Jane Austen And The State, by Mary Evans
This book is a classic example of what happens when a writer fails to understand the importance of triangulation when it comes to worldviews. This sort of false dilemma problem is very common among leftists and this book is far from the only example where a trilemma would be useful in better understanding something than the author manages to present. This book is written under the mistaken assumption that because Jane Austen is highly critical of a materialism that seems to represent a capitalist mindset that judges the worth of people by their net worth, that she must be in some way sympathetic with a Marxist understanding of class, which is not the case either. The author fails to recognize–and this is a common failure among contemporary leftists–that Jane Austen and many others (this reviewer included) critique both capitalism and Marxism, and everything else, from a Christian perspective that views people’s worth by virtue of their being created in the image and likeness of God with certain moral obligations in how they are to treat other people. And biblical morality is highly hostile to certain aspects of Marxism, like the institutionalization of class envy, that are important in Marxist thinking.
This book is a short one at less than 100 pages and is divided into four chapters. The author begins with acknowledgements and an introduction. After that the author begins the main part of the work with a look at the world of Jane Austen. And any look at the world of Jane Austen does include political and cultural and social aspects of that world, including the need for men and women to marry well in order to live well (1). After that comes a chapter that discusses property relations, which included laws of entail and laws that worked against the female ownership of property, which again limited the freedom of women to act, and these were things that affected Jane Austen personally and directly (2). After that the author argues for a questioning of the patriarchal order by Jane Austen rather than a critical look at how fathers often fail their daughters by not acting in response to the existing social order that Jane Austen drew a certain degree of support from as a lady (3) of the gentry. After that the author talks about men, women, and the state, which is a strange area of focus given that it is important to Marxism but not so much to Austen’s own writing, where the state was not as important as it is in more contemporary times, though it is hardly absent from her works, especially in the context of the Napoleonic wars or the financing of those wars (4). The book then ends with notes, a list of works cited, and a name and subject index.
The author really fails to grasp what Jane Austen’s approach was. In reading this book, as is common in reading about great works and author, we tend to see Jane Austen as the author is rather than as Jane Austen was. And since I appreciate Jane Austen and do not appreciate Marxist thinking, especially the total failure of the author to recognize the place where Jane Austen is being critical as being distinct from the author’s own hatred of the patriarchy as well as classes. When we see Jane Austen’s praiseworthy characters relating to financial realities, we neither find them being cynical and grasping about money nor hostile to the financial system as it is. They realize that marrying well is important in living well for women, they make the best of it, and manage to find a place for themselves as best as possible. Likewise, Austen’s critique of the patriarchy, which includes a lot of fathers who simply fail to do their job–sometimes without necessarily being heavily to blame (like the Morelands and Mr. Dashwood)–comes from the point of view of social duties rather than from a perspective that is hostile to men. Give me more Jane Austen and less Marxism any day of the week.