NDPR review: E.M. Dadlez’s Mirrors to One Another: Emotion and Value in Jane Austen and David Hume

The NDPR has just published a review, written by Alice MacLachlan (York University, Canada), of E.M. Dadlez’s Mirrors to One Another: Emotion and Value in Jane Austen and David Hume. To read the entire review, please click here.

To visit Blackwell-Wiley’s page for Dadlez’s book, please click here. To see the book’s table of contents, please click here. To read a PDF excerpt from the book, click here.

Here is how MacLachlan’s review begins:

“The minds of men are mirrors to one another, not only because they reflect each other’s emotions, but also because those rays of passions, sentiments and opinions may be often reverberated, and may decay away by insensible degrees”. — Hume, Treatise 2.2.5

E. M. Dadlez invites us to consider how the works of Jane Austen and David Hume are ‘mirrors to one another’, not only because they reflect each other’s insights and perspectives on human nature, emotion and virtue, but also because — when the two are read together — those ethical, aesthetic, and epistemic perspectives reverberate to reveal new insights in each. Dadlez’s intention is not merely to present the reader with a Humean reading of Austen or an Austenian illustration of Hume, but further, to convince us that such readings are uniquely capable of explaining and revealing what is central to the vision of human psychology, ethics and society found in both.

Dadlez presents and defends several interconnected theses, which, taken together, guide her comparative analysis. First, she argues, not only do Austen and Hume consistently return to certain shared themes, such as the role of sympathy, the moral importance of happiness and pleasure, and the close connection between morality and emotion, but — when taken cumulatively — these thematic connections reveal a Humean bent to Austen that is unmatched by other philosophers (most notably, by Kant and even Aristotle). This shared affinity is unique, she claims, even if no single point of correspondence between Austen and Hume is. Austen’s Humean perspective also gives us more reason to think of her in the context of Enlightenment thinkers, and not the Romantics or Victorians — as is (apparently) sometimes presumed.

Furthermore, Dadlez claims, Hume and Austen are not just similar to one another: they are usefully similar. Austen’s novels function as thought experiments, demonstrating and illustrating Hume’s meta-ethical and normative claims; both her narrative content and her literary (clear, sparse, ironic) style make her novels ideal for this philosophical function in ways that few other works of fiction can boast. As a result, reading Austen with Hume in mind can draw out significant philosophical and ethical insights in Austen that are otherwise easily overlooked — she benefits from the association. But, finally, the advantage is reciprocal. Austen has arguably had more success than Hume in surviving the vagaries of history and fashion: she remains widely read and adored, and there is more evidence her works have ‘stood the test of time’. Thus, association with Austen can boost Hume, by suggesting that similar universality, relevance, and accessibility lurk in the pages of his philosophy.

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