The Blush of Modesty or the Blush of Shame? Reading Jane Austen’s Blushes



Halsey K (2006) The Blush of Modesty or the Blush of Shame? Reading Jane Austen’s Blushes. Forum for Modern Language Studies, 42 (3), pp. 226-238.;

First paragraph: "Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body." Even as she rebukes the writers of novels who disown their own creations, the narrator of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey famously attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of the female-authored novel, commending Cecilia, Camilla and Belinda, and calling for team spirit (Northanger Abbey, pp. 32-3). Austen rightly recognises an extensive contemporary body of opinion against the novel: "no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are as many as our readers." But she also insists that "our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world" (p. 32). Austen reacts in a variety of ways to her contemporaries' diatribes against reading the novel: by attributing a fear of the novel to the idiotic Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice, for example, she neatly exposes the idiocy of the fear; in Northanger Abbey she legitimises the novel by claiming for it the qualities more commonly attributed to the irreproachable periodical essay; by exposing and re-gendering stereotypes such as that of the girl led astray by romances in Sanditon, she indicates the gendered absurdity of such stereotypes. Her own sane and rational novels, with their emphasis on the domestic and the everyday, and their small cast of characters and limited social milieu, form a corrective both to the more absurd and melodramatic of her contemporaries' works, and to the critics and readers who tar all novels with the same brush.

Jane Austen; blushing; eighteenth-century novel; narrative voice

Forum for Modern Language Studies: Volume 42, Issue 3

Publication date31/07/2006
PublisherOxford University Press
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Professor Katherine Halsey

Professor Katherine Halsey

Professor, English Studies