The most beloved novel in the language was written by a rural parson’s daughter with no formal education, in ten months, between the ages of twenty and twenty-one, and published two hundred years ago today. That’s not entirely true: she revised it later, but probably not very much. Elizabeth Bennet’s story was largely composed by someone Elizabeth Bennet’s age.
“Pride and Prejudice” discredits one of our most deeply held beliefs: the idea that emotions have an absolute validity. Feelings are not right or wrong, we say; they just are. Or rather, feelings are always right, because they are—and we always have a right to them. It is a notion that was promulgated by the same feminism that helped to elevate Austen to her current eminence. So much of the feminist struggle involved asserting the legitimacy of women’s feelings. Emotions—the reality of female discontent within the patriarchal system—were the bedrock, in a sense, of the feminist argument.
But in the story of Elizabeth and how she learned to change her mind, Austen tells us something different. Oh, Elizabeth is very full of her feelings towards Mr. Darcy when she thinks she has the moral high ground: her rage at what he’s done to her sister Jane, her indignation on behalf of Mr. Wickham, her scorn for his aristocratic arrogance. But they all turn out to be based on false perceptions—some of them the products of those very feelings. “She grew absolutely ashamed of herself,” goes the little paragraph on which the novel turns. “Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.” Emotions are wrong, Austen wanted us to know, when the conceptions that they’re based on are wrong. It doesn’t matter if they feel right at the time. Of course they feel right: they’re feelings! And we won’t grow up, or be happy, until we’re willing to acknowledge that.
Pride and Prejudice was published 200 years ago today – celebrate with the Jane Austen classic irreverently reimagined as a literary comic.
During a series of ongoing experiments, [fMRI] images track blood flow in the brains of subjects as they read excerpts of a Jane Austen novel. Experiment participants are first asked to leisurely skim a passage as they might do in a bookstore, and then to read more closely, as they would while studying for an exam.
[The researchers] said the global increase in blood flow during close reading suggests that “paying attention to literary texts requires the coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions.” Blood flow also increased during pleasure reading, but in different areas of the brain [suggesting] that each style of reading may create distinct patterns in the brain that are “far more complex than just work and play.”
The experiment focuses on literary attention, or more specifically, the cognitive dynamics of the different kinds of focus we bring to reading.
The researchers expected to see pleasure centers activating for the relaxed reading and hypothesized that close reading, as a form of heightened attention, would create more neural activity than pleasure reading. If the ongoing analysis continues to support the initial theory…teaching close reading (i.e., attention to literary form) “could serve – quite literally – as a kind of cognitive training, teaching us to modulate our concentration and use new brain regions as we move flexibly between modes of focus.”
Pioneering Stanford study uses Jane Austen texts to examine attention and distraction during reading, suggesting different modes of reading may serve as valuable cognitive training for concentration.
Also see graphing Jane Austen.
Graphing Jane Austen – researchers set out to bridge the gab between science and literary scholarship.