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Courtship and Engagement in Defoe and Austen

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St. Andrew's on the Terrace

30 The Terrace

Wellington, Wellington 6011

New Zealand

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Engagement, together with love and marriage, is the outcome of all Austen’s novels, but what does it mean to be engaged and how do the couples get there? Why does it matter so much whether Marianne ‘is, or is not engaged to Willoughby’? and why does the answer depend on whether he has said he loves her?

To get to some answers I will look backwards at how marriages were arranged among moneyed families in the early eighteenth century. Defoe’s tract/novel, Religious Courtship, will be my main aid for this, not just for what he shows of arranged marriages and courtship, but also because he tells a story very like Darcy and Elizabeth’s. Samuel Johnson, apparently totally ignorant of “engagement” in our modern sense, opens up the intriguing subject of words for relationship. Other novelists such as Richardson and Edgeworth help create a picture of change from arranged to romantic marriage. Finally, I will look at how Austen writes in relation to all this while helping to fix our modern ideas of loving relationships leading to marriage.


David Norton FRSNZ
Emeritus Professor of English
Victoria University of Wellington

David is a crowd favourite and regularly at our meetings contributing to discussions. He is currently writing a study of Austen’s writings Jane Austen, Laughter and Compassion.

Tea and cake provided

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St. Andrew's on the Terrace

30 The Terrace

Wellington, Wellington 6011

New Zealand

View Map

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No Refunds

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