Washburn students turn a new page learning Austen

Natalie Croze

Jane Austen is one of few authors who continue to inspire long after their death. 

If you enjoy reading or even watching movies, it is probable that you have heard of Austen, author of such classics as “Pride & Prejudice,” “Emma” and “Sense & Sensibility.” Her books remain popular both for their witticisms and timeless romance, but what truly sets Austen’s books apart is her ability to capture realities of human nature that resonate with readers regardless of when they were born.

Erin Chamberlain, assistant professor of English at Washburn, will teach a Major Authors course focusing on Austen during the fall 2018 semester. The course will focus on Austen’s complete works and what exactly sets her apart from other authors of her time. Chamberlain has a background in 19th-century British literature and Austen has held a special place in her life for a long time. 

“I watched all the movies, I read all the books. I just always loved her as an author, [which is] probably part of the reason I got into 19th century literature in the first place,” Chamberlain said. 

While many students may have studied some of Austen’s works, the opportunity to focus solely on her works is rare. Chamberlain believes that students who enroll in her upcoming class will gain a much better sense of Austen’s work as a whole.

“She’s got a really strong, powerful narrative voice, very funny, very funny writer, very satirical at times, and … that’s something that I am interested in sharing with everybody,” Chamberlain said. 

On the surface, this class may seem like something to attract only English majors or those with particular interest in Austen or romances, but anyone interested in the human condition should consider this semester-long study of Austen. When reading Austen’s books, it quickly becomes apparent that, like many people today, she was concerned with the daily influences on her society. Readers might be surprised by Austen’s criticism of her society’s upper classes and her worry about problems faced by the poor; issues that continue to resonate in contemporary society.

“[Austen] writes a lot about the challenges women faced, and that marriage wasn’t always about love,” Chamberlain said. “Even though they are books that have happy endings, for the most part, they are difficult to read sometimes because they’re not all glowing romantic comedies. There is a lot more to her and I would not even categorize her as someone who was just out to write a formulaic romantic book. There is a lot more of interest there.”

If you need an elective course or have an interest in books that are unafraid of asking readers to think for themselves about difficult topics with laughs and tears along the way, consider taking EN 350 in the Fall Semester of 2018.