This book presents Jane Austen as a radical innovator. It explores the nature of her confrontation with the popular novelists of her time, and demonstrates how her challenge to them transformed fiction. It is evident from letters and other sources, as well as the novels themselves, that the Austen family developed a strong scepticism about contemporary notions of the proper content and purpose of fiction. Austen's own writing can be seen as a conscious demonstration of these disagreements. In thus identifying her literary motivation, this book (moving away from the questions of ideology which have so dominated Austen studies in this century) offers a unifying critique of the novels and helps to explain their unequalled durability with the reading public.