In this dynamic new work, combining intellectual history and literary stylistics, Bharat Tandon confronts traditional "ethical" readings of Austen's novels that examine product over process. Reading Austen against the eighteenth-century culture of polite conversation, Tandon proposes that contemporary literature revealed cracks and faultlines in this regimented ideal of socially-binding politeness, and that Austen's style is an active reflection upon these historical circumstances.In examining how concepts such as flirtation - the "twists" and "spins" that Elizabeth and Darcy, for example, put on the shared currency of language and decorum - Tandon explores how Austen's style not only reflects, but performs her ideas: rather than finding Austen's focus on social surfaces to be a stylistic weakness, this book finds that "Austen's surface is intimate with her depths".
"Making an important contribution to Austen scholarship, Tandon (external director of studies, Emmanuel College, Cambridge) has written a magisterial work whose scope and erudition are belied by its modest-sounding title. This book is about much more than talk--or, more accurately, it makes the case that for Austen talk is about much more than talk. Although it is a commonplace among Austen readers to note that her novels are supremely concerned with conversation, Tandon considers this idea afresh, bringing a weight of scholarly knowledge to bear on the age-old question of Austen's philosophical seriousness. Tandon's analysis ranges from a consideration of 18th-century and Romantic linguistic practice, to contemporary narratology, to the analytic philosophy of Austin and Searle, to theories of consciousness and mind. A significant extension of Marilyn Butler's Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (CH, Mar'76), this witty and learned book takes its place beside such important recent works as The Postcolonial Jane Austen, ed. by You-me Park and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (2000), and Claudia Johnson's Equivocal Beings (CH, Dec'95). Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty." -- D. K. Kreisel, Warren Wilson College in CHOICE