Owing to her focus on the gendered norms of propriety, Jane Austen tends to be identi�ed as a novelist of convention rather than of modernity. In this essay, however, I argue for a more �uid reading of Austen's gender politics as well as the modernity of her work, by examining the understanding of judgment that she articulates in her �rst published novel, Sense and Sensibility (1811). I place this novel in the context of an extensive discourse of critical judgment, which �ows from the Enlightenment to such theorists of the public sphere in the twentieth century as Hannah Arendt and Seyla Benhabib. In keeping with this tradition, Austen identi�es judgment to be profoundly intersubjective and, as such, compatible with those social norms that cultivate mutual recognition and dialogue. Unlike political theorists like Arendt, however, who restrict the use of judgment to the public sphere, Austen identi�es the domestic sphere to be a crucial venue for exercising this faculty. In Sense and Sensibility the domestic sphere becomes an important part of "the social," understood by Austen as the venue of intersubjective relations in addition to norms and conventions. Her reinscription, in particular, of the drawing room as a conversational space in which intersubjective agreement can be generated opens up a reading of her work as friendly to a central insight of feminist public-sphere theory-the idea that the dualism of public and private spheres withholds value from participation in public spaces that are not recognizably political spaces but that bear on the achievement of progressive political goals.
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