The Two Types of Austen Fans
At Oxford University Press’s blog, philosopher and literary scholar E.M. Dadlez declares “there are two types of Jane Austen fans.” She places the dividing line between die-hard Pride and Prejudice fans on one hand, and Emma and Sense and Sensibility devotees on the other. Dadlez herself is in the latter camp. She prefers the Austen of Emma, and even more so the one of Persuasion. That Austen, Dadlez believes, “provides the same clear, strong focus on issues involving autonomy and autonomous agency” in her novels.
Whatever their individual preferences, Janeites in general concern themselves with the same ethical and aesthetic tensions: individual autonomy and social convention; concern for one’s own felicity and that of others; the ability to help oneself, and to accept the help of others.
In a 2008 article for The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Dadlez writes about many of these same ideas. Austen’s books are venues of critical dialogue concerning the arts and aesthetics. Just as her characters engage in aesthetic and ethical dialogue, Austen’s books themselves compose a philosophical corpus. Others have compared Austen to Immanuel Kant, but Dadlez finds the strongest correlation between her and David Hume, the Scottish philosopher. This, according to Dadlez, puts her in close correspondence with Enlightenment philosophy.
Princeton University Press highlights Ethan Shagan’s new book, The Birth of Modern Belief, through a short interview with the author, a historian at the University of California, Berkeley.
Shagan’s contention is that belief, as we know it today, is really a much more modern creation than we imagine. “We take it for granted that ‘belief’ means private judgment or opinion,” he notes. But belief meant something very different before the Protestant Reformation. Accordingly, figures like Luther and Calvin loom large in the history of belief. For those two and other early Protestants, religious belief was really a matter of a complete reordering of reality to the exclusion of the Church and all others.
It wasn’t until the Enlightenment that belief took on the meaning roughly correspondent to our own, modern understanding. The Enlightenment, for Shagan, was “not about the triumph of reason, but rather the triumph of opinion.” It is that belief that both makes possible accusations of conspiracy and “fake news” today, but also the conditions for the existence of democracy.
Shagan takes up similar themes in a 2010 article in the Journal of British Studies, “Beyond Good and Evil: Thinking with Moderates in Early Modern England.” In that piece, Shagan challenges the prevailing historical understanding of early modern British thought exclusively through dualistic frameworks: truth and heresy; liberty and tyranny. Shagan’s take is that “the logic of moderation spent its creative energy on the space between the poles.”
At the University Press of Colorado’s blog, Char Miller, professor of environmental history, discusses the collection he edited with Jeff Crane. The Nature of Hope collects essays on the modes and methods of the environmental movement, and, according to Miller, was edited to “intentionally counter the declensionist narratives that too often have framed environmental analyses…”
Miller shouts out Monica Mariko Embrey’s chapter in the book, which examines environmental politics in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Florence hit North Carolina and its large pig livestock operations particularly hard. The storm unleashed a toxic mix of “an unknown quantity of this odoriferous brew of blood, urine, and feces,” which then mixed with Duke Energy’s coal-ash pits, polluting the state’s Cape Fear River.
That might indeed sound a little bleak and declensionist. But environmental organizations and activists in North Carolina had been protesting and sounding the alarm about these practices for years even before Florence. Miller believes it’s that kind of grassroots, future-oriented organizing that will be the next step for activists, as recent mass actions from groups advocating a Green New Deal indicate.
Miller has written extensively about the environmental politics of the American West and Gifford Pinochet, the first executive of the U.S. Forest Service. His 2005 piece in Rangelands looks at the history of that agency, and how it managed environmental challenges and crises over the years.
Editor’s note: A study cited in an earlier version of this article is no longer available for free on JSTOR.