1820* Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues

14 Sept 2010
*I just used that date so that this book would appear directly after Jane Austen's novels.

The one and only disappointment that I suffered in Sarah Emsley's book was that there was a printing error and I didn't get to finish that last chapter.  (Grrrr....)

I was first introduced to Jane Austen in 2005 (thank you, Kiera Knightly).  After seeing the movie, I read the book, and I couldn't stop until I had read all of Austen's novels.  From the moment I started reading, I noticed there was something in those novels that I had not encountered before.  At one point, my parents were visiting and I was going on and on about Jane Austen and I exclaimed, "She just knows people!"  My dad laughed at me, and I probably was a bit enthusiastic, but what I could not put into words then, I can now.  Jane Austen had a gift for human nature.  She understood it very well, and she also had a knowledge of the virtues and how they can work together or compete with one another.  This makes decision-making in everyday life complicated sometimes, and this is what Austen explored.  Different personality types, human nature, competing virtues, and how to handle those choices that arise in the midst of all these clashing elements.

Sarah Emsley took the time to dig a little deeper in each of Austen's novels to explore the virtues presented in each.  Austen's characters have strengths and weaknesses, and each need to learn how to be better in one virtue or another, in some degree or other.  In Sense and Sensibility, for example, is it really just so simple that Marianne learns sense and Elinor learns to stop bottling up her emotion?  Not exactly.  Marianne learns fortitude, which makes sense when we stop and think about it.  How hard is it to be polite to people when you are dealing with intense emotions of anger, heartache, or loss?  How hard is it to be patient with people who are super annoying?  This takes emotional strength, which Elinor has, obviously, and Marianne needs to learn.  And what does Elinor learn?  Grace, which personally, I would categorize as a type of charity with the Core Virtues.  Elinor's really got a pretty good handle on things as it is, but she's not perfect.  When Marianne realizes her mistakes and vows to do better, Elinor has to have the right attitude toward her sister, who really has caused her a fair amount of grief and trouble.

That's just a taste of what lies ready to be discovered in this book.  Emsley's knowledge and insight are amazing.  I wholeheartedly recommend it for all Austen fans.  The one issue is that it's pretty expensive, and it's not very available besides, but perhaps your library can order it on Inter-Library Loan (ILL) for you!

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