Quick Take: Kirkham places Austen and her novels in the context of Enlightenment Feminism and argues for Austen’s feminist credentials.
My Thoughts: I found this searching the library catalogue for The Jane Austen Handbook. From the title alone, I needed to request the book and read it. It’s definitely academic analysis, though not overly dry, and since the subjects are Jane Austen and feminism (with some Mary Wollstonecraft context), I totally dug it.
Enlightenment feminism argues that women haven’t been denied the powers of reason, so they ought to have the same moral status appropriate to rational beings (i.e. men). Austen exemplified this in her novels by giving her heroines brains and hearts, and discerning taste in novels (a frequent criticism of women).
An amusing note: male clergy were responsible for many of the restrictions imposed upon women, hence the male clergy as buffoons in Austen’s novels, like Mr. Elton in Emma and Mr. Collins and Pride and Prejudice.
Kirkham also notes that in the late 1700’s, being an author was itself a feminist act. Rock on, Jane!
There’s more detail in the book about Mary Wollstonecraft and A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which makes me want to reread A Vindication, and the Gordon biography of Wollstonecraft I read, and perhaps find the Tomalin biography Kirkham references.