Sunday, October 16, 2022

One Way of Reading Jane Austen


One Way of Reading Jane Austen

Peter Schultz


            One way of reading Jane Austen is to see her novels as illustrating the conflict between eros and will, between the erotic and the willful, between those seeking the beautiful and those seeking power, between the natural and the conventional. By and large, in Austen’s Britain, the willful often prevail, while the erotic often struggle.


            British willfulness is evident both domestically, where their erotic activities like marriage are treated as political or economic activities, as well as regarding foreign affairs where the Brits have created an empire in order to dominate the world. Moreover, the willful, like Willoughby, are allowed to damage the erotic, like Marianne, without suffering any social consequences and little more than a slightly troubled conscience, which is no doubt allayed by his wealth and social status. And it is Marianne who is deemed problematical, much more so than is Willoughby.


            A question for or about Austen: for Austen do the erotic win out? Or, insofar as they do win out, does their eroticism suffer damage? One could say that at least in Austen’s novels the erotic do win out, thereby elevating the erotic at the expense of the willful. Perhaps Austen hoped that this would, at least marginally, affect British society as well.

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