West Virginia University Department of English professor Marilyn Francus will be visiting the Chawton House Library in Hampshire, England, and then continue on to the Burney Centre in Montreal, Canada, for two one-month-long research fellowships.Francus will be working on two different projects during her time at these institutions. While at the Chawton House Library, she will study Jane Austen’s work in theatrical adaptation, as well as adaptations of Austen’s novels, in order to explain Austen’s relationship to popular culture in her time and Austen’s influence on modern popular culture. At the Burney Centre, Francus’s research will focus on Frances Burney as a professional writer and a mother, to illuminate how motherhood influenced Burney’s work and professional status in a time when it was thought that women could not be both writers and parents.
Francus is especially interested in researching these women writers, since both of them addressed issues of class, gender, and family that are still part of contemporary society.
“People do not always realize how much our culture is shaped by the works of the past,” said Francus. “We retell stories to work through cultural and social problems, and even if the answers may be different, many of the issues and the questions remain the same.”
Austen’s novels have had long-lasting and far-reaching effects, and only Shakespeare has been adapted in modern culture more frequently than Austen. At Chawton House Library, Francus will study cultural popularity in Austen’s day and ours, by examining Austen as an adapter of others’ works, as well as Austen’s status as an author subject to adaptation by others. Austen’s novels have been adapted in literature, stage, and screen since the beginning of the 20th century, and continue to influence modern culture in books and movies like “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Clueless.” Francus will examine what the adaptations of Austen signal about our culture, and the ways it engages with the past.
In July, Francus will travel to the Burney Centre. Frances Burney was one of the first women novelists to gain critical acclaim in Great Britain.
“Burney was always in the right place at the right time,” Francus said. “She wrote volumes of journals and diaries recording all of her experiences. Burney was a member of Samuel Johnson’s circle, and she socialized with the cultural movers and shakers of her day. When George III was losing his sanity, Burney was living with the royal family as the Queen’s Keeper of the Robes. She was also in France right after the revolution.”
“She used these journals to write about her family, society, culture, and politics—subjects that she explored in her novels. Burney even became famous in medical history, for writing about her mastectomy—which was done completely void of anesthetics—from the patient’s point of view. The 18th century is the first time that women like Burney are truly recognized as professionals, and their struggles to manage their professional and personal lives continue today.”
Francus is excited to spend time in both of these locations to work with other scholars and uncover the secrets of Austen and Burney. Her travels will begin in May 2012 and continue to the end of July.
For more information, contact Marilyn Francus, associate professor of English, at (304) 293-9716 or Marilyn.Francus@mail.wvu.edu.
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