(LITR015) Jane Austen: Life, Letters and Early Novels

Lyme Hall


Course Start Date: To be confirmed
Price: £150.00

Tutor(s): Dr Briony Frost
Course Code: LITR015
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory.
Duration: 10 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 5 hours per week, including reading, are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Fee: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: None. No academic qualifications or experience of studying English literature are required, only a strong enthusiasm for the subject.
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.

Required Reading**:

The following texts are required reading for the course. Ideally, you should try to purchase the Broadview Literary Texts version for Austen’s own writings, however the Penguin, Wordsworth or Oxford World Classics editions are also suitable. Kindle versions are available for some of these editions. The adapted texts will come from other editions.

  • Northanger Abbey
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • One of the following:
    Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
    Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
    Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
    Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
  • One of the following:
    • Death Comes to Pemberley
      P.D. James
    • Excessively Diverted
      Juliette Shapiro
    • The Darcys of Pemberley
      Shannon Winslow
    • (if you’re feeling really brave!) Felicity in Marriage
      Ayr Bray

Further Reading**:

These further reading texts are optional.

The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen
Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster

The Cambridge Companion to Pride and Prejudice
Janet Todd (Ed)

Romancing Jane Austen: Narrative, Realism and the Possibility of a Happy Ending
Ashley Tauchert

Films List**

You will need to acquire your own copies of the following films as they will not be provided as part of the course material.

You should aim to watch at least one of these, but it is not required that you view them all.

  • Northanger Abbey (2007)
  • Pride and Prejudice (BBC TV series, 1995)
  • Pride and Prejudice (2005)
  • Sense and Sensibility (1995)

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts or films until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Dr Briony Frost when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


This course explores the life and early writings of this sharp-tongued, quick-minded, and persistently popular novelist, as together we read and discuss the first three published novels that Austen wrote: Northanger AbbeySense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice.

Beginning with a look into Austen’s world, this course will introduce you to late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century culture and society – from the importance of marriage and family, the roles of men and women, and the foundations of (proto)feminism – to fashion, physic, fighting, laws and landscape.

We will use this background to shape our study and discussions, as we also also delve into the narrative form and characteristic style of her works.

Throughout, we will be keeping an eye on her inspirations, irritations, aspirations and techniques, as well as asking what her insightful, acerbic and sometimes ironic social commentary can tell us about life, love, and literature between 1780 and 1810.

Syllabus Plan

Week 01: Austen’s England
Who was Jane Austen? What happened in her life and in her lifetime? In this first unit we will look at biographies, family history, and historical context.

Week 02: Austen’s Apprenticeship and Artistry
What was Austen reading? Why was she writing? How was she read and how should we read her? This week we will consider Austen’s inspirations, her reception, and the anatomy of an Austen novel.

Weeks 03 and 04: Northanger Abbey

Weeks 05 and 06: Sense and Sensibility

Weeks 07 and 08: Pride and Prejudice

Weeks 09 and 10: Adapting Austen
Of all Austen’s works, why have these novels remained so popular? Why are they so often adapted? These final units will look at the afterlives of Austen’s early novels, with some consideration of the unusual and even bizarre directions that Austen’s work has travelled, such as into the realms of ‘Darcymania’, erotica, seamonsters or zombies.

Learning Outcomes

This course will help you to develop:

  • A knowledge and understanding of Austen’s early works
  • A familiarity with the practices of women’s writing and publishing
  • An awareness of critical perspectives on Austen’s writing
  • An understanding of the early novel genre
  • An awareness of the historical and literary context of these works
  • Experience of close reading
  • Experience in participating in collaborative learning by discussing the wider implications of literary texts, practices, and criticism.