Jane Austen’s seating arrangements: the strategic uses of sofas, chairs, and tables

Sharma, Shikha (2016) Jane Austen’s seating arrangements: the strategic uses of sofas, chairs, and tables. BA dissertation, University of Portsmouth.

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    This dissertation investigates the code of furniture and how it is used to decrypt characters’ motives and desires in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and Sense and Sensibility, with a particular focus on sofas, chairs, and tables. As we witness characters attempting to decode and interpret the complex social language of furniture, we also become readers of furniture. Through exploring critical works on Austen and material culture in the eighteenth-century, it becomes evident that knowledge of the historical context is crucial for understanding Austen’s novels. While many critics’ works propose a positive correlation between advancement in furniture and affluence, this dissertation challenges the idea that furniture is simply an indicator of wealth and status. Austen uses furniture to guide the reader through the narratives as we witness different behaviours on and around sofas, chairs, and tables.
    Furniture encodes character behaviour and therefore presents its own language. Through witnessing social performances and behaviours, the reader is able to identify those characters who can interpret the code of furniture correctly, and those who cannot. The dissertation is divided into two chapters: ‘Sofas and Chairs’, and ‘Seated at Tables’. The first chapter posits that the association of the sofa and luxury in the eighteenth-century is not wholly positive. By deciphering characters’ behaviour, we learn that the sofa invites indolence and also acts as an obstacle for any romantic possibilities. Conventional and unconventional use of the chair is used to distinguish between those characters that are able and unable to correctly interpret furniture. The second chapter moves on to the significance of the table and how Austen uses it to expose the performative nature of social behaviour. Several characters are unaware that they are executing a performance around the table and unknowingly behave in an expected manner. Others are aware of performances and use it to their advantage to manipulate the situation.
    Ultimately, this discussion reveals, through close analysis of the primary texts, how Austen actively uses furniture to reveal a socially established code. By engaging with one of the many levels of Austen’s work, as readers, we are able to understand characters’ motives, desires, and needs by becoming educated in the language of furniture.

    Item Type: Dissertation
    Departments/Research Groups: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies
    Depositing User: Beth Atkins
    Date Deposited: 31 Aug 2016 14:04
    Last Modified: 31 Aug 2016 14:04
    URI: http://eprints.port.ac.uk/id/eprint/21642

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