SEL 51, 4 (Autumn 2011):
Patrick Fessenbecker 747–763
Jane Austen on Love and
During the last thirty years or so, critics have generally portrayed the relationship between pedagogy and power as problematic. The philosophical stance underlying such criticism contends that pedagogical relationships oftentimes “cover up” sets of power relations that are variously termed “insidious,” “unbalanced,” or otherwise undesirable; thus, the responsibility of the critic is to demystify the relationship and reveal the power relations as power relations.1 This view of the relationship between pedagogy and power draws heavily on Michel Foucault’s analysis of education in Discipline and Punish, where he claims, “A relation of surveillance, defined and regulated, is inscribed at the heart of the practice of teaching, not as an additional or adjacent part, but as a mechanism that is inherent to it and which increases its efficiency.”2
In a concurrent and interdependent development, analyses of
sexual and romantic relationships in pedagogical settings increasingly accept a similar picture of power differentials.3 This stance parallels the analysis of pedagogical relations more generally: just as the critical goal was to demystify pedagogy to uncover power relations, so one must demystify romance and find the worrisome distribution of power relations underneath. Moreover, this position entails the conclusion that pedagogical relationships and romantic relationships are mutually exclusive; after all, if loving relationships cannot involve a power differential, then no pedagogical relationship can ever be a loving relationship. This is not at all how interpretations of Jane Austen’s fiction have tended to portray pedagogy. With varying degrees of sophisPatrick Fessenbecker is a graduate student of English at The Johns Hopkins University.
Jane Austen on Love and Pedagogical Power
tication, critics have often pointed to the fact that Austen’s novels are generally stories about a man correcting a girl’s erring nature: they are narratives of a girl who starts out badly but who, through the ministrations of some warm-hearted moral pedagogue, returns to the correct path and conveniently falls in love with her teacher. Far from preventing love, such interpretations often see a pedagogical relationship as an essential element to love. This view, which I will refer to as the “pedagogical” theory of Austen’s fiction, has a long history in Austen scholarship; indeed, Richard Simpson advanced a version of it in an 1870 review.4 Other proponents include Lionel Trilling, who argues that Austen “was committed to the ideal of ‘intelligent love,’ according to which the deepest and truest relationship that can exist between human beings is pedagogic,” and Juliet McMaster, who says that for Austen, “the pedagogic relationship is not parasitic but symbiotic, a relationship that is mutual and joyful: it blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.”5
Furthermore, despite the recent prominence of demystification theories of pedagogy, the “problem” of pedagogical power does not appear to impress some contemporary Austen critics, who
more or less dismiss the argument that the pedagogical relationship is a power relationship. Instead, such critics contend, the pedagogical relationship is relevant for its moral benefits, insofar as Austen’s heroes and heroines must achieve a certain moral maturity before they are capable of love. As Anne Ruderman
puts it, “Being able to control one’s desires, to take pleasure in principled behavior, is a precondition for being capable of loving deeply, [Austen’s] novels show. Love is not the vehicle for moral education, but is more like the reward for it.”6 The implication seems to be that Austen’s teachers are almost pure conduits of moral knowledge; as Simpson puts it, “Miss Austen seems to be saturated with the Platonic idea that the giving...
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