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Female Maturity from Jane Austen to Margaret Atwood – Michael Giffen

I bought this at the Jane Austen conference in Canberra two years ago and have only just got to reading it.

Here is the blurb …

This book proposes a relationship between the novel that explores the heroine’s maturity (bildungsroman) and the spirit of her age (zeitgeist). Put another way, how an author of bildungsroman defines and measures maturity, and the process through which her heroine matures, changes between the neoclassical, romantic, realist, naturalist, modernist, and postmodernist periods, and continues to change in the post-postmodernist period. In demonstrating this proposal, Michael Giffin considers the trajectory bildungsroman has made during the 19th and 20th century, with reference to Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”, Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, George Eliot’s “Middlemarch”, Henry Handel Richardson’s “The Getting of Wisdom”, Iris Murdoch’s “The Bell”, Muriel Spark’s “Robinson”, and Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace” (30,000 words).

It is actually very easy to read – each author has a chapter devoted to them, their novel is summarised and then Giffen makes his argument about the zeitgeist and bildungsroman, which essentially boils down to the zeitgeist of the time in which the author is writing affects the trajectory of the hero.

It was fascinating and made me want to read the novels again – I kept asking myself why I hadn’t noticed whatever point it was Giffen was making. At first I thought it might be too religious for me, but it wasn’t. Religion was certainly part of Bronte and Austen’s times (and even Eliot’s)  and therefore does need to be considered in this context, but I wouldn’t describe this book as religious.

Here is a link to the author’s website and an article her wrote on Emma.

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