A preliminary discussion of Northanger Abbey and Jacob’s Room, foregrounds Austen’s and Woolf’s insistence upon non-heroic, unexceptional protagonists, the challenge their writing poses to existing genres and its disjunction from established, consensual interpretive systems. Jacques Ranciére’s concept of consensual and dissensual regimes of the perceptible, and recent accounts of the constitutive relationship of inanimate objects with self, provide a theoretical framework for discussing these experimental aspects of each writer’s work. The chapter maps an epistemological tradition linking these current perspectives to the Enlightenment empiricism of David Hume, Adam Smith, David Hartley, and Elizabeth Hamilton, Austen’s contemporary. The materialism of eighteenth-century thinkers constitutes the sceptical intellectual inheritance of Austen and Woolf. It underpins their development of worldly realism, an experimental writing practice, utilising innovative focalisation techniques to foreground relations of equality across the worlds of people, things and natural universe. Hence it constitutes a radical undermining of the idealist ideology of individualism.
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