Ruta Baublyté Kaufmann, The Architecture of Space-Time in the Novels of Jane Austen

Ruta Baublyté Kaufmann, The Architecture of Space-Time in the Novels of Jane Austen (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) xiii + 180 pp. £54.99 Hb. £39.99 Pb. £31.99 ebook. ISBN: 978-3-319-90010-0

Space and time are concepts that resonate with a myriad of different meanings within very varied disciplines, from physics to geography and philosophy. In literature, there is a long history of intensive search for the writer’s mental map or topography: how the historical moment might have worked on his or her perception of reality, as well as that one house, town, or landscape that inspired memorable fictitious places. In The Architecture of Space-Time in the Novels of Jane Austen, Ruta Baublyté Kaufmann moves away from conventional studies of the chronology of events or physical locations in literary works and brings forth an analysis of time and space in Austen’s finished novels in which she looks into a series of spatiotemporal patterns that connects the psychology of the characters with ‘linear leaps’ (2). For this, she draws on geographer Doreen Massey’s (re)conceptualization of space as four-dimensional space-time, as outlined in her Space, Place & Gender (1994), and adds Jean Baudrillard’s cyclical and linear or no-return time to the mix.

Kaufmann provides insight into the way the cyclicity—a term she borrows from Simone de Beauvoir—of space-time affects the characters’ psychology and delineates their day-to-day life. These cycles interlock and each one marks important moments in the stories. For example, the changing seasons not only indicate the spacing-out of events but also determine the weather and thus prosaic aspects of human life, such as the characters’ income, what they eat, how they move, and the social events, such as picnics in summer in the countryside or balls in winter in London or Bath. The seasons signal, thus, when the characters experience intense social life and events that will change the course of their lives.

Once the passage of time and its demarcation have been examined, Kaufmann analyses what Gaston Bachelard defines as ‘the topography of our intimate being’ and represents ‘our first universe’: the house/home.[1] She distinguishes four types (childhood, temporary, dream, and independent adult homes) and considers the psychological effect that the houses, which the author describes as ‘a set of relations’ (82) rather than tangible objects, have on the characters, as well as the social dimension inherent to these buildings. One of the most interesting aspects of the Austenian houses is that they can change status: therefore the different types of houses intertwine, overlap, and merge with the subsequent consequences that such convergences may bring about for their dwellers. For example, a childhood home can easily become a dream house—in Bachelard’s terms, a place rendered to the imagination—even when these spaces, according to Kaufmann are antithetical. A dream home can turn into an independent adult home for a marriage, and a short stay in a temporary one, or even a public space such as the theatre, with which the characters may not have developed any emotional attachment, can become decisive for the unravelling of both the characters and the story. The author offers a detailed analysis of each of the houses in all of Austen’s novels, finished and unfinished, and delves into the significance of doors and windows as liminal spaces that bring together the public and the private space.

In the last chapter, Kaufmann explores two recurrent physical activities that constitute a big part of the characters’ social life and that combine in perfect unison time and space, cyclicity and linearity: walking and dancing. While both pastimes involve a beginning and an end, that is, direction and a destination (linearity), the choreography of the dance or the path the characters saunter over and over produces a sense of cyclicity, apart from the fact that these leisure activities already belong to the endless cycle of social intercourse. Kaufmann argues that walking and dancing allow the characters to create a private time cell in which they undergo psychological change: it is through these two types of motions that the characters reflect, reveal their thoughts, develop feelings for each other, and experience their spatiotemporal reality.

By focusing on space as a manifold notion, Kaufmann offers a glimpse into how the spatiotemporal cyclicity affects the simultaneity of social interrelations in Austen’s novels. The changing seasons, the spaces the characters inhabit, and the ritualised activities they find themselves performing fuse the linear with the cyclical, rambling and wandering with a purposeful end. All of them involve recurrent arrivals and departures (of the spring or the autumn, of a guest at a house, or a partner at a ball) that provoke in the characters strong emotional responses and psychological changes. It is the characters’ awareness of their surroundings and the way they interact with them which bring about the recurring spatiotemporal patterns that Kaufmann thoroughly discerns. Her study provides a new way of approaching both space in Austen’s novels, with its deep internalized cycles, and also the psychological life and inner transformations that the spatiotemporal patterns effect in her memorable characters.

Layla Ferrández Melero, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

[1] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1994), xxxvi; p.4.