"What did she say? – Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does."
This book explores the act of declaring love in works of literature written between the middle of the eighteenth century and the death of Jane Austen - and uncovers the uncertain boundaries of the self in the force-field of courtship. Declaring love is understood as the hazardous attempt to find public, social terms which can communicate personal feelings and bring intimacy into being. This was a period highly sensitive to the propriety and artificiality of public forms, and hence peculiarly alive to problems around the idea of saying what you feel, problems experienced especially though not exclusively by women. Through this historical lens the author considers the ways in which we may become entangled with one another through language, the limits to our operation as independent individuals, and whether in love you can only feel what you can tell.
The first part of the book examines eighteenth-century attitudes towards the independent or disengaged self, performance culture, and the feasibility of sincerity, through readings of a wide range of different works. This provides the basis for a discussion of Austen's novels in the final two chapters, focused on the dynamics of courtship and the moment of proposal, and making much of the role of Austen's narrative voice in supporting the subjectivity of the one in love.
Fred Parker is a Fellow of Clare College and Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of Johnson’s Shakespeare; Scepticism and Literature: An Essay on Pope, Hume, Sterne, and Johnson; and The Devil as Muse: Blake, Byron, and the Adversary.