Thomas More College Professor of the Humanities Christopher Blum has garnered a national reputation for his affection for author Jane Austen, whose work he has studied with loving attentiveness. A discussion of Austen with Blum will no doubt lead to an enthusiastic discourse on her dramatic, often hilarious portrayal of virtues and vices in action.
Readers of the latest edition of Pride and Prejudice, published by Ignatius Press, will be treated to a dose of Professor Blum’s scholarship on the noted British author in his introduction to the most recent edition of the work.
Professor Blum’s introduction delves into the role of virtue in Austen’s life and how Catholic morality is evident within her novel. He sums up the book’s importance in his essay.
“Although Jane Austen herself never married, she plainly understood that marriage and family were the essential framework of the moral life. And it is indeed because of its creator’s moral vision, and not merely for its fairytale-like ending, that Pride and Prejudice is a work of such rare loveliness. As with each of Jane Austen’s novels, it is a probing reflection upon love, marriage, family, and the search for stability and goodness….”
While some readers, beguiled by its stylistic perfection, have been known to dismiss Austen’s work as merely amusing, Professor Blum explains that she in fact addresses the central question of human life: How shall we live together in community—beginning with its most basic unit, the family? Austen plumbs human depths that are not sounded in the typical novel of manners or 19th century love story.
Professor Blum notes, “Pride and Prejudice stands apart from Austen’s other novels for its sustained and focused consideration of the moral development of its heroine and hero.”
However, Professor Blum does not see in Austen’s delightful tales allegorical treatises or moralizing tracts.
“They are, after all, works of the imagination, and like any great piece of music, or poetry, or even painting, her novels help us to pursue the good not by teaching us exactly in what it consists, but by revealing to us that the rational and virtuous life is the most attractive and, indeed, the only happy life. What we need to see is not the presence of precise definitions or the solution to difficult questions, but instead the grand and noble truth that virtue is its own reward and brings in its train, so far as this mortal life affords, all other subordinate goods in their proper measure. A novelist, then, would be trustworthy to the extent that his mind conforms to the first truths of the moral life: that the soul is better than the body, that the will is a rational appetite, that the individual is made for and perfected by society.”
Professor Blum’s essay ranges widely, examining Austen’s quiet Christian faith in the context of the sleepy Anglicanism current before the Oxford movement; her picture of the hero Mr. Darcy against the standard of virtue which she would have known, the Aristotelian; and her treatment of feminine character in the light of Austen’s contemporaries such as Wollstonecraft and Louis de Bonald. He agrees with contemporary philosopher Alasdair Macintyre that Austen is much more than a graceful and entertaining writer; she is in fact, “the last great representative of the classical tradition of the virtues.”
Thomas More College President Jeffrey Nelson lauded the latest scholarship of his colleague.
“The College is proud that Ignatius looked to Thomas More College for its authoritative commentator on one of the greatest works of British literature,” Nelson said. “I am excited that Professor Blum’s insightful scholarship will undoubtedly influence the literary community.”