With endearing and relatable characters, Jane Austen questioned the bounds of societal norms and celebrated the inquisitive mind. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death, yet her novels remain lively discussion topics in classrooms. This year’s Bell Distinguished Lecturer is Anna Battigelli, who studies Austen’s body of work through the lens of Anglican thought. On October 26 at 7:00 p.m. she will present “The Anglican Vigor of Jane Austen’s Satire” at Tyrrell Hall on campus. She is also editing a volume of essays on Austen.
Battigelli is a professor of English at SUNY-Plattsburgh, and her specialty is Restoration and eighteenth-century English literature with a concentration in religious and political studies. In March 2017, she designed and administered an international bicentenary conference on Jane Austen called “Jane Austen and the Arts.”
Austen was unafraid of satirizing bad clergy and rethinking the role of women in the church. “You might even talk about her novels as extended examinations of conscience, through which heroines come to a more mature understanding of their moral selves and their role within their community,” Battigelli said.
Along with her lecture, Battigelli is teaching two TU classes: “Honors Greek history, philosophy and drama” and “Jane Austen and Christian thought.” In the Greek class, students analyze the ever-changing definition of the word hero. From Achilles to Odysseus, Homer’s heroes show off both their foibles and strengths. Students refine their own moral compass by studying ancient Greek thought. “The ancient Greeks were so serious about understanding life and understanding what matters,” Battigelli said.
In the Jane Austen class, students discuss Austen’s heroines as thinking women. “Her characters deliberate about the right action and struggle to overcome misunderstandings of themselves and of other people in their community,” Battigelli explained. As a daughter of a clergyman, Austen questioned her own culture’s slave trade and its marginalization of women within the church. Some of these same questions stir within students. “Students want to know about religion to understand their world and their place in the world, Batigelli said. “Maybe not unlike a Jane Austen character.”
Battigelli had the chance to meet Sharon Bell, the daughter of Rita and William Bell who are the namesake of the Bell Lecture series. “I feel deeply grateful to her for making this learning opportunity happen for all of us,” Battigelli said. “I love learning from these students. They are quick to take delight in the literature we read, and they are sharp, nimble-minded thinkers.”