Jane Austen’s six novels all follow a liminal heroine through her journey of personal growth, ultimately concluding with the success of the heroine and her society. In my project I examine how this liminal plot structure works, combining anthropological theories of liminality (most prominently those of Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner) with the narrative structure of Austen’s novels. The growth of the heroine through the phases of liminality and eventual reintegration into society is marked by several challenges to the morality of the heroine. Yet, these challenges are, in fact, tests for the society just as much as they are trials for the individual. In accomplishing her own individual growth the Austen heroine pushes her society towards morality so that by the conclusion of the novel not only are the characters worthy of their roles, but society has grown to become worthy of the heroine as well. It is not just important that both segments grow, but crucial to the eventual reintegration of the liminal heroine. The different forms that this mirrored growth takes in Austen’s novels suggests the importance of the liminal journey as a narrative device but also as a means of correcting a flawed community.
Level of Honors
magna cum laude
Juda, Allison V., "Jane Austen's Liminal Heroines: Rituals of Personal and Social Growth" (2015). Lawrence University Honors Projects. 74.