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Jane Austen was received by her contemporaries as a new voice, but her late twentieth-century reputation as a stalgic reactionary still lingers on. In this radical revision of her engagement with the culture and politics of her age, Peter Kx-Shaw argues that Austen was a writer steeped in the Enlightenment, and that her allegiance to a sceptical tradition within it, shaped by figures such as Adam Smith and David Hume, lasted throughout her career. Kx-Shaw draws on archival and other neglected sources to reconstruct the intellectual atmosphere of the Steventon Rectory where Austen wrote her juvenilia, and follows the course of her work through the 1790s and onwards, showing how minutely responsive it was to the many shifting movements of those turbulent years. Jane Austen and the Enlightenment is an important contribution to the study both of Jane Austen and of intellectual history at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Peter Knox-Shaw is a Research Associate at the University of Cape Town.