Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jane Austen, how I worship thee

A culture critic in the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece on Saturday on his love of Jane Austen and how she is a guide for his morality. I wrote the following letter to the WSJ on my own love of Austen but on how novels represent one's own morality and do not stand as guides.


James Collins had me worried in his “What Would Jane Do” essay on Jane Austen’s moralizing. But it turns out Mr. Collins (not the one in Pride & Prejudice, of course) has sense and sensibility.

Mr. Collins’ visit down the tree-lined memory lane of Austen’s works was delightful for those of us who virtually worship Ms. Austen and her insight, perfumed elegance, sensitivity, morality and sensibilities. Her works are romantic and the best representations of high-mindedness, with characters speaking their inspired thoughts eloquently in honor of themselves and their interlocutors. Her novels are a sublime tapestry of expressed self-knowledge and dramas unfolding into further self-knowledge.

My only contention with Mr. Collins’ views is that a reader cannot use Ms. Austen (or any author) as a guide for morality. Novels are *representations* of morality. You either connect with them or you don’t, depending upon your own morality. I, for example, am an Objectivist (philosophy of Ayn Rand) and believe that humans can rationally run their own lives and give ultimate honor to others who do the same. In Austen’s novels, I find that honor between the best characters, and I see these characters correcting their false pride and prejudice or mistaken consumption of false mores, thereby achieving happiness. Ms. Austen’s morality, therefore, reflects my own. I do not learn from her. But I do worship her for representing the best in humans and savor her well-earned moments of moral encompassing.


Daniel said...

Thanks for the excellent post!

Don't know if you've seen it yet, but a new book was published this month called A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen.

I haven't read it but you might want to check it out.

David Elmore said...

Wow, that's great to know, Daniel! I'm ordering it today for my Kindle. Thanks a lot!