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Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Worldly Realism

Pam Morris

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Studies Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf as materialists who assert equality between things, universe and people

Austen and Woolf are materialists, this book argues. ‘Things’ in their novels give us entry into some of the most contentious issues of the day. This wholly materialist understanding produces worldly realism, an experimental writing practice which asserts egalitarian continuity between people, things and the physical world. This radical redistribution of the importance of material objects and biological existence, challenges the traditional idealist hierarchy of mind over matter that has justified gender, class and race subordination. Entering their writing careers at the critical moments of the French Revolution and the First World War respectively, and sharing a political inheritance of Scottish Enlightenment scepticism, Austen’s and Woolf’s rigorous critiques of the dangers of mental vision unchecked by facts is more timely than ever in the current world dominated by fundamentalist neo-liberal, religious and nationalist belief systems.

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Introduction: Worldly Realism
Part I: Systems and Things
1. Sense and Sensibility: Wishing is Believing
2. Mrs Dalloway: The Spirit of Religion was Abroad
Part II: Nation and Universe
3. Emma: A Prospect of England
4. The Waves: Blasphemy of Laughter and Criticism
Part III: Guns and Plumbing
5. Persuasion: Fellow Creatures
6. The Years: Moment of Transition

About the Author

Pam Morris is an independent scholar, previously Professor of Critical Studies and Head of the Research Centre for Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University. Current interests include literary, cultural and political theory and the writing of Thomas Hardy and contemporary fiction.


Though writing a century apart and enjoining readers to think in such different ways about human experience, Austen and Woolf are like no other novelists so much as they are like each other. Or so Morris shows. Her concept of 'worldly realism' not only distinguishes the signature techniques of these two major British novelists, but also demonstrates—brilliantly, to my mind—how their very singularity links them to one another: each author brings a strain of skeptical realism derived from the Scottish Enlightenment to bear on a geopolitical world in a state of flux.

- Nancy Armstrong, Duke University

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