What Matters in Jane Austen with Professor John Mullan

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Learn about why Jane Austen matters with Professor John Mullan

Jane Austen is one of English literature’s most celebrated authors. She is also one of the most misunderstood.

Join John Mullan, Professor of English Literature at University College London, as he uncovers the true brilliance of Austen’s writing. Austen’s novels have been portrayed in countless modern adaptations as a series of genteel tea parties and dances. But these interpretations obscure what makes her one of the finest authors in the English canon.

In four lessons, Professor Mullan reveals the ingenuity, subversive social commentary and wit that make Austen one of England’s most important novelists. Over the course of the lessons, you’ll learn about the gender dynamics of nineteenth-century proposals, see how Austen re-imagined the role of the heroine in literature, come to understand why illness plays such a central role in her novels and learn how it’s all about the subtext when it comes to sex.

Few novelists have ascended to the heights of irony, comedy and wisdom that Austen reaches in her novels. By the end of this course, you’ll be much better equipped to appreciate her unique and timeless genius.

John Mullan is Lord Northcliffe Chair of Modern English Literature at University College London and a world expert on the literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The course outline:

Lesson 1: Proposals (22 minutes) 

What do proposals mean in Austen’s novel? Professor Mullan takes us through the hidden meaning and social commentary behind Austen’s treatment of marriage proposals.

Lesson 2: Heroines (33 minutes) 

Professor Mullan discusses the heroines of Austen’s novels and how she transforms the idea of the heroine in literature.

Lesson 3: Illness (24 minutes) 

Austen was a connoisseur of the malade imaginaire. But why does illness play such a major role in Austen’s writing? Professor Mullan shows the symbolic and real-world importance of illness for Austen.

Lesson 4: Sex (26 minutes)

Is Austen really the prissy, sexless writer that some critics have suggested she is? Professor Mullan reveals the hidden sexual subtext in Austen’s writing.

About the tutor

John Mullan is a Professor of English at University College London. He is a specialist in eighteenth-century literature and is at present writing the volume of the Oxford English Literary History that will cover the period from 1709 to 1784. He is also a regular TV and radio broadcaster and a literary journalist; he writes on contemporary fiction for the Guardian and was a judge on the 2009 Man Booker Prize.