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“With What Intense Desire She Wants Her Home”: Jane Austen on Home as Telos

ALASDAIR MCINTYRE CLAIMS THAT THE TELOS of Austen’s heroines is “a life within both a particular kind of marriage and a particular kind of household of which that marriage will be the focal point” (239)—that their end is a good home.  If he is right, we must pity Fanny Price, who “feels homesick even when she is at home” (Brown 57).1  Such homesickness implies two quite different senses of “being at home”:  that of simply being where one lives or is from, and that of comfortably belonging where one is, and thriving there.  Fanny is always homesick because she never quite belongs.  Although we do not find such chronic homesickness in Austen’s other heroines, we find something related—a recognition that being at home, in the second sense, is a great good to be sought or preserved.  After describing the “intense desire” for home and its role in Austen’s novels, I will outline the common elements of the good homes she portrays:  security, character, and comfort, including the social comfort of participating in relationships based on mutual love and respect.  While the importance for Austen of many of the elements I will describe has not gone unnoticed, to my knowledge it has not been emphasized that Austen portrays all of them, together, as elements of a good home.  Doing so will allow us to expand upon MacIntyre’s understanding of the home as telos; I will also consider criticisms of his interpretation that argue that marriage and household, specifically, are not portrayed by Austen as necessary ends.  I will in the end argue for a revised, as well as expanded, version of MacIntyre’s thesis about the telos as portrayed in Austen’s novels, which may be provisionally stated as follows:  it is the finding of one’s place in a good home, comprising marriage and household or some other community and place that can play a similar role in one’s life.

The “intense desire” for home 

We may begin with the oft-homesick Fanny Price, taken at the age of ten from her first home into the household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram.  Her assimilation there is difficult, and it is easy to understand why she might feel homesick in her new home.  Before receiving Fanny, Sir Thomas makes plain his intention “‘to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram’” (MP 10), and although her new family does not usually intend to be unkind, the narrator sums up Fanny’s early experience at Mansfield as follows:  “She was disheartened by Lady Bertram’s silence, awed by Sir Thomas’s grave looks, and quite overcome by Mrs. Norris’s admonitions.  Her elder cousins mortified her by reflections on her size, and abashed her by noticing her shyness” (14).  Mrs. Norris resents any leisure or privilege being extended to Fanny, as shown, for example, by the argument over whether Fanny should be allowed a horse (36).  Fanny gradually finds her place in large part due to the kindness of her cousin Edmund.  Yet even after she has done so, it remains a subordinate place, at times oppressively so:  Mrs. Norris remains Mrs. Norris; and Sir Thomas, who has come to treat Fanny with respect and kindness, reacts with severity and anger when she refuses to marry as he thinks she should, accusing her of selfishness and ingratitude (315-20).

Accordingly, Fanny greatly looks forward to her visit to her first home, where she imagines that she will be able to be “in the centre of such a circle, loved by so many, . . . to feel affection without fear or restraint, to feel herself the equal of those who surrounded her” (370).  Such a home would be superior in important ways to Mansfield, but this image is not at all what she finds.  Instead, she encounters a household beset by noise, strife, inattention, and incivility.  She compares this scene unfavorably to (an idealized memory of) her uncle’s household, to which she now affirms her loyalty:  “At Mansfield, no sounds of contention, . . . no tread of violence . . . ; all proceeded in a regular course of cheerful orderliness; every body had their due importance; every body’s feelings were consulted” (391-92).  It is during this stay in Portsmouth that, the narrator tells us, Fanny often thinks of Cowper’s line, altered to suit her sex, “‘With what intense desire she wants her home’” (431).  Before both journeys, to her first home and her second, Fanny does seem to suffer a bit from a “grass is greener” syndrome:  “wherever she is, Fanny is homesick” (Sutherland ix).  Mansfield has not really been all she now imagines it to be.  She has, however, attained a clearer vision of what home should be. 

If such intense desire for home is not felt as poignantly or as frequently by Austen’s other heroines, it is often because a good home seems less distant to them.  Elizabeth Bennet, secure in her circle, and Emma Woodhouse, described in her novel’s first sentence as already having a “comfortable home,” feel no yearning for home until their circumstances change.  When her family’s peace and respectability are threatened by Lydia’s affair, Elizabeth is “wild to be at home” (PP 280) in order to help repair things and to comfort and be comforted by Jane.  A threat to one’s current or future home—that in turn elicits an intense desire for home’s preservation or realization—can also take the form of the perceived loss of someone seen as necessary to that home.  Elizabeth first intensely desires marriage with Mr. Darcy when she believes that the chance of it is lost:  “she was grieved. . . . She was convinced that she could have been happy with him; when it was no longer likely they should meet” (311).  Emma is devastated by Harriet’s expectation of marrying Mr. Knightley:  “Till now that she was threatened with its loss, Emma had never known how much of her happiness depended on being first with Mr. Knightley, first in interest and affection” (E 415).  Now she understands that her home will not truly be comfortable unless Mr. Knightley belongs to it, even though, so she still tells herself, she does not want to marry him.  Again, although the narrator does not explicitly describe Catherine Morland’s dejection after being turned out of Northanger Abbey in terms of her being “homesick at home,” she seems to be so:  she certainly does not feel “at home” there; this feeling is due to what she believes, for a mercifully brief spell, to be her permanent loss of Eleanor and Henry Tilney, her most valued friends and, she has hoped, her future sister and husband (NA 226, 236). 

I should of course mention Sense and Sensibility, which begins, in a way that promises to display very nicely this intense desire for home, with the recently widowed Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters being forced from Norland Park.  Yet although they all feel the loss of their home—“Many were the tears shed by them in their last adieus to a place so much beloved” (SS 27)—it is the romantic Marianne who feels the homelessness most keenly, quite literally addressing the house and grounds before their departure; Elinor regards the banishment more pragmatically, in terms of its presenting them with the problem of finding an affordable house.  In her case, too, it is her developing relationship with someone she comes to see as necessary for her future home, Edward Ferrars, that awakens a truly intense desire.  And although as always Elinor is determined to be governed by reason rather than feeling, she experiences Lucy Steele’s revelation of her engagement to Edward as “the extinction of all her dearest hopes” (141); as she later relates to Marianne, “‘I have known myself to be divided from Edward for ever, without hearing one circumstance that could make me less desire the connection’” (264). 

Perhaps Anne Elliot is closest to Fanny in this sense of homelessness, for she “was nobody with either father or sister:  her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way;—she was only Anne” (P 5).  In stark contrast to Fanny’s notion of being at home, Anne lives on the periphery, at the center of no circle; she is not loved by many, belongs to no community of affection and regard.  She is, moreover, estranged, seemingly permanently, from Captain Wentworth, to whom she was formerly engaged:  “there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved.  Now they were as strangers” (63-64).  And, of course, she is forced by her father’s indebtedness to leave the family seat of Kellynch Hall; she regards it as fortunate that, instead of an early removal to Bath, she is able to stay for a time with her sister Mary at nearby Uppercross, even though she is wanted only as a helpmate (33); she sees such a home as a “little social commonwealth” and “hoped, ere long, to become a not unworthy member of the one she was now transplanted into” (43), even though for her this membership can be of only short duration. 

The felt intensity of the desire for home, then, varies both across and within the main characters, but the desire plays an important role for all of them, for they recognize that happiness is bound up with home.  Thus the novels’ “happy endings” consist in descriptions of the heroines’ new homes.

The good home 

What makes a home a good one?  We may begin with the concluding description of Fanny and Edmund’s home in Mansfield Park:  “With so much true merit and true love, and no want of fortune or friends, the happiness of the married cousins must appear as secure as earthly happiness can be.―. . . Their home was the home of affection and comfort” (MP 473).  This situation, rather than her family home in Portsmouth, or even Mansfield Park, is what Fanny has wanted with such intense desire.  Here we find mentioned, or at least hinted at, all the elements of a good home.  We should first notice Austen’s mention of security, for however comfortable one’s physical surroundings or affectionate one’s relationships, one cannot be at home in them if they are unsecure.  Many forms of security (e.g., the physical security of safety, shelter, and sustenance) are largely taken for granted in Austen’s novels, but two are of great importance:  economic security and relational security.  As MacIntyre argues, “Her heroines must, if they are to survive, seek for economic security” (239). 

While Austen’s heroines refuse to marry only for economic security, they acknowledge its value, and each novel makes clear at the end that the heroine’s economic status is secure.  Fanny, for example, experiences “no want of fortune.”  She is also secure in her relationships:  there is “no want of . . . friends,” and, more important, she is in a marriage characterized by “true love.”  Fanny and Edmund’s relationship is secure because each is, to use Austen’s term, constant2 to the other; in this respect they are no different from the other happy couples in Austen’s novels.  The term “constancy” hints at an important aspect of security in any form, namely that of permanence, or the sort of durability that comes as close to permanence as possible.  The Bennet sisters, for example, are well off, but threatened by relative poverty (due to the entail of the family’s estate), they are not economically secure.  The Harvilles’ apparent domestic happiness is somewhat vulnerable, for “the dwelling’s status as rental property makes the values it fosters transitory” (Brown 46).  This requirement of permanence applies as well to the other elements of a good home soon to be discussed, such as affection and regard.  Anne Elliot finds affection and regard in the circle of friends she enters at Lyme (also discussed below).  We can say that she “feels at home” with them; we cannot say has found her home with them, for she cannot yet remain among them with any permanence. Indeed, even in her “spring of felicity” and her happy marriage, Anne’s “dread of a future war” threatens to “dim her sunshine” (P 252).  Security is always needed, though never perfectly attained. 

A second constituent of a good home is suggested by Austen’s use of “comfort” in the description of Fanny’s home.  For all their differences, Austen’s characters do agree that a good home is a place of comfort.  Emma, as we have seen, is described as having, and clearly valuing, a comfortable home; Charlotte Lucas says, “‘I ask only a comfortable home’” (PP 125), and Elizabeth and Darcy approvingly note that Charlotte has attained “‘a very comfortable house’” and a “‘comfortable income’” (178, 179).  As Witold Rybczynski points out, “comfort” and “comfortable” were in Austen’s time coming to acquire new meanings, and Austen

used them in the old sense of support and assistance, but more frequently she intended them to convey a new kind of experience—the sense of contentment brought about by the enjoyment of one’s physical surroundings. . . . It was as if she couldn’t get enough if it—this new, undramatic word which was so well-suited to the bourgeois coziness of the world she described. . . . Comfort was meant to be undramatic and calming. It was to appear “natural” but, like the English garden, or the English home, it was carefully contrived.  (120-21)3

That Austen acknowledges physical comfort—this sense of contentment in one’s physical surroundings—to be a constituent of a good home is not a controversial point.  Her heroines, in their happy endings, attain physical comfort, and Austen forcefully portrays the unhappy effects of its lack:  Fanny, for example, is “almost stunned” by the material deprivation, dirt, and noise, as well as by the incivility, of her parents’ home (MP 382; see Brown 54-57).  Austen’s portrayal of Fanny’s reaction underlines one of the benefits of economic security:  whatever else is needed for the careful contrivance of comfort that Rybczynski mentions (and he makes clear how much history and ingenuity is needed), what Elizabeth called a “comfortable income” is necessary.

But the comfort the narrator attributes to Fanny’s home is not exhausted by its furnishings and gardens; Austen’s use of the term is still more varied.  Consider the passage in which Fanny and William, who has been visiting her at Mansfield, plan their journey to the Price home.  The awful possibility arises that their Aunt Norris may accompany them due to the comfort of traveling post at Sir Thomas’s expense.  They consider that her presence will destroy all “the comfort of their comfortable journey” (MP 373).  Here is a third sense of “comfort,” which I will call social comfort and which is tied to Austen’s use of “affection” in the description of Fanny’s home.  This comfort is not merely felt, in the way one feels the comfort of an easy chair, but is participated in:  it is the contentment and the support4 one both shares and shares in once one finds a place in a community of affection and regard, of mutual love and respect.  It is this sort of comfort Fanny thinks threatened by Mrs. Norris and promised by her first home, where she imagines she will be “in the centre of such a circle, loved by so many.”  It is also the sort of comfort that Fanny provides to others.  In the crisis surrounding Maria’s affair with Henry Crawford, Edmund refers to her as “‘my only comfort now,’” and upon her return to the house, Lady Bertram, “falling on her neck, [says], ‘Dear Fanny! now I shall be comfortable’” (444, 447). 

This social comfort, this belonging to a community of affection and regard, is for Austen the very heart of a good home.  It is just this comfort that Charlotte chiefly lacks.  While Elizabeth grants her a “comfortable house,” she seems not to allow her a comfortable home:  “When Mr. Collins could be forgotten, there was really a great air of comfort” (PP 157, my emphasis).  Mr. Bennet shows some of his better qualities in advising Elizabeth not to accept Mr. Darcy, saying, “‘[Y]ou could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; . . . let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life’” (376).  He has given his consent, but he gives his blessing only once she has convinced him that Mr. Darcy does indeed have, and reciprocate, her love and respect.  All of Austen’s lead females seem to know well the wisdom Mr. Bennet is here trying to convey, and by each novel’s end it is made clear that the heroine and her new husband have securely attained such mutual love and respect. 

Austen also represents as important one other element, suggested by the inclusion of “true merit” in her description of Fanny and Edmund’s home:  the home’s having what I will call character, its being marked by dignity, freedom, and culture.  By dignity I mean that the home’s members both live in a way that is worthy of respect and receive that respect from others.  By freedom, I mean that the members retain the capacity to exercise some control over their lives, to make plans and decisions in accordance with their best judgments.  And by culture I mean that the members have the opportunity to exercise their minds, their taste, and judgment.  While it has of course been noted that these elements are important to the lives of Austen’s characters, it is worth emphasizing that they are also important specifically to their homes. 

Austen does not ignore the importance of personal and family reputation:  Anne is ashamed that her family must give up Kellynch Hall, for example, and Elizabeth Bennet is mortified by her family’s behavior at the Netherfield ball.  But the heroines, as well as their male counterparts, are not as concerned with members or potential members of the home being respected, as with their actually being respectable.  This fact is nicely displayed in Edmund’s complaint about Mary Crawford’s reaction to their siblings’ commission of adultery:  “‘Oh! Fanny, it was the detection, not the offense which she reprobated’” (MP 455).  It is most forcefully revealed in the heroines’ rejections of marriage proposals that are in a sense “good matches,” in that they promise to enhance reputation, economic security, and physical comfort:  characters such as Elizabeth, Anne, and Fanny are determined that their homes be founded upon mutual love and respect, and mutual respect between partners depends upon the partners’ having dignity in the sense of respectability. 

Austen’s heroines also regard both culture and freedom as very important to a home. Culture, which may take the form of the appreciation of beauty, well-informed conversation, or knowledge of the world, is often discussed in Austen’s novels.5  The need for freedom is also expressly recognized.6  The familiar passage describing Pemberley and Elizabeth’s reactions to it (PP 245-251; see also Brown 47) clearly states the importance of both:  she admires the estate for its beauty, elegance, and taste, yet judges that it would not do as a home: 

“And of this place,” thought she, “I might have been mistress! . . . I might have . . . welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt.—But no.”—recollecting herself,—“that could never be: my uncle and aunt would have been lost to me: I should not have been allowed to invite them.”

This was a lucky recollection—it saved her from something like regret. (PP 246)

Elizabeth acknowledges here that making her home with Darcy would offer much in terms of culture—see also her later reflection on how the union of her mind and Darcy’s “must have been to the advantage of both” (312)—but still thinks it would have been too curtailing of freedom, and in particular of her ability to make her own decisions and honor relationships she judged honorable. 

What is the relationship, then, among these three elements: security, comfort, character?  It is tempting to see comfort as a crowning arch supported by the pillars of security and character:  physical comfort depending upon economic security and cultured taste,7 and social comfort depending upon relational security and freedom and dignity.  Yet this picture is too simple.  Security and character support each other as well:  economic and relational security enhance the respect the members of a home receive from others, while a failure to be respectable can damage both aspects of security, as Wickham and Sir Walter Elliot show.  And comfort is not merely a passive recipient of support from the other two elements.  By contributing to productivity and mood, for example, physical comfort can support economic security and respectability:  civility is hard in a house such as the Prices’.  More important, the social comfort of belonging to a community of mutual affection and regard can assure economic support if needed and enhance the character of a home.  Mutually respecting people will respect each other’s freedom; mutually loving people will encourage each other toward greater respectability (think here of Mr. Knightley’s mentoring of Emma). The relationship among the three elements, then, is one of mutual support; the crowning feature is the happiness of a good home, “as secure as earthly happiness can be.” 

Thus we can expand MacIntyre’s thesis about how the telos is portrayed in Austen’s novels—that it is the finding of one’s place in a good home, comprising “a particular kind of marriage and a particular kind of household of which that marriage will be the focal point”—to include security, comfort, and character.  We can now ask whether the definition of that telos should be revised to eliminate essential reference to marriage and household.  I will argue that these are but tokens (important ones, but not the only ones) of more general types of community and place.

Home without marriage and household? 

Julia Prewitt Brown argues that, in its focus on rented spaces and the itinerant nature of navy life, in Persuasion Austen bids “an unsentimental farewell to the ideal of bourgeois domestic stability”; Anne seems to have “no difficulty in imagining domestic happiness in temporary lodgings” (46).8  While Brown does not directly engage MacIntyre, we can see here an implied critique of his stress on household, or, at least, since MacIntyre is far too immersed in Marx to be accused of having an unreflective bourgeois sensibility about property, a call for an explicit allowance that a household need not involve the sort of physical stability commonly sought in Austen’s time.  Now, in Persuasion Austen focuses still on domestic happiness and its achievement in a marriage founded on mutual love and respect:  the novel closes with mention of Anne’s tenderness, Wentworth’s affection, and the “domestic virtues” Austen finds in navy families (252).  But MacIntyre’s claim that marriage is the telos for Austen’s heroines has also come under some fire.9  Of course, marriage is one way to achieve home and happiness, the way actually taken by Austen’s heroines.  But as Jenkins points out, the fact that Austen’s romantic comedies culminate in marriage is no proof that she thought it the only way.  And in fact, we can discern in Austen the outlines of another way, which can point us toward a more general description of home. 

Consider Austen’s depiction of Captain Wentworth’s circle of friends.  As William Deresiewicz comments, “Anne found, at Lyme, what she did not know that she’d been searching for:  something to belong to. . . . [T]his, and nothing else, was Austen’s image of community—this group of friends” (181).  This circle involves a marriage, to be sure (that of the Harvilles), but membership in it does not require marriage.  Certainly, it was then very difficult for a woman to enter such a community of friends, except by marriage or fortunate blood relations.  Anne herself comes close to doing so, becoming for a time a valued member of the circle on the basis of her kindness and warmth and the strength of character she shows during the crisis precipitated by Louisa’s injury.  Thus, when they later meet in Bath, Captain Harville approaches her with “the unaffected, easy kindness of manner which denoted the feelings of an older acquaintance than he really was” (P 231).  Yet Anne and Harville are in Bath together by chance, and in the long run she would likely have remained on the periphery of this circle, weakly linked to it through her sister Mary’s sister-in-law (as Louisa is to marry Benwick), and directly involved in it only in other chance encounters.  As Anne realizes, for her any more complete and permanent entry into it would have to be through marriage:  “‘These would have been all my friends,’ was her thought; and she had to struggle against a great tendency to lowness” (98).  Still, Austen shows us the possibility of such a community, a possibility at the time much more easily realized by men:  Wentworth and Benwick, full members of the circle, are of course unmarried. 

What is more, there is no traditional household of the sort that characterizes many of the good homes Austen portrays (recall Brown’s point about the Harvilles’ lodgings being rented).  Yet this circle seems to have all the elements of a good home:  there is economic security and physical comfort, if not opulence; the relational security and social comfort provided by constant friendship; the dignity consequent upon the good character and honorable profession of the circle’s members; culture (Anne admires not only Benwick’s literary talents, but also Harville’s more down-to-earth artisanship and artistry [98-101]); and freedom (much binds the members of the circle together, but it is clear that each has his own projects and occupations as well). 

Starting from this specific example, we can move toward a more general understanding of the types of community and place that can constitute a good home.  Not only a married couple and their family or a circle of friends, such as Wentworth’s, but also a congregation, a farming community, a regiment, a literary society could be the sort of community a good home requires.  Any of these could be a community of affection and regard providing relational security and fostering social comfort.  Any could help safeguard the economic security of its members.  And any could have character:  membership in many sorts of community can do a great deal to provide people with dignity—members can show each other respect and inspire each other to greater respectability; a coach, a teacher, a neighbor could play the dual role of admirer and mentor that Knightley plays for Emma—and with cultural opportunities; indeed a wider community will often be better able to do so than a marriage alone.  And of course community members can protect and enhance each other’s freedom. 

But community alone cannot fulfill the requirements of home.  People need a household or a place that can play a similar role.  Without a “place to call home,” there is little security or physical comfort, and the resulting dependence must inhibit both freedom and dignity.  Although someone without such a place may be respectable, she is unlikely to be widely respected.  Such a place could take such a wide variety of forms—from a family seat, such as Elizabeth Darcy comes into, to a succession of temporary lodgings, such as Anne Wentworth may occupy—that I am not going to attempt to describe it except to say that its inhabitants must have secure possession of their place, that it must provide some level of physical comfort, and that it must afford them regular access to their community. 

I can now give final form to the thesis I earlier stated provisionally:  Austen portrays the telos as the finding of one’s place in a good home, comprising a community and place marked by security, comfort, and character.  This more general version of MacIntyre’s thesis is not susceptible to the worries we saw raised by Brown, Jenkins, and Emsley, and Austen’s novels consistently portray the better characters seeking this sort of home and finding their happiness in it.  I may seem to have characterized home in a broader or looser way than Austen herself does.  Marriage and household are the forms of community and place on which she primarily focuses10—primarily, but not exclusively.  Austen suggests that Anne’s marriage will be itinerant, and she gives us a glimpse of the community at Lyme; more generally, as Deresiewicz writes, “when she imagined felicity, she always drew a picture of a bond among adults, . . . the little circles, the miniature communities, they make together. . . . Yes, Austen made sure to find her heroines a husband, but she also took care to build them a community” (184).

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To round out the picture, and provide a bit more support for the claim that happiness is found in finding a place in a good home, we can recall the fate of a few characters who fail to do so.  Austen is primarily concerned with failures to find a good community.  None of her characters is in the end subjected to crushing poverty or (literal) homelessness.  The failures stem from deficient character and poor choices and result in unhappiness, in varying degrees.  We have only to think of some of the marriages in Pride and Prejudice, such as those of the elder Bennets or the Wickhams.  These unions, based on physical attraction or avarice rather than love and respect, are not happy.  Mr. Bennet says to Elizabeth, “‘[L]et me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life’” (376)—with his emphasis on “you” suggesting a subvocalized “as I am unable to do.”  And if Lydia and Mr. Bennet fail to find good homes by fixing on the wrong partner, other characters, such as Willoughby, fail by failing to stay fixed on the right one.  Willoughby places economic security and physical comfort above social comfort, above mutual love and respect, as he acknowledges in his confession to Elinor (SS 323); he admits that, as a result, “‘Domestic happiness is out of the question’” (332). 

But the saddest case is that of Maria Bertram, the some-time Mrs. Rushworth.  Her marriage falls apart because she marries for wealth and status while neither loving nor respecting her husband.  After her affair, she is banished from home and ends up in a community, comprising only her and Mrs. Norris, with nothing to recommend it beyond economic security and physical comfort:  an establishment “remote and private, where, shut up together with little society, on one side no affection, on the other, no judgment, it may be reasonably supposed that their tempers became their mutual punishment” (MP 465).  The description of this situation is as close to a portrayal of hell11 as Austen comes, and it is described in terms of a lack of the marks of good community:  no freedom or dignity, no culture, and neither love nor respect characterize their new place. 

Austen’s portrayal of home should be of interest, and can be of use, not only to literature scholars but also to positive psychologists and the moral philosophers who draw on them.  It seems prescient in its anticipation of the requirements of well-being articulated in, for example, Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis and Lorraine Besser-Jones’s Eudaimonic Ethics.12  Philosophers already have a long tradition of drawing on Austen, especially on her depictions of character.  Her detailed portrayal of home and its relation to happiness should assume a similar position of honor.13


1This formula is borrowed from Kierkegaard’s preface to Stages on Life’s Way.  This tendency of Fanny’s has been noted by others as well:  Kathryn Sutherland tells us in her introduction to Mansfield Park that, “wherever she is, Fanny is homesick” (ix). 

2Constancy, for Austen, consists in enduring fidelity and loyalty.  See, for example, the friendly debate between Anne Elliot and Captain Harville as to whether women or men are more prone to constancy (P 232-36); see also my discussion in “Jane Austen and Practical Wisdom, Constancy, and Unreserve.” 

3The older sense, as he notes (20), derived from the Latin confortare, to strengthen or console. 

4That this older sense of comfort as support and consolation is included is shown, for example, in Elizabeth’s complaint that she, after reading Darcy’s letter, had “‘no Jane to comfort me’” (PP 226). 

5See, for example, Anne’s exchange with Mr. Elliot on “‘good company’” (P 150); Elizabeth’s revised assessment of Mr. Darcy’s worth as a potential husband due in part to “his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world” (PP 312); and Elinor’s reflection on the qualities of Edward’s mind (SS 20).  See also William Deresiewicz’s essay on Northanger Abbey (ch. 3).  While many of the examples of culture given might be available only to the well-bred (most of her main characters are living at the fringes of the aristocracy), the importance and availability of culture to common people seems to be happily acknowledged in discussions of the farmer Robert Martin (see E 28-29, 50-51) and of Captain Harville’s handiwork around his house (P 98-101). 

6Emma Woodhouse, for example, initially resolves not to marry Mr. Knightley while her father lives because she worries that her leaving would destroy him (see E 435); i.e., marrying at present would curtail her freedom to act on her best judgment, here regarding what her relationship to her father requires.  Fanny Price lives in a near-constant state of oppression (by Mrs. Norris, by the Crawfords, by Sir Thomas); she finds freedom whenever she can, often in a retreat to the East room (see the description of her use of the room [MP 150-53] and Sarah Emsley’s discussion [ch. 5]). 

7Rybczynski (120-21) points to how Austen associates comfort with physical aspects of culture (décor, gardens, prospects, cookery):  “There were not only comfortable rooms and comfortable carriages, but comfortable meals, comfortable views”—and cites Emma’s narrator’s explicit linkage of “English culture” and “English comfort” (E 360).

8While the main point is that, as Brown correctly notes, Anne ends up happy in a way not dependent upon having a traditional household, she perhaps overstates the ease with which this new form of domestic happiness is accomplished.  Anne is at least briefly tempted by the prospect of marrying Mr. Elliot precisely because doing so would have given her such a household:  the idea of “being restored to Kellynch, calling it her home again, her home for ever, was a charm which she could not immediately resist” (P 160). 

9See Emsley (21) and Jenkins (349).  I do not think they have perfectly understood MacIntyre, but they raise a good point about the necessity of marriage, and it is that point, rather than a point in MacIntyre’s exegesis, that is of relevance here. 

10Part of the reason for this focus is that Austen is writing romantic comedies, but it is also worth noting that a good marriage offers more hope of permanence than do other associations. 

11Jenkins, for example, describes Maria’s fate in Sartrean terms as being condemned to a “no exit” situation (355). 

12For example, drawing on self-determination theory, Besser-Jones argues that fulfillment of the innate needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness is at the core of human well-being.  There is not space here for a detailed description of these needs (see ch. 2 of Besser-Jones), but their names alone suggest that elements of a good home such as freedom, dignity, and community of affection and regard are well-suited to help satisfy them. 

13I am grateful to two anonymous reviewers and to the editor of Persuasions for very helpful comments upon earlier drafts of this article. 

Works Cited
  • Austen, Jane.  The Novels of Jane Austen.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  Oxford: OUP, 1933-69.
  • Besser-Jones, Lorraine.  Eudaimonic Ethics: The Philosophy and Psychology of Living Well.  New York: Routledge, 2014.
  • Brown, Julia Prewitt.  The Bourgeois Interior.  Charlottesville: U Virginia P, 2008.
  • Deresiewicz, William.  A Jane Austen Education.  London: Penguin, 2011.
  • Emsley, Sarah.  Jane Austen’s Philosophy of the Virtues.  New York: Palgrave, 2005.
  • Haidt, Jonathan.  The Happiness Hypothesis.  New York: Basic, 2006.
  • Jenkins, Joyce.  “The Puzzle of Fanny Price.”  Philosophy and Literature 30 (2006): 346-60.
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair.  After Virtue.  2nd ed.  Notre Dame: UNDP, 1984.
  • Rybczynski, Witold.  Home: A Short History of an Idea.  New York: Viking, 1986.
  • Sutherland, Kathryn.  Introduction.  Mansfield Park.  Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.  vii-xxxiii.
  • Toner, Christopher.  “Jane Austen on Practical Wisdom, Constancy, and Unreserve.”  Philosophy and Literature (forthcoming).
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