses we have of the elusive ‘character or quality’ of sociable human interaction.”

“Sociable human interaction”: Austen celebrates it and pokes fun at it. When do we, not merely Austen’s characters, succeed at being or fail to be sociable? What drives our desires to be friendly, open in our communication with others, and empathetic or at least sympathetic? What causes us to shut down, snub others, or even be downright rude? What can we learn about ourselves and others in talking about sociability?

I like to think about these things. I guess that’s why I like Austen’s fiction so much–there I find fertile ground for studying character, and not merely the fictional kind.

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