Jane Austen and Altruism identifies a compelling theme, namely, the view that Jane Austen propounds a rigorous, boundary-sensitive model of altruism that counters the human propensity to selfishness and promotes the culture of cooperation. In her days, altruism was commonly known as "benevolence", "charity," or "philanthropy", and these concepts overlap with Auguste Comte’s later definition of altruism as "otherism". This volume argues that Austen’s thinking co-opts the evolutionary idea that altruism is seldom truly pure, egoism cannot be eradicated, and boundless group altruism is not sustainable. However, given that she comes from a naval and clergy family, she witnesses the power of wartime patriotism, the Evangelical revival, the Regency culture of politeness, and the sentimental novels. In her novels, she locates human relationships along an altruism continuum that ranges from enlightened selfishness to pathological altruism. Unconditional love is hard to find, but empathy, kin altruism, reciprocal exchange, and group altruism are key to the formation of self-identity, family, community and the nation state.
Table of Contents
References to Jane Austen’s Works
Chapter 1: The Austen Family and the Altruism Problem
Chapter 2: Psychopathy and Sympathy in Northanger Abbey
Chapter 3: Costly Signaling and the Handicap Principle in Sense and Sensibility
Chapter 4: Kin and Kith Altruism in Pride and Prejudice
Chapter 5: Survival of the Nicest in Mansfield Park
Chapter 6: Pathological Altruism in Emma
Chapter 7: Punishment in Persuasion
Afterword: The Choice of Altruism
Magdalen Ki (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is the Programme Director of MA in Literary and Comparative Studies, and Associate Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature at Hong Kong Baptist University. Her research interests include Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, psychology, and gothic literature. Her articles have appeared in journals such as Brontë Studies, Poe Studies, English Studies, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Literature Compass, and Mississippi Quarterly. Her latest article "Kin Altruism, Spite, and Forgiveness in Pride and Prejudice" will appear in Philosophy and Literature (2019).