Jane Austen and the Sin of Pride

By Wolfe, Jesse | Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Jane Austen and the Sin of Pride


Wolfe, Jesse, Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature


All (four heroines) realize that the cause of deception lay within; Catherine, that she had brought to the Abbey a mind "craving to be frightened," Marianne, that "her own feelings had prepared her sufferings," Elizabeth, that she has "courted ignorance," and "driven reason away," Emma, that she has been practising deceptions on herself.

--C. S. Lewis (qtd. in Watt: 27)

The problem is to accommodate inside moral philosophy, and suggest methods of dealing with the fact that so much of human conduct is moved by mechanical energy of an egocentric kind. In the moral life the enemy is the fat relentless ego. Moral philosophy is properly, and in the past sometimes has been, the discussion of the ego and of the techniques (if any) for its defeat. In this respect moral philosophy has shared some aims with religion.

--Iris Murdoch (52)

This essay attempts a translation of Jane Austen's moral "sense" or "philosophy," from her imaginative form--dramatic prose--into an expository one. The translation will locate her fiction at a moment in Western thought, with traditional Christian metaphysics and moralism immediately behind her, and an amoral behaviorist-existentialist view of human conduct (to be elaborated later) before her. Novels like Sense and Sensibility and Emma, in short, seem to argue the necessity of a Christian ethic, but not a personal God. In claiming that certain moral principles are salient to Austen's fiction (namely, that pride is the original, and deadliest sin), I will be following a tradition in Austen criticism. Richard Simpson, in the nineteenth century, claimed that "intelligent love" was the ideal around which her mature work was built (Southam 256). He described Austen as a critic who developed herself into an imaginative writer, a "prose Shakespeare." Rather than attempting to translate her fiction, as I will, he claimed that it was already a translation. He was interested in where it came from; I am interested in where it leads. In our own century, C. S. Lewis followed Simpson's lead and explored the sources of Austen's literary morality. He thought that her recurrent use of certain theological terms--"penitence," "amendment," "self-destruction," "my God"--"made explicit the religious background of the author's ethical position" (qtd. in Watt: 27). That Austen's father was a vicar intensified Lewis' Christian interpretation of her work. He also saw her as the philosophical daughter of the "classical English moralists," whose "great abstract nouns" she "unblushingly and uncompromisingly used": "good sense," "courage," "fortitude," etc. Her backgrounds in "religion" and "classical English moralism" are thus seen as distinct but overlapping.

Lewis' "A Note on Jane Austen" is a starting point for my essay. I think this brief piece tells us the truth about Austen and her morality--but not the whole truth. It tells us, to repeat myself, where she came from but not where she goes to. A good model for where Austen leads--an excellent expository translation of her dramatic prose--can be found in the philosophical essays of Ihs Murdoch. She codifies the atheism which I find anticipated in Austen; and it is Murdoch who draws the frightening portrait of behaviorism-existentialism in its logical and currently fashionable extreme, which Austen's fiction far surpasses for suppleness and insight. So we can think of Murdoch as explaining how and why my version of the philosophical Austen fits between C.S. Lewis' version of the pious Austen, and contemporary moralists like Sartre. Austen prefigures Murdoch, I will argue, in two important ways. First of all, in spite of their author's religious convictions, Austen's novels prefigure Murdoch's dogged secularism, her insistence that no supernatural aid is necessary (or available) to human beings striving for moral perfection. Secondly, Austen's novels effectively dramatize Murdoch's conviction that introspection is necessary to moral development, and that any moral philosophy which fails to recognize the importance of interiority is therefore doomed. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Jane Austen and the Sin of Pride
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.