Jane Austen and her readers: what makes a bestseller? – Professor Annika Bautz

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This event took place on Thursday 31 March 2022.

We are proud to present the Inaugural Professorial Lecture of Professor Annika Bautz.

Today, Jane Austen is considered one of the most famous authors in British literary history, but her work was not widely read when first published in the 19th century. By contrast, Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton was so popular he outsold Dickens, yet few read his work today. So what makes authors popular, and why does this change over time?

Professor of 19th-century literature, Annika Bautz, takes us back in time to examine the history of the book and reading, exploring the evolving influences that shape the reception of an author’s work over time. Drawing from her seminal work on Austen, Annika uncovers how a text’s reception is dependent on the market structures of the time and unpacks the crucial role cultural contexts and expectations of readers have in the reception of an author’s work – today, for example, many readers connect with Austen’s heroines through our culture’s ideas of femininity.

Annika further explores differences in reception over time by examining how various cultures and countries have read the same texts in diverse ways, how the perceived value of texts shifts during social and political change, and who typically had access to reading in the first place.

Now Head of the new School of Society and Culture, Annika shares her pathway to Professorship that has led her from Hamburg to Newcastle and Zurich to Plymouth. She has written and edited numerous books, chapters and essays on 19th-century literature, with an extensive insight beyond Austen that encompasses Walter Scott, George Eliot and others. Locally, Annika has used her expertise to gain insights into Plymouth’s cultural history by examining which texts were acquired by the city’s libraries, including Plymouth Proprietary Library – founded in 1810 and still open today.

There will be opportunity at the end for Annika to answer your questions in a live Q&A.

You are welcome to join us for University of Plymouth's Inaugural Professorial Lecture series, which provide a milestone event in a professorial career. Through these we can promote and celebrate the academic reputation and achievements within their research.

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