Paul Giles, “‘By Degrees’: Jane Austen’s Chronometric Style of World Literature” (pp. 265–293)

This essay considers how Jane Austen’s work relates to “World Literature” by internalizing a chronometric style. Examining the emergence of the chronometer in the eighteenth century, it suggests how Austen drew on nautical frames of reference to combine disparate trajectories of local realism, geographical distance, and historical time. The essay thus argues that Austen’s fiction is interwoven with a reflexive mode of cartographic mapping, one that draws aesthetically on nautical instruments to remap time and space. This style involves charting various fluctuations of perspective that reorder history, memory, and genealogy, while also recalibrating Britain’s position in relation to the wider world. Moving on from an initial analysis of Austen’s juvenilia and early novels, the essay proceeds in its second part to discuss Mansfield Park (1814) in relation to Pacific exploration and trade. In its third part, it considers Emma (1815) in the context of comic distortions and the misreadings that arise from temporal and spatial compressions in the narrative, a form heightened by the novel’s reflexive wordplay. Hence the essay argues that Austen’s particular style of World Literature integrates chronometric cartography with domestic circumstances, an elusive idiom that also manifests itself in relation to the gender dynamics of Persuasion (1817) and the unfinished “Sanditon,” as discussed in the essay’s concluding pages. This is correlated finally with the way Austen’s novels are calibrated, either directly or indirectly, in relation to a global orbit.

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