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Marianne in Therapy

Whether or not Jane Austen is enjoying an afterlife in the traditional sense and smiling down on her fans from heaven, her readers have certainly created an earthly literary afterlife rivaled only by that of Shakespeare.  For many of us, this means having a very personal relationship with Jane Austen, looking to her for advice and friendship as well as insight and entertainment.  I suggest that this unusual and intimate form of popularity stems from Austen’s ability to create characters who resemble us and others we know by portraying psychological states and interpersonal relationships that her readers easily recognize.  Most of us feel the need to be understood, and Austen signals such understanding through her uncanny powers of characterization.  Austen is a brilliant psychologist:  She “gets us,” and she gets us right. 

One instance of such accuracy is seen in Sense and Sensibility, where Marianne Dashwood suffers and recovers from a bout of major depression, brought on by her beloved suitor Willoughby’s heartless rejection.  Austen is so clinically precise (avant la lettre) that we can actually diagnose Marianne using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (known as DSM-5), the standard resource for diagnosis of mental illness in the United States.  Major depressive disorder involves five or more of a set of nine symptoms.  Marianne has the following five: 

[1] Depressed mood most of the day . . . ; 

[2] Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day . . . ; 

[3] Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or observed by others) . . . ; 

[4] Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day . . . ; 

[5] Recurrent thoughts of death . . . or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide.  (160-161) 

The first three are obvious:  Marianne suffers from low spirits, has no interest in anything, and endures emotional pain that leaves little room for thoughts of anything else.  We can infer her loss of energy from her stasis, and she acknowledges suicidal intent once she has recovered. 

Eighty or so years after Sense and Sensibility was published, Marianne might have visited an alienist, as psychotherapists were called at that time.  But there was no such option in her day, nor does a therapeutic relationship necessarily involve a professional.  As the great pioneer of trauma studies Judith Herman observes, healing takes place in the context of relationships (133), and these need not be between therapist and client.  When one person helps another to heal, this process almost always involves what is known as a “therapeutic alliance,” and such alliances were formed long before the term was invented.  Psychotherapists of many different theoretical approaches and methodologies agree that this special kind of relationship is essential to healing (Wachtel 3, Bernier and Dozier).  In this most therapeutic of Austen’s novels (Johnson 64), Marianne recovers through a therapeutic alliance with her sister Elinor.1 

The core quality of the therapeutic alliance is empathy, which comprises both cognitive and emotional perspective taking (Decety and Meyer 1055: Coplan).2  In cognitive terms, empathy means being able to understand what someone is thinking and feeling, a capacity known variously as theory of mind (ToM), mentalizing, and a reflective capacity (or function).  You don’t need to feel anything to exercise cognitive empathy.  Psychopaths, whose capacity for feeling is drastically compromised, can nevertheless read emotions, so that many of them are experts at manipulation.  The emotional aspect of empathy involves actually feeling what someone else is feeling, although often with less intensity.  This response is called affective empathy, emotional resonance, and attunement.  Empathy’s emotional aspect is far more important to the therapeutic alliance and other interpersonal relationships than its cognitive component. 

Elinor certainly takes Marianne’s perspective from a cognitive point of view.  She understands that Marianne has been abandoned by the man she loves and that his desertion makes her sister unhappy.  But she also experiences those feelings on Marianne’s behalf.  And it is this emotional component of empathy, not Elinor’s cognitive assessment of the situation, that matters most to Marianne.  We see Elinor’s exercise of affective empathy early on in Marianne’s depression, shortly after Marianne has received Willoughby’s letter, ending their relationship: 

Elinor . . . returned to Marianne, whom she found attempting to rise from the bed, and whom she reached just in time to prevent her from falling on the floor, faint and giddy from a long want of proper rest and food. . . . A glass of wine, which Elinor procured for her directly, made her more comfortable, and she was at last able to express some sense of her kindness, by saying, 

“Poor Elinor! how unhappy I make you!”  (210–11) 

The glass of wine, given in the privacy of the sisters’ room, speaks of Elinor’s concern and understanding.  Nevertheless, Elinor might been motivated by cognitive empathy (the perception that unhappiness is making Marianne ill) and knowledge about home remedies (that wine will likely revive her).  But Marianne’s exclamation, “‘[H]ow unhappy I make you!’” conveys her perception that Elinor actually resonates with her own unhappiness. 

By showing the reader that Marianne has registered Elinor’s feelings, Austen avoids description that might have been awkward in this episode.  Attunement is often conveyed through social signals that involve non-verbal modes of expression.  These usually involve mirroring; people who feel close to one another tend to adopt one another’s facial expressions, body postures, and gestures when interacting.  We can infer that Elinor’s facial expression mirrors that of her sister, but Austen isn’t going to comment on Elinor’s facial expression because doing so here would be clumsy.  Verbal mirroring, however, can also be important, as when we tell someone we are sorry that they are upset, thereby reflecting their feelings.  But verbal reflection on Elinor’s part would also be awkward; Elinor doesn’t tell Marianne that she sees she is unhappy, since Marianne’s state of mind is already known to both sisters.  Whatever the signs might be that convey Elinor’s attunement, Marianne’s comment tells us, the readers, that affective empathy, and not just adequate nursing, characterizes their exchange. 

Affective empathy is vital right from the start of life. If we are fortunate, we receive adequate amounts from our very first caregivers, especially our primary caregivers.  The extent to which primary caregivers resonate accurately with a child’s emotional states influences the development of attachment style, the characteristic ways in which a person relates to close others (Bowlby; Howe). 

Attachment style is characterized as secure or insecure.  Securely attached people feel comfortable with close relationships, believing that they live in a world in which their emotional needs will be met.  They connect authentically, openly expressing their feelings while remaining perceptive about the needs and emotions of people they relate to; they have well-developed powers of empathy.  They possess good self-esteem because they have learned that they are worth being recognized for who they are.  And they regulate emotions in a balanced way, neither suppressing nor being dominated by negative emotional states.  The insecurely attached have deficits in these areas.  Neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen calls secure attachment “an internal pot of gold” (71–72) because it fosters inner resources that help maintain well-being.  Conversely, insecure attachment is a risk factor for depression (Sund and Wichstrøm; Abela et al.) and other psychological afflictions. 

Marianne exhibits an insecure attachment style known as anxious-preoccupied attachment.  As the name suggests, this attachment style involves preoccupation with relationships.  Anxious-preoccupied attachment is characterized by sensitivity, self-involvement, and an inability to regulate emotions; these traits are exacerbated by close relationships, often romantic relationships in adulthood, because attachment styles with caregivers are often replicated within intimate relationships.  In such cases, a “preoccupation” with the relationship also predominates. 

Marianne manifests these characteristics from the start of her romance with Willoughby, when he sweeps her off her feet both literally (after she has twisted her ankle) and metaphorically.  Even when Marianne believes that Willoughby loves her and will be faithful, she is nevertheless obsessed (preoccupied) with him and the relationship, a hallmark of this attachment style.3  After he suddenly announces that he must leave the neighborhood and will not be returning, Marianne becomes more engrossed and anxious than ever.  Soon after Willoughby’s departure, the Dashwood sisters visit London, where Marianne fully expects that he will seek them out.  But she nevertheless writes to him immediately and waits on tenterhooks for his response.  As evidence of Willoughby’s neglect begins to accrue, Marianne writes increasingly desperate notes; preoccupied attachment prompts clinginess even in the best of circumstances, and loss intensifies this pattern.  Even after the terrible evening when they meet at a ball and Willoughby greets Marianne formally, as a distant friend rather than as the woman he loves, she continues to hold on to the relationship, convinced that someone has maligned her to him.  Only when he answers her desperate notes with the cruel letter that definitively ends their relationship—and denies that such a relationship ever existed—does Marianne let go, spiraling into an intractable depression. 

We can assume that Marianne had an insecure ambivalent relationship with her mother as a baby and child (preoccupied attachment is called ambivalent attachment in young people).  Babies who develop this attachment style have unreliable sources of resonance because their primary caregivers fail to attune consistently to their emotional states.  Unreliable resonance on the part of a caregiver has nothing to do with love:  a caregiver might love the child intensely, be willing to lay down his or her own life for that of the child, but nevertheless be insensitive to the child’s feelings and needs.  For instance, such a caregiver might scoop a child up, showering the child with kisses, when the baby craves quiet and rest.  At another time, the caregiver might be right on target with recognizing what the child requires. 

Mrs. Dashwood’s behavior towards the teenage Marianne suggests that she has habitually failed to resonate with Marianne’s emotional states, catching rather than attuning to her daughter’s emotions.  This type of reaction is known as emotional contagion, and it is very different from resonance (Singer and Lamm 83–84; Coplan; Hatfield, Cacioppo, and Rapson; Kravetz).  Notably, after Willoughby’s hasty and uncomfortable visit to the Dashwoods’ cottage to say that he will be leaving Devonshire, “Mrs. Dashwood felt too much for speech, and instantly quitted the parlour to give way in solitude to the concern and alarm which this sudden departure occasioned” (89).  She returns with the signs of her sorrow all too obvious:  “her eyes were red” (90). 

Mrs. Dashwood withdraws at precisely the moment that Marianne needs her to seek her out, too involved with her own feelings to be a comfort to her daughter.  We might infer that she makes things worse rather than better for Marianne because emotional contagion often leads to a spiral of increasing negativity; in any case, Marianne does not calm down:  Marianne’s “violent oppression of spirits continued the whole evening” (95).  In addition, Mrs. Dashwood’s emotions cloud her judgment, and she begins to make excuses for Willoughby, such as, “‘Had he been in a situation to act independently and marry immediately, it might have been odd that he should leave us without acknowledging every thing to me at once:  but this is not the case’” (94).  Her attitude contrasts markedly with that of Elinor, who rightly finds Willoughby’s abrupt departure and secrecy suspicious (89), but she expresses her doubts throughout her conversation with her mother.  Marianne will also make excuses for Willoughby until she can no longer deny his perfidy.  For instance, she believes good weather for hunting delays his arrival in London (190), and when he snubs her at Lady Middleton’s house, she attributes his coldness to “‘some dreadful misapprehension or other’” (202).  Mrs. Dashwood is as upset and deluded as Marianne and therefore unable to provide not only attunement, but the parental guidance so crucial to teenagers.4  (Even if teens often reject such input, they do hear it, and it has often an influence.)  In short, Mrs. Dashwood takes Marianne’s viewpoint and experiences all of Marianne’s emotions uncritically—catches them, if you will—instead of empathizing with them. 

A deficit in the capacity to regulate emotions characterizes Marianne’s responses to Willoughby.  We might compare her desperate attempts to hold on to the relationship and inability to accept its end with Elinor’s calm acceptance of uncertainty in her relationship with Edward and management of her despair when she believes he is lost to her forever.  A therapeutic alliance addresses such unproductive and reflexive responses, ideally enabling clients to develop better modes of response than the patterns that brought them to therapy, including the capacity to regulate emotions, so lacking for Marianne.  They undergo what is known as a “corrective emotional experience,” a transformation from unproductive to beneficial modes of response achieved through the client’s relationship with the therapist (Fried; Bridges; Bernier and Dozier; Castonguay and Hill). 

We can see Elinor facilitating such an experience for Marianne.  When Willoughby leaves, Elinor understands that Willoughby’s behavior has been strange and upsetting and empathizes with Marianne’s distress, but, in contrast to Mrs. Dashwood, she does not become overwhelmed by it.  She takes Marianne’s perspective both emotionally and cognitively while maintaining her own.  Throughout the remainder of Marianne’s traumatic experience, including Willoughby’s rejection at the ball, her receipt of the cruel letter he sends in response to her agitated queries, and her ensuing depression, Elinor remains a serene and available presence for Marianne, thereby regulating Marianne’s emotions in the way that Mrs. Dashwood should have done. 

Such regulation takes place both immediately and in the longer term.  Elinor’s measured responses calm Marianne’s agitation in the moment, as when Elinor provides comfort and a cordial and Marianne calms down.  When someone empathizes but remains calm in this way—is emotionally involved rather than emotionally overwhelmed—this behavior has the potential to induce regulation; we might think of it as a helpful form of emotional contagion in which a person “catches” serenity rather than disregulation.  In a therapeutic relationship (which applies to the sisters), the therapist first resonates with the negative emotion, then provides the regulated alternative exemplified by his or her own state of mind.  Individual instances of therapeutic regulation gradually instill an increased capacity to deal with refractory, volatile, and negative feelings. 

Regulation occurs between caregivers and children who exhibit secure attachment.  Caregivers down-regulate negative excitation, thereby gradually teaching the child to do so on his or her own.  John Bowlby, one of the founders of attachment theory, explained that children develop internal working models, largely implicit knowledge of how to manage difficult emotions.  Regulation becomes habitual and subconscious, like driving, or dancing a quadrille.  This internalization happens at the level of neurology as well as psychology:  because neural patterns grow stronger each time they activate, those patterns that initiate emotional regulation are more likely to reactivate the more such regulation occurs. 

Like the child in a secure attachment relationship, the therapeutic subject gradually develops an increased capacity for regulation.  When Marianne emerges from her illness, it is clear that a transformation along these lines has taken place:  Marianne is much better able to resist the destructive effects of negative emotions.  For instance, when Marianne finally returns home, she resists the sadness she nevertheless still feels; instead, she determines to keep busy, telling Elinor, “‘I mean never to be later in rising than six, and from that time till dinner I shall divide every moment between music and reading’” (388).  Some of this improvement is owing to an effort on Marianne’s part, but even so, as therapists in our own day know, effort doesn’t work without an underlying capability.  Austen is ostensibly ignorant of this contemporary psychological truism, and so she blames Marianne for failing to make an effort before her illness, and she attributes Marianne’s newfound capacity for self-regulation to willpower after her illness. 

But people who are clinically depressed don’t get better when we tell them to try harder.  Something has to shift internally.  Marianne’s story provides one instance where, I believe, the accuracy of Austen’s representation is stronger than the moral she wishes to convey.  Marianne’s depression lifts after months of relating almost solely to Elinor, time during which Elinor continually provides empathy, comfort, and a safe space in which Marianne can work through her ordeal.  The exclusivity and intensity of the relationship precedes Marianne’s change of both heart and capability, thereby suggesting that her patterns of thought and response have shifted because of her relationship with Elinor.  Furthermore, for adults, therapy often involves learning to view events differently, which can change attitudes and thus the patterns of emotional response and behavior that accompany these attitudes.  As Beth Lau observes, Sense and Sensibility instantiates many aspects of this process, which is the primary technique involved in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

The therapeutic alliance further heals through transference, a long-standing concept that originated in Freudian psychoanalysis but which has been retained and adapted by many current psychotherapeutic approaches.  At its simplest, transference means transferring the feelings and patterns of response pertaining to an existing relationship to a subsequently established relationship.  We engage in transference all the time in daily life, and, in fact, transference explains the persistence of attachment styles.  People with insecure attachment styles tend to be insecure with their romantic partners, just as they were with their primary caregivers; they redirect the habits of feeling and thought from one relationship to another. 

In therapy, transference provides the opportunity to rewrite old patterns through the relationship with the therapist.  Together, client and therapist revise mental states and behavioral responses that detract from the client’s well being.  Through the safety of a secure attachment relationship with the therapist, the client becomes less anxious in relationships, a change that often improves self-esteem by sending the message that the client is worthy of appropriate responses to his or her state of mind.  The corrective emotional experience is frequently a corrective attachment experience as well (Bernier and Dozier).  Elinor conveys the comfort, care, and resonance that Mrs. Dashwood is incapable of providing. 

While transference applies generally to therapeutic work, it acquires added force and efficacy in the relationship between the sisters because Elinor stands in loco parentis, not only countering but also replacing Mrs. Dashwood.  She becomes the available older authority figure, making it easy for Marianne to associate or transfer the relationship with her mother to her sister.  Elinor starts to care for Marianne as a mother would care for an ailing child, and Marianne allows herself to be cared for in this way.  It is no accident that Mrs. Dashwood is absent during most of Marianne’s emotional crisis, and it is for the best.  She reenters the narrative when Marianne lies ill, barely conscious, and she competently helps to nurse her back to health.  But she has less to do little to do with her daughter’s healing from mental affliction.  This healing happens through Marianne’s therapeutic alliance with Elinor. 

Secure attachment, positive states of mind, and even mental health are never a done deal.  Throughout our lives, we continue to seek the security provided by attachment relationships, turning to close others for support, especially in times of stress.  We find resonance comforting in and of itself, even when circumstances cannot be ameliorated.  We continue to want the positive regard of others, even if we already possess good self-esteem. And we co-regulate (or dysregulate) with others throughout our lives.  Affective empathy is at the heart of such behaviors; it is the foundation of security, self-esteem, effective self-regulation, and many other positive mental states. 

We are not alone as a species in our need for resonance.  All mammals bond through emotional connections:  from an evolutionary perspective, bonding has conferred a huge advantage in the terms of survival (evolutionary fitness), as we see in its most basic form, mammalian nurturing of the young.  But for humans, the presence or absence of affective empathy involves an additional dimension, signaling that validation is a more abstract, complex, and general sense.  Resonance is crucial to intra- and inter-personal functioning for humans (and I suspect the other great apes), in ways that percolate more subtly through feelings, moods, and enduring traits of character.  A lack of resonance also adds an extra dimension of pain to loneliness and missed connections.  Dogs will become depressed and non-functional if deprived of social connection, but I doubt they suffer the agony of low self-esteem or an existential sense of isolation. 

Sense and Sensibility foregrounds this validating, existential aspect of resonance in the context of Marianne’s romance with Willoughby.  Attunement appears to distinguish this relationship right from the start.  Marianne and Willoughby have the same tastes and opinions, but this agreement matters only because it demonstrates how exquisitely they resonate with one another.  Who is to say if Willoughby really shares all of Marianne’s refined, artistic tastes, but love prompts him to enter into all her enthusiasms even if he doesn’t come by them honestly.  Their attunement lies in their love for one another, which organizes itself around other shared feelings and experiences. 

Or so it seems.  In the heartless letter that ends her hopes, Willoughby denies having felt anything but mild friendship for Marianne and virtually accuses her of having imagined their love: 

“My esteem for your whole family is very sincere; but if I have been so unfortunate as to give rise to a belief of more than I felt, or meant to express, I shall reproach myself for not having been more guarded in my professions of that esteem.  That I should ever have meant more you will allow to be impossible, when you understand that my affections have long been engaged elsewhere.”  (208–09) 

The possibility that this representation might be true, that Willoughby never loved Marianne and that she imagined the resonance they felt with one another, is even more toxic than Willoughby’s abandonment. 

Marianne’s sustained focus on Willoughby’s character distinguishes her story from less nuanced tales of deserted lovers.  Long after Marianne knows that Willoughby has jilted her, his feelings and motives continue to matter.  This is clear in a conversation between the sisters that takes place after Marianne has received Willoughby’s heartless letter and has shown their full correspondence to Elinor.  Marianne has just corrected Elinor’s mistaken belief that they’d been engaged, a logical assumption since women were only supposed to correspond with men if engaged: 

“I felt myself,” she added, “to be as solemnly engaged to him, as if the strictest legal covenant had bound us to each other.” 

“I can believe it,” said Elinor; “but unfortunately he did not feel the same.” 

“He did feel the same, Elinor—for weeks and weeks he felt it.  I know he did.  Whatever may have changed him now, (and nothing but the blackest art employed against me can have done it,) I was once as dear to him as my own soul could wish.  This lock of hair, which now he can so readily give up, was begged of me with the most earnest supplication.  Had you seen his look, his manner, had you heard his voice at that moment!”  (214–15) 

What is notable here is Marianne’s appeal to the truth of social signals and her urgent insistence that she has read them correctly.  She clings to the hope that someone has maligned her not because she thinks that she will be reunited with Willoughby once the misunderstanding has been cleared up, but rather because it is unthinkably painful to her that she could have been so wrong about Willoughby’s feelings.5 

Marianne is cruelly disappointed long before the first flush of romantic love has run its course.  But painful as this experience is, the more devastating blow is that, in her own mind, Marianne’s experience with Willoughby calls into question her ability to form authentic and meaningful relationships.  We can say, using contemporary psychotherapeutic language, that Marianne would have appeared to herself as someone who had projected her own desires on to Willoughby, and as someone who couldn’t assess character accurately or judge the authenticity of her relationships.  If Marianne doesn’t know Willoughby’s heart, then what does she know about anyone or anything, including herself?  How can she trust herself, or anyone else, ever again?  She saw herself reflected in Willoughby’s eyes, but maybe nothing was there.  Teasing out the implications of this feeling a bit further, we can say that, in that case, Marianne would be condemned to a kind of cosmic loneliness, imprisoned within her own perceptions and alone with her own feelings because she is unable to connect emotionally in the ways that people connect with one another. 

The validation that Marianne found in Willoughby’s love is gone, and it has taken with it the very ground of validation itself.  The experience is annihilating, and the definition of this word is worth citing.  To annihilate means to “reduce to nonexistence, blot out of existence” and to “extinguish virtually; to reduce to silence, powerlessness, or humiliation” (OED).  Marianne’s depression expresses her sense of annihilation by Willoughby’s betrayal; she is humiliated, silenced, and reduced to nonexistence in psychological terms, in that she feels she had been living a life that didn’t really exist, a reality that was a reflection of her own desires.  Such feelings of annihilation can lead to suicidal despair.  As psychologist Thomas Joiner observes, suicidal thinking involves feelings of not belonging and of being ineffectual, powerless to make a mark on the world you live in, which is how Willoughby has made Marianne feel. 

Marianne’s depression can therefore be seen as the subconscious attempt to carry out the annihilation implied by Willoughby’s actions.  Marianne makes this clear to Elinor once she has recovered from the nearly fatal illness brought on by her disregard for her health and her depression, which, as we know today, weakens the immune system (Maté).  She tells Elinor, “‘My illness, I well knew, had been entirely brought on by myself by such negligence of my own health, as I had felt even at the time to be wrong.  Had I died,—it would have been self-destruction’” (391). 

Ironically, by imagining herself dead, Marianne rediscovers the validation that had been lost to her in her depression.  She tells Elinor, “‘Had I died,—in what peculiar misery should I have left you, my nurse, my friend, my sister! . . .—My mother too!  How could you have consoled her?’” (391–92).  By picturing the devastating effects of a real rather than a psychological annihilation, Marianne is able to find herself again, present in the minds and hearts of those who love her, and so present to herself as well. 

As if in reward for being able to turn away from the annihilating deathblow delivered by Willoughby and to focus on the affirmation she finds in the love of her family, Marianne finds out that her perceptions about Willoughby had been accurate.  When she lies ill, Willoughby comes to see Elinor in the dead of night with a message for Marianne.  He tells Elinor that he had indeed loved Marianne, that his feelings for her were genuine, and that he disregarded them to marry a woman whose fortune would pay his debts and enable him to gratify his expensive tastes.  The cruel letter that nearly killed Marianne had been dictated by the woman who is now his wife.  He regrets his decision and wants Marianne to know that their love was real. 

Despite the insights she gained during her illness, Willoughby’s feelings still matter to Marianne.  Even when she’s well again and has determined to live a “‘regulated’” life, “‘checked by religion, by reason, by constant employment’” (393), she still wishes to be satisfied on one point:  “‘If I could but know his heart, everything would become easy’” (393).  Fortunately, Elinor can assure Marianne that what she saw and felt was real:  Willoughby did love her.  Marianne’s recovery is complete, and she can now move on emotionally to make the happy marriage with Colonel Brandon that concludes her story.6


1Deidre Shauna Lynch notes that Anne Elliot [of Persuasion] and Elinor “each partake of something like a narrator’s invisibility, omniscience, and capacity to enter into others’ feelings and coordinate and harmonize others’ perspectives” (233).  Third-person omniscience might be thought of as a kind of empathy with fictional people. 

2Empathy has attracted a significant amount of criticism lately.  Disapproval generally focuses on the value of empathy as a moral force.  Critics argue that empathy is prone to bias, that we tend to have empathy for those who are like us or close to us, and with individuals rather than groups.  In fact, empathy for those we care about can cause us to hurt “out” groups or individuals.  Other motives such as guilt or the desire to do the right thing can lead to better outcomes than empathy.  Empathy, untempered by “rational compassion,” reason called in to modulate whatever emotional responses we experience, can be not only useless but harmful (Prinz; Bloom). 

The drawbacks of empathy might have much to do with our social development as a species.  Empathy does tend to be evoked by the plight of individuals, but for most of the history of homo sapiens sapiens, society consisted of individuals, with each person known to the entire community.  Humans were hunter gatherers for millennia.  The way we live now, in communities where it is possible to be completely ignorant of one’s neighbors, depended first on the development of agriculture, which led to private property and the formation of states.  Since empathy didn’t evolve in the context of civilization as we know it, it isn’t surprising that it doesn’t always lead to moral action in the way it usually does among the few hunter-gatherer tribes that remain today and as it likely did among our human, pre-agricultural ancestors.  Therapy, even group therapy, is largely a matter of individuals interacting with one another, and this dynamic might be why, in a therapeutic context, empathy is generally seen as an important and benevolent force. 

3An intense focus on another person also characterizes romantic love, although people experience this to different degrees.  I discuss the psychological and neurobiological characteristics of romantic love in chapter 6 of my book Jane on the Brain: Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence in Jane Austen and in my essay “Mapping Love in Mansfield Park.” 

4Shawn Lisa Maurer points out that in the eighteenth century adolescence became the special territory of the novel, which explores “the emotions, concerns, confusions, and desires associated with adolescent development” and thereby “makes visible and in part codifies a stage of life which, while always observable, had remained largely uncharted as an idea” (725–26). 

5The narrative paradigm in which the heroine’s beloved suitor forms mistaken beliefs that threaten their potential union can be found in several of Fanny Burney’s novels, notably her most famous one, Evelina, from which Austen might have taken the name “Willoughby” (Anna). 

6More extended discussions of psychotherapy and attachment can be found in my book Jane on the Brain, chapters 5 and 7.

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