Austen’s ethical vision of wholehearted love

My essay on Jane Austen can now be read at World and I. Typical among Austen readers and academic scholars is the claim that she was keen to cast a critical eye on genteel society, and yet she entertained no thought of going beyond its inequalities and class distinctions. My suggestion is that this nay-saying–the satirical notes as well as the supposed limitations in Austen’s politics–misses what is truly radiant about her novels: namely, the ethical vision of wholehearted love evident throughout her work but most especially in the final pages. “There,” I write,

her stylistic coolness and her raised eyebrows give way to a soft warmth felt by friends and lovers, by friends for lovers, who, once separated by misperception and injustice, have by the end returned to each other. Having paid their dues and having learned to perceive themselves and their beloveds more clearly, they are now prepared to live blessedly together. Austen’s blessed vision of the good life is revealed, and so beautifully at that, in the embodiment of Marianne Brandon née Dashwood’s highest ethical ideal of “never lov[ing] by halves.” (1)

Hope you enjoy the rest of the essay. –A

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart, “Never Love by Halves”