Jane Austen and Altruism  book cover
1st Edition

Jane Austen and Altruism

ISBN 9781032173849
Published September 30, 2021 by Routledge
308 Pages

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Book Description

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



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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).