Four Antigones: A Lexicogrammatical Comparison of a Timeless Theme from the Ancient Greek Theatre to the Victorian Novel

This is a working draft of a paper I am working on concerning the Antigone theme throughout history.


Four Antigones:  A Lexicogrammatical Comparison of a Timeless Theme from the Ancient Greek Theatre to the Victorian Novel


James Trevor Jackson


Abstract: The Antigone myth predates Sophocles’ 440 BCE production and continues to be re-adapted to this day. This paper will examine two dramatic adaptations of the myth: Sophocles’ version first produced in Fifth-century Athens, and Jean Anouilh’s well-known adaptation, first staged in Nazi-occupied France in 1944. This evaluation will be made with the aid of what is known as Appraisal Theory (Martin and White, 2005). Appraisal Theory offers a means by which the writer-reader relationship can be evaluated according to “the linguistic resources by which texts/speakers come to express, negotiate and naturalise particular inter-subjective and ultimately ideological positions.” After a comparison of these two Antigones, written for the stage, this paper will then examine two Nineteenth-century novels: Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” and George Eliot’s “The Mill on the Floss”, whose themes have long been noted for their similarities to the Antigone myth. A similar methodology will be used to appraise the two novels’ writer-reader relations in light of the timeless themes they share with the two previously examined dramatic productions. An analysis of the effect of ‘interiority’ in the portrayal of the novels’ main characters will be carried out, examining how the novelistic representation of consciousness conditions writer-reader relationships in comparison to texts written for dramatic productions.


The Antigone myth predates Sophocles’ 440 BCE production of the play and adaptations continue to the present day. While there is much in the thematic material of Sophocles’ play that has been replicated over the course of three millennia, the relationship between what we now think of as writers and readers has changed a great deal in that time. One might suggest that a Greek tragedian such as Sophocles had a less complex relationship with his reader/audience than the modern playwright.  In “The Play off the Stage: the Writer-Reader Relationship in Drama” (2001), authors Zongxin Feng and Dan Shen note that within the context of dramatic production, “‘the reader’ is a kind of collective term covering various types of individuals with different pragmatic roles, including the director, the stage producer, the setting designer, actors/actresses, the audience outside the theatre and ordinary readers” (P 79).

While much of what is brought to light in their essay certainly holds true for playwrights and playgoers of Fifth-century Greek tragedy, further consideration might be given to some of the historical differences that might affect this particular kind of ancient writer-reader relationship in relation to their more modern counterparts. For instance, for the average Fifth-century Athenian, reading the manuscript of a play in the comfort of one’s own home would be unusual in comparison to more modern times, where print media is much more accessible and affordable. In addition, the role of intermediary “readers” positioned between playwright and audience, (such as producers, directors, set-designers, etc.) that Feng and Shen describe has changed considerably in the millennia since Sophocles’ productions.[i] From the perspective of Fifth-century Athens, differences in the pragmatic roles of administrative and off-stage creative personnel,  as well as the much more limited ability of actors to offer readerly interpretation as an intermediary between playwright and reader/audience, would be likely to contribute to a much different kind of reader-writer relationship than the modern playgoer might experience. Some of the most noticeable differences might be that within the Ancient Greek amphitheatre, actors wore large masks, making the creative dimension of facial expression (a central feature of the modern stage actor) impossible. Similarly, Greek amphitheatres were large, open air arenas, making vocal audibility a central concern and thereby significantly reducing actors’ and choristers’ range of choices for interpreting the manner in which a playwright’s lines could be delivered (that is, they had little alternative but to speak quite loudly). While the reader of such a play (as opposed to a playgoer) would be free to imagine tonal variations in characters’ voices that would be impracticable within the context of an amphitheatre production, it is likely that the playwright (in this case, Sophocles) wrote the play with the understanding of the production’s physical and environmental requirements, thereby limiting somewhat the possible manner in which lines could be delivered. As stage directions must be largely inferred by context (Sophocles did not write them into his plays as we have them today) the casual reader, in contrast to the playgoer is left without another valuable set of instructions that the reader of the modern play can normally avail herself of.


On the other hand, elements such as the Chorus, an anachronism to most modern productions may be thought of as complicating this writer-reader relationship by adding what many today think of as a sort of disembodied public voice that, it may be argued, was not considered to belong exclusively to the playwright but rather be a part of the public domain, so to speak, of commonly-held ideas and beliefs. This might be thought of as a separate element in, to use Chatman’s terminology (1980), the “story-discourse” dichotomy which, in Greek drama, often involved a story already well-known by the audience.

In Sophocles’ 440 BCE production, the discourse might be said to have been largely contrived from the repertoire of what were considered the general truths of the day. Of particular interest through the ages of the play’s reception are the polar positions introduced by the characters Creon and Antigone, and which are often echoed by the choristers in various contexts. While complicating the reader-writer relationship in Sophocles’ Antigone, it is nonetheless not difficult to demarcate the discursive function of the choristers.


We might also point out the different and more complex associations that the modern reader makes concerning genre. Fiction, for the ancient Greek playgoer was not, for instance, understood in relationship to other genres such as history, and investigative journalism. Nor, for that matter, could the concept of character be understood in the same way as we do today. As Walter Ong points out, “The first approximations we have of the round character are in the Greek tragedies, the first verbal genre controlled entirely by writing.” (1982, P. 149) From Sophocles, Ong jumps almost two millennia to Shakespeare for the next significant update on this relationship:

First emerging in chirographically controlled ancient Greek drama, the ‘round’ character is further developed in Shakespeare’s age after the coming of print, and comes to its peak with the novel, when, after the advent of the Age of Romanticism, print is more fully interiorized. (150)


Given the constraints outlined above (masks, amphitheatre stage-craft) we can see that creating what the audience might perceive as “round” characters such as Creon and Antigone was, for Sophocles, a significant achievement. While Ong identifies the work of Sophocles as a central milestone in the history of what we now can refer to as the reader-writer relationship, there were yet other differences in this relationship that may be worth examining. Among them is the different social role that attendance to played had in fifth century Athens (Green, P. 106).  Further consideration might be paid to the role of general literacy, and the access that even literate Fifth-century Athenians had to the written word (plays as well as other material) that was highly-limited in generic scope as well as in quantity.

In order to elucidate some of these differences, this paper will begin by exploring two interpretations of the ancient Antigone myth: Sophocles’ version, first staged in 440 BCE, and Jean Anouilh’s 1944 version, first staged in Nazi-occupied France in 1944. A cursory viewing or reading of each play will show that Sophocles and Anouilh had, of course, much different readers in mind. Along with these differences in how the plays are structured, it may be possible to identify lexicogrammatical features by which the two writers establish connections with the reader.


The Language of Evaluation in Antigone

In order to make the distinctions I hope to show make, I will use a particular methodology found in the text The Language of Evaluation by James R. Martin and Peter R.R. White (2005). In what has become known as “Appraisal Theory” Martin and White have explored “the linguistic resources by which speakers/writers adopt a stance towards to the value positions being referenced by the text and with respect to those they address” (P. 92) Using one particular component of this system, contained in their third chapter entitled “Engagement and Graduation: Alignment, Solidarity and the Construed Reader” (PP. 92-159), this essay will attempt to shed light on the manner in which very similar viewpoints expressed by the main characters in these two Antigones create much different “stances”, thereby constructing much different readers; that is, readers whom the authors ostensively expect to come to much different conclusions concerning the dramatic matters at hand. In making this comparison, I will use one very specific linguistic/lexicogrammatical construct: the gnomic present tense in which aphorisms or general maxims are offered by both characters and choristers as being universally true in the past present and future.  It is within these general maxims, given in the gnomic present tense, in which a great deal of the two plays express their world view.


Lexicogrammar and the Gnomic Present Tense

The gnomic present tense, in its broadest definition, is a statement containing a present tense verb that is used to express a general truth. It is the grammatical formation most closely associated with the “maxim” or “aphorism”.[ii] Other definitions include ‘A pithy saying that expresses a general truth or fundamental principle.”[iii] In her seminal Transparent Minds, narrative theorist Dorrit Cohn suggests its broad usage “for timeless generalizations — the authorial rhetoric [that] addresses itself to the mysteries and verities of the human condition[.]” (P. 28).

Roland Barthes, a significant influence on Cohn’s thinking, identified the gnomic present tense as constituting the grammatical form for the “referential code,” one of five different codes by which we gain meaning from a text. In S/Z (1974) he writes:

The utterances of the cultural code are implicit proverbs: they are written in that obligative mode by which the discourse states a general will, the law of a society, making the proposition concerned ineluctable or indelible. Further still: it is because an utterance can be transformed into a proverb, a maxim, a postulate, that the supporting cultural code is discoverable: stylistic transformation “proves” the code, bares its structure, and reveals its ideological perspective.  (P. 100).


In Sophocles’ Antigone, the gnomic present tense is used extensively by both characters and choristers. Though it is used with a wide variety of different rhetorical effects, dependent on character and context, this linguistic formation is consistently visible within the core meaning-making systems throughout the play. Of particular interest is the use of gnomic constructions in the dialogues between Creon and Antigone. These are consistently followed by commentary by the Choristers, with their own gnomic constructions, that ultimately seem to represent or condition what will become the final pronouncement of the play’s moral.

In distinguishing the writer-reader relationship within the gnomic constructions of the main characters (Creon and Antigone) from that of the choristers, we might find it useful to distinguish  “two kinds of subjectivity—intersubjectivity (a capacity to ‘feel with’ a character) and supersubjectivity (a capacity to ‘stand over’ a character and evaluate her or his actions ethically)” (Macken-Horarik, 2003, P. 287). Clearly, the chorus offers a stance of supersubjectivity as a sort of counterpoint to the intersubjectivity we, as reader/audience feel when listening to the arguments of both Creon and Antigone. This dichotomy of intersubjectivity/supersubjectivity is most clear in the gnomic constructions on themes addressed by both characters and choristers.  For instance, in this exchange between Antigone and Creon, an unresolved moral ambiguity is voiced for the audience to consider. Arguing that she was justified in defying King Creon’s edict Antigone insists:

  1. Even so, the god of Death demands these rites.

To which Creon counters:

  1. The good demand more honour than the wicked.

Quick to offer her own general truth, Antigone retorts:

Antigone. Who knows? In death they may be reconciled.

To which Creon fires back with yet another aphorism in the gnomic present tense:

  1. Death does not make an enemy a friend!   (Lines 518 – 523)


The aphoristic language offered in the gnomic present tense by Creon in rebuttal to Antigone’s assertions of religious priorities may be thought of as comprising a space in which the reader/audience might have an opportunity for the sort of personal response in which each character’s viewpoint could be considered in turn – unencumbered by, for instance, by the heavy-handed morality the audience had come to expect of the Chorus. Approximately 100 lines later, the Chorus weighs-in:

Antistrophe 2: For it was a wise man

First made that ancient saying: To the man whom God will ruin

One day shall evil seem Good, in his twisted judgement (line 621-622)


The double-irony contained in this linguistically gnomic construction will not become visible until the play’s conclusion when we see that both Antigone and Creon have been ruined as a result of their “twisted judgment”. The ‘supersubjectivity’ of this aphorism declines to settle (for the moment) whether Creon or Antigone (or both) are ultimately right or wrong. In denying the audience an authoritative voice in judgment, it adds to the dramatic tension as well as increasing the space in which the audience may accommodate their own subjective stance, unencumbered by the Chorus’s complete authority.

Later, the Chorus will again summarize the state of affairs caused by their two versions of general truth. To Antigone, who has recently resigned herself to her grim fate, the Chorus says:

  1. Such loyalty is a holy thing. Yet none that holds authority

Can brook disobedience, O my child. Your self-willed pride has been your ruin. (Lines 871 – 872)

Here, we can see a space in which the reader/audience, while sympathizing personally with Antigone, may also accommodate within this empathic space the viewpoint offered by the Chorus that even though her position may be morally correct, she has still erred out of self-willed pride.  The reader that Sophocles has constructed here, then, is one who must embody an irresolvable dilemma. While it seems that the ‘supersubjective’ judgment of the Chorus has tilted towards Creon in the above, Antigone will, in death,  Share in a positive endorsement of the Chorus. After her death, the play concludes with the Chorus’s final pronouncement on Creon:

Chorus. Of happiness, far the greatest part Is wisdom, and reverence towards the gods.

Proud words of the arrogant man, in the end,

Meet punishment, great as his pride was great,

Till at last he is schooled in wisdom. (Lines 1348 – 1352)


The reader will here have a space opened up for sympathy for Creon as well as Antigone whose pride was also her downfall. Creon, “at last…schooled in wisdom” will have earned the audience’s intersubjective as well as supersubjective empathy.


Barthes, Roland. “S/z, trans.” Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1974.

Chatman, Seymour Benjamin. Story and discourse: Narrative structure in fiction and film. Cornell University Press, 1980.

Cohn, Dorrit. Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978.

Feng, Zongxin, and Dan Shen. “The play off the stage: the writer-reader relationship in drama.” Language and Literature 10.1 (2001): 79-93.

Green, John Richard. Theatre in Ancient Greek society. Routledge, 2013

Hall, Edith, Ed. (1962) ANTIGONE, OEDIPUS THE KING & ELECTRA Translated by H. D. F. KITTO; Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Macken-Horarik, Mary. “Appraisal and the special instructiveness of narrative.” TEXT-THE HAGUE THEN AMSTERDAM THEN BERLIN- 23.2 (2003): 285-312. P. 287.

Martin, James R., and Peter RR White. The Language of Evaluation. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality and literacy : the technologizing of the word. London ; New York, Methuen.


[i] See Green, John Richard. Theatre in ancient Greek society. Routledge, 2013 for a description of differences in theatre culture.

[ii] Accessed 24 April, 2013

[iii] Accessed 24 April 2013

The Club Scene: The Influence of George Eliot’s novel “Daniel Deronda” on the creation of the modern Jewish State




The Club Scene: The Influence of George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda” in the History of the Proto-Zionist Movement

By James Trevor Jackson

Abstract: This essay explores one very significant but for the most part forgotten milestone in the history of Zionism: the publication in 1876 of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and the nearly simultaneous publication of one section of the novel, nicknamed The Club Scene, that was widely disseminated in numerous periodicals throughout Europe. The Club Scene, informed by Charles Darwin’s recent publications as well as a much older tradition of racial theory, was a fictional depiction of a meeting of ‘The Philosopher’s Club” whose characters, particularly Mordecai, a Jewish mystic, suggested an intriguing new way of looking at the relationship between Christians and European Jews. It suggested a much more secular connection than had been widely envisioned before, downplaying religion as a sole motivating force for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the east, and putting forward a joint restoration project that emphasized kindred races rather than kindred religions.


Most in-depth historical accounts of nineteenth century Zionism give acknowledgement to Daniel Deronda (1876) as being one of the most influential pieces of literature, and certainly the most influential piece of fiction, within the various strands of the proto-Zionist movement in the second half of the nineteenth century. It details the life of a young British aristocrat who learns that he is of Jewish birth, and as a result goes through a profound conversion of identity, more racial than religious, that inspires him to sail off to Palestine at novel’s end, ostensibly to lay the foundations for a new Jewish state. The novel weighs-in at a hefty 800 pages or so, and was rarely if ever read from cover-to-cover by those who were most influential in the early movement. Years later, Theodor Herzl would scribble in his notebook, “I must read Daniel Deronda,”[1] and credited the book for being instrumental in inspiring his burgeoning movement, but there is no evidence that he actually read it, and all indications point to the probability that he didn’t.[2]


How could Daniel Deronda be so revered by so many when so few actually read it? One possible answer is that the main theme of the novel was well-encapsulated within a widely disseminated section of the novel nicknamed The Club Scene. It was this brief section which Herzl and many others were much more likely to have read in its entirety. Of more interest is the fact that The Club Scene’s central idea, namely race as a fundamental principle of social organization, is rarely discussed today in the same context as it was in 1876.


Daniel Deronda was written in a very particular sliver of time within the history of racial discourse. It was published five years after Darwin’s The Descent of Man, which brought race to the forefront of Victorian consciousness, yet a decade before the eugenics movement took any kind of firm hold, and several decades more before that movement  would transform into the more horrifying racial discourses of the twentieth century. The uninhibited nature of Eliot’s theories on race, informed by Darwin as well as a much older tradition, were unencumbered by the events of the next century, enabling her to explore racial issues in a way that would have been impossible shortly before and even more impossible shortly after. With a liberal agenda that now seems incongruent with its underlying assumptions of racial difference (assumptions our modern age has now, for the most part, discarded) the racial discourse in Daniel Deronda that would inspire many within the proto-Zionist movement of the fin de siècle and after has today become submerged in history’s ever-growing pile of obsolete ideas, many of which now strike many modern readers as puzzling and hard to integrate within the trajectory of subsequent developments.
A few months after the novel’s final publication (it had been released previously in serial form) George Eliot wrote to an old friend:


I have had some delightful communications from Jews and Jewesses both at home and abroad. Part of The Club Scene in D.D. is flying about in the Hebrew tongue through the various Hebrew newspapers which have been copying the ‘Magid’ in which the translation was first sent to me three months ago. The Jews naturally are not indifferent to themselves.[3]



The segment of the novel that was “flying about in the Hebrew tongue” describes a unique way of viewing Jewish nationalism that had not been fully conceived of before its publication in 1876. It was indeed flying about Europe, having been almost instantly translated into Hebrew and other languages and published in a wide variety of periodicals in different countries.


“Revive the organic center,” commands Mordecai, a sickly yet charismatic Jewish mystic who befriends Daniel, the novel’s main character. He is speaking to The Philosopher’s Club, a rag-tag group of working men who meet regularly in the smoky back room of The Hand and Banner to discuss philosophical and social issues of the day. The concept of racial organicity forms the basis of Eliot’s polemic in The Club Scene. Mordecai continues:

…let the unity of Israel which has made the growth and form of its religion be an outward reality. Looking toward a land and a polity, our dispersed people in all the ends of the earth may share the dignity of a national life which has a voice among the peoples of the East and the West – which will plant the wisdom and skill of our race so that it may be, as of old, a medium of transmission and understanding.[4]


The idea voiced here of a unified race’s wisdom and skill being planted, although outmoded today, conveyed a much more liberal agenda to Eliot’s first readers. Victorians were familiar with the idea that different races had different missions on earth, the Jewish race, as many believed, forming a central component of this organic racial whole.  Mordecai continues:

Each nation has its own work, and is a member of the world, enriched by the work of each. But it is true, as Jehuda-ha-Levi first said, that Israel is the heart of mankind, if we mean by heart the core of affection which binds a race and its families in dutiful love, and the reverence for the human body which lifts the needs of our animal life into religion…


The idea of the different races of man forming different parts of a human body, with Jews representing the ‘heart’ is a concept that can be traced back at least a thousand years to another Jewish philosopher, poet,  and racial theorist, Jehuda Ha-Levi who, in the 10th century, said Israel is “to other nation’s as the body’s heart”.[5]  Eliot quotes this brief remark a total of three times in her work[6], and it is the guiding principle of The Club Scene’s racial rhetoric.



While portraying Judaism as being the ‘heart’ of mankind, in relation to other racial organs, was not unique, Eliot offered an important and timely update to Ha-Levi by inverting the vast majority of pre-Darwinian religious thought (both Jewish and Christian)  which almost invariably represented “reverence for the human body” as a result of religion rather than a prior condition. It is literally within the human body, rather than through figurative poetics, that Mordecai locates the justification for Jewish nationhood:


“The heritage of Israel is beating in the pulses of millions; it lives in their veins as a power without understanding, like the morning exultation of herds; it is the inborn half of memory… Ours is an inheritance that has never ceased to quiver in millions of human frames.” [7]


When Eliot’s character Mordecai refers to the Jewish race as an ‘organic center’ and as being ‘a medium of transmission and understanding’ it would be more correct to place her in league with another of her contemporaries, the proto-Zionist and influential thinker Moses Hess,  rather than Francis Galton. In Rome and Jerusalem, fourteen years prior to Eliot’s novel, Hess wrote:

Humanity is a living organism, of which races and peoples are the members. In every
organism changes are continually going on. Some, quite prominent in the embryonic
stage, disappear in the later development. There are organs, on the other hand, hardly
noticeable in the earlier existence of the organism, which become important
only when the organism reaches the end of its development. To the latter class of
members of organic humanity…belongs the Jewish people.[8]
Years later, in 1901, Theodor Herzl would say of Hess and Rome and Jerusalem: “What an exalted noble spirit! Everything that we have tried is already in his book…. Since Spinoza, Jewry has brought forth no greater spirit than this forgotten Moses Hess.”[9]

While religion certainly plays a role in the discussion of The Club Scene, it is kindred races sharing a common, eastward-bound project that is the emphasis of this evening’s meeting. Mordecai passionately outlines his vision of European Jewry and British Gentility uniting, as ‘a race and its families’ in a common quest to reclaim the Holy Land. In emphasizing reverence for the racial body as a prior condition to religion,  The Club Scene offers an important update to the earlier millenarian, or conversion projects which some believed would be instrumental in heralding the Second Coming. Gideon, one of the other philosophers in the club, downplays these well-worn ideas. He tells Mordecai:

I know you don’t hold with the restoration of Judea by miracle, and so on; but you are as well aware as I am that the subject has been mixed with a heap of nonsense both by Jews and Christians. And as to the connection of our race with Palestine, it has been perverted by superstition till it’s as demoralizing as the old poor-law. The raff and scum go there to be maintained like able-bodied paupers, and to be taken special care of by the angel Gabriel when they die. It’s no use fighting against facts. We must look where they point; that’s what I call rationality. The most learned and liberal men among us who are attached to our religion are for clearing our liturgy of all such notions as a literal fulfillment of the prophecies about restoration, and so on.[10]

In 1876, these sentiments were widely shared by the reading public — both Jewish and Gentile, the majority of whom were looking with growing skepticism on religiously motivated restoration projects, such as those advocated by The London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews, which after decades had proven to be a dismal and embarrassing failure.[11]Mordecai’s vision, as depicted in The Club Scene, offered a newly-conceived secular component which certainly welcomed the continuing cooperation of both Jewish and Christian religious factions, yet firmly rejected conversion, replacing it with the principle of racial separateness:  “I say that the effect of our separateness will not be completed and have its highest transformation unless our race takes on again the character of a nationality.”[12] Mordecai insists. This was an important update which placed the Jewish race prior to the Jewish religion, and Jewish nationhood prior to ‘its highest transformation’. The Philosophers are silenced, while Daniel, a guest at the meeting, listens intently.

Within the novel’s plot, Daniel’s Jewish birth, combined with his aristocratic English upbringing, make him the perfect fictional embodiment of a new sort of messiah to carry out Mordecai’s vision. With the racial credentials of a Jew and the social credentials of a refined British aristocrat, It is Daniel whom Mordecai looks to for the hybrid leadership necessary for the shared, eastward-bound, nationalist project that the novel ends with.


‘Blood’, ‘Race’, and Nationalism

In looking at how race as a justification for nationhood was uniquely depicted in The Club Scene, it is helpful to understand the rapidly evolving meaning of the word ‘race’as it was commonly used in 1876. It needs to be distinguished from how it was used before Darwin’s publications and also needs to be examined in conjunction with the much older, and significantly overlapping word ‘blood’, which is also frequently used in The Club Scene  and throughout the novel.


Before Darwin, the everyday usage of the words ‘blood’ and ‘race’ both harkened backwards in time. To the average Victorian, they were both words that were most often used to describe ancestry as opposed to progeny.  One spoke of ‘blood’ to describe components of personal and group identity in relation to the past.  Quite frankly, futurity was simply not a burning topic prior to the second half of the nineteenth century: it became more so after Darwin’s theory on natural selection was widely transmitted,  and even more so with his later theory on sexual selection, which confronted human evolution, past and future, much more directly. The etymology of the word ‘blood’ is deep and wide, and disappears with its myriad signifiers into the primordial ooze of ancient tongues that were precursors to the English language. The word ‘race’, however, as it is understood today, is a much more modern concept.Charles Darwin had been instrumental in grafting the notion of futurityonto the word ‘race’ with the publication of The Descent of Man, in 1871, along with the idea that we were, as a species, somewhere in the middle of an evolutionary trek that must be measured in millions, or billions of years, rather than the five thousand-or-so years of the Judeo-Christian myth.


To this day, futurity is still not an attribute normally associated with the word ‘blood’. Although both words are capable of conveying notions of kinship, ‘blood’ was a word which George Eliot understood in a manner relatively consistent with our own understanding today. In terms of kinship, it still primarily denotes ancestry, social class, and personal characteristics inherited from previous generations. The distinction between forward and backward-looking human evolution, as depicted as a theme in Daniel Deronda, is important not only in relation to Eliot’s now outdated notions concerning the Jewish race, but also in terms of the emerging scientific perspective which encompassed it. The novel was published in its final form seventeen years after Darwin’s The Origin of Species, but only five years after The Descent of Man. Readers had had ample time to consider Darwin’s first publication (which omitted any lengthy discussion of mankind) and to begin to absorb its immense implications within the stream of their previous knowledge of natural history. In doing so, Victorians began to make some rather novel connections between their religious and ethical beliefs and the nature of their ethnic identity, as viewed on an evolutionary scale. This was a profound shift on many levels, of course, but enough time had passed  between The Origin of Species and Daniel Deronda for Darwin’s ideas to become a familiar subject to most literate Victorians, as well as to begin inspiring other discourses and precipitating what would become a slow but certain reorganization of many branches of human knowledge. In the Origins wake came ideas that were both commonly disseminated and that had a profound effect on how the word ‘race’ was understood, as well as what sorts of issues were associated with it in the educated Victorian mind.
The Descent of Man, Darwin’s second book on the subject of evolution, was a text in which the notion of futurity was much more apparent than his first, and which discussed human futurity, specifically: In The Origins, Darwin hinted: “…we may safely inferthat not one living species will transmit its unaltered likeness to a distant futurity,”[13]   This was unsettling news. Twelve years later, in The Descent, he is more blunt: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races…”[14]  The cataclysmic possibilities resulting from the attempted social control of racial difference were slowly emerging in a process that would take several decades longer to play itself out on the world stage.
The Descent of Man confronted issues that were obviously related to natural selection with regards to man’s own evolution (a feature that Origins noticeably lacked). The budding notion of man’s control over his own evolution, creating a new set of anxieties which would soon inspire its own lexicon of terminologies having to do with different concerns related to sexual selection and race, but preceding  this scientific and social restructuring, a linguistic shift occurred, and the word ‘race’ took on much more social significance than it had before. No longer understood solely in the sense it was immediately perceived in The Origin of Species, that is, of the human race as opposed to monkeys or turtles, ‘race’ denoted the idea of  human subspecies: the ‘civilized races’ versus the ‘savage races’. The update instilled much greater significance to the fact that  “subspecies’ could be understood to be capable of ‘interbreeding’.


While this may have been realized by many before, its implications for the future of different races was not something that had been dwelt upon as it was in the decades after Darwin’s publications, when it would become a preoccupation of many. The understanding conveyed by the word ‘blood’, denoting the past, was not the focus of this shift. It was ‘race’, denoting the future, that would capture and preoccupy the Victorian imagination. ‘Race’, with its accompanying notion of futurity, became the source of great anxiety, and the significance of ‘interbreeding’ between other races – such as ‘the Jewish race’ – a distinction being made increasingly by both Jewish and Christian authors, would begin to take on scientific as well as social significance that had not existed before.


It was in uniting the principles of racial organicity and futurity that Eliot inspired both Christian and Jewish Zionists. The reason The Club Scene was embraced with such fervor, rather than the novel as a whole, was because it offered a succinct description of common ideological ground on which a wide coalition of both Christians and Jews of all social classes could join forces on a project that differed significantly in its ideological underpinnings from any implemented before. Uniting Jews and Christians in this unique manner was difficult neither emotionally nor intellectually, nor did it involve the need to fully absorb a hefty Victorian novel like Eliot’s (or any other text) although it was within such a text that these ideas were fully conceived and elaborated.

Where Money, Land, Race, and Religion Met

In September of 1876, soon after the novel’s publication, Eliot began corresponding with a man named Haim Guedalla. Guedalla was the nephew of Moses Montefiore, one of the wealthiest Jews of the 19th century, who had long been associated with attempts at establishing and funding communities in Palestine. Guedalla had previously travelled to the Middle East with Montefiore on a diplomatic mission involving Moroccan Jews that had the backing of the British government.[15] He  was well-versed in middle eastern politics and eminently well connected with the aristocratic Jewish community that included not only his uncle Moses, but Montefiore’s other relatives, the Rothschilds, who had recently had a significant hand in financing the British Empire’s push east, by loaning the government the  necessary funds for a 44% stake in the Suez Canal,  and who would later be instrumental in financing the first forays of the New Yishuv into Palestine.

A frequent contributor to the Jewish press, Guedalla was also, in 1876,  the chairman of the Turkish Bondholders of the General Debt of Turkey; a group to whom the Ottoman Empire was heavily leveraged in debentures. Two letters were exchanged between Guedalla and Eliot. In the first exchange, Guedalla thanked her, on behalf of the Jewish community, “for having represented us in so favorable a light and in so attractive and scholarly a manner before the world.”  His letter also contained a pamphlet he had written which outlined the possibility of swapping land that could be used for Jewish settlement in return for canceling the Ottoman debt that his group controlled. He described to Eliot “a vision of Syria again in the hands of the Jews.”[16]

Eliot wrote back, “it is a deeply felt encouragement to me, that at the date you mention, last winter, when I happened to be writing precisely that scene at the club, your practical judgment was occupied with projects not in disagreement with my conceptions.”[17] This implied endorsement, from such a prominent figure as Eliot, for the idea of outright purchase was enough to motivate Guedalla to try to turn the brief correspondence into a public relations coup. He answered her letter immediately, asking if he could send a copy of her letter to The Jewish Chronicle, along with his original pamphlet describing the potential of an Ottoman land-for-debt swap, and also included with it the Hebrew translation of The Club Scene.This was the same translation that Eliot would later refer to as ‘flying about in the Hebrew tongue.’It was Guedalla who had commissioned the translation of The Club Scene and had it published in the Magid, from where it spread.
Why was somebody of Guedalla’s millieu so interested in seeing the idea of swapping debt-for-land, along with a Hebrew translation of The Club Scene in print, together with Eliot’s implied endorsement of his idea? Guedalla was prescient in realizing early on the possibility of a large-scale buyout of Palestinian land. With his family connections, and as chairman of the Turkish Bondholders of the General Debt of Turkey, he had considerable influence within the Jewish community and wrote several letters concerning the idea in The Jewish Chronicle and other publications. The idea, however, while attracting a great deal of attention within the Jewish community, had not attracted the support that Guedalla had hoped — a point of great frustration for him.  At that time, Jewish settlement in the east was an issue marked by the infighting of different factions in different communities with different goals and different motivations.  The movement, although potentially well-funded,  lacked a cohesive vision. Guedalla had the foresight to see that with Eliot’s notoriety attached, The Club Scene, with its newly-conceived theme of racial rather than religious cohesion,could provide that vision.

Unbeknownst to Eliot,Guedalla had already tried to link Daniel Deronda to his visions of colonization in a previous letter to the Jewish Chronicle, two months earlier, in July of 1876.  “The matter is not as visionary as many seem to imagine,” he wrote, and noted that Eliot had “eloquently sketched out a new Judea, poised between East and West, a covenant of reconciliation…”[18]  His usage of the word ‘visionary’ needs qualification. Eitan Bar-Yosef notes that “throughout most of the nineteenth century, projects concerning the Jewish restoration to Palestine were continuously associated with charges of religious enthusiasm, eccentricity, sometimes even madness—all of them categories of differentiationwhich located Christian Zionism beyond the cultural consensus.”[19]  What Eliot offered within her novel was a vision that could very well reside within “the cutural concensus” Guedalla and others were trying to promote. Participants within Eliot’s formulation could choose for themselves what admixture of race and religion this “covenant of reconciliation” contained: a racial reconciliation; as viewed from the perspective of the budding social and scientific discourses of the age, was an idea not inconsistenent with the premillenarianists’ religious fervor, yet also attracted the interest of a much larger segment of the population who might have political or social motivations unconnected with the “eccentric” motivations of other proto-Zionist groups, past and present. In short, the ideas contained in The Club Scenebridged the gap not only from the past to the future, but as Guedalla suggested in his letter to the Jewish Chronicle, also that between “the sphere of prophecy to the sphere of practical politics…” [20]


Eliot subsequently rejected Guedalla’s request to have her letter publsihed with his other promotional materials, but twelve years later, he would still be glowing from his brief correspondence with her. Years after her death,  In 1888, in the introduction to another pamphlet entitled “Jews and Christians” he wrote, “The club scene in Daniel Deronda  was most ably translated for me into Hebrew by the Editor of the Magid within a few days of its appearance in English, to the great delight of George Eliot as conveyed to me.”[21]
The Club Scene resonated more with political rather than religious proto-Zionists. Yet it  cannot be called a politcal manifesto simply because it suggested no concrete political action. Indeed, one of the most persistent criticisms of the novel is how it ends with the hero and his Jewish bride sailing off to Palestine without the vaguest indication of what they are actually going to do there, though it is clear their designs are nationalistic. [22]  Near the end of the novel, Daniel says of his plans, “I am going to the East to become better acquainted with the condition of my race. “ It is important to note here that his interest is in the condition of his ‘race’, not religion. His formal religious conversion to Judaism, while obligatory to the functioning of the novel’s plot (he needed to convert in order to make his marriage to Mordecai’s sister valid) transpired with almost comical rapidity, as did his preparatory lessons in Hebrew. Daniel’s conversion of identity is, aside from these obligatory details, entirely racial. Daniel continues:

The idea that I am possessed with is that of restoring a political existence to my people, making them a nation again, giving them a national center, such as the English have, though they too are scattered over the face of the globe. That is a task which presents itself to me as a duty; I am resolved to begin it, however feebly. I am resolved to devote my life to it. At the least, I may awaken a movement in other minds, such as has been awakened in my own.[23]

Eliot ironically equates the Jewish diaspora with the English, who were, at that time, ‘scattered over the face of the globe’ for glaringly different reasons. Yet, by suggesting a diasporic bond between Jew and English Gentile, she managed to transcend the many earlier bonds of kinship based on highly unstable and constantly evolving religious values. Here, Eliot is concerned only with ‘race’, ‘political existence’, and ‘a national center’, leaving it to future writers to work out the details of these elements in the relationship that would emerge and develop in the coming decades. Mordecai envisions this new national center as “a neutral ground for the East as Belgium is for the West,” yet never details how this utopian national existence will be conceived.  “Difficulties?” Mordecai continues, “I know there are difficulties. But let the spirit of sublime achievement move in the great among our people, and the work will begin.”[24]


In 1876, what the budding movement required more than anything else was a larger number of supporters within the middle ground of English and European society. Clearly, religious fervor for an eastern adventure would not provide a strong enough motivation to transform European popular opinion on the prospects for a Jewish homeland, and Eliot wisely does not provide the details for one.  A shift in how race was perceived – specifically, the concept of kindred races with a shared destiny was, in 1876, a fresh idea that could be woven seamlessly into the many other strands of Jewish, as well as Christian communal feeling with remarkable ease: strands that existed in different admixtures in different communities and that were partially embraced by some individuals, wholly discarded by others, throughout eastern as well as western Europe. Strands of Jewish identity — religious, ethnic and national – were rapidly transforming and also growing much more complex throughout Europe. Different political and social situations were effecting different Jewish communities in different ways in different countries. Restoration was something that was widely discussed in different communities with different outlooks and often very little consensus between them. A joint pilgrimage such as the one suggested in The Club Scene could include or discard any of the other underlying motivations according to the particular preferences of any individual or group, yet retain the crucial element of race which Mordecai trumpets repeatedly to his fellow philosophers in The Hand and Banner.Untainted by the genocidal ideologies that were to come decades later, these were fresh new ideas that Jew as well as Gentile, from the slums of eastern Europe to the upper echelons of English society, could rally around together. It is not difficult to see why Guedalla wanted his latest pamphlet published in the same light as these new ideas, authored by such a prominent and influential figure as Eliot.


In 1876, the idea of controlling our own racial evolution was very much apparent in The Club Scene when Mordecai concludes:

The divine principle of our race is action, choice, resolved memory. Let us contradict the blasphemy, and help to will our own better future and the better future of the world – not renounce our higher gift and say, ‘Let us be as if we were not among the populations;’ but choose our full heritage, claim the brotherhood of our nation, and carry into it a new brotherhood with the nations of the Gentiles. The vision is there; it will be fulfilled.”[25]



[1] The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, ed. Raphael Patai, trans. Harry Zohn (New York, 1960), 5 vols. 1:72. Cited inShlomo Avineri, ‘Theodor Herzl’s Diaries as a Bildungsroman’,  Jewish Social Studies. Volume: 5. Issue: 3. 1999, 19.

[2]Ibid, 19

[3] Gordon S. Haight, ed., The George Eliot Letters, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1954-55) Vol. 6 p 321

[4] George Eliot,  Daniel Deronda (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) 454, Questia, Web, 25 Jan. 2011.

[5] Quoted in: Brenda McKay, George Eliot and Victorian Attitudes to Racial Diversity, Colonialism, Darwinism, Class, Gender, and Jewis Culture and Prophecy (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2003) 84

[6] Ibid

[7]  Deronda  P. 458

[8] Moses Hess, Rome and Jerusalem A Study in Jewish Nationalism, Trans. Meyer Waxman (New York: Bloch Publishing Co.,) 1918

[9] Theodor Herzl, Complete Diaries, Raphael Patai, ed. ( 5 vols., 1960), entry for 2 May 1901, 3:1090.” Cited in Moses Hess, and Melvin I. Urofsky, The Revival of Israel: Rome and Jerusalem, the Last Nationalist Question trans. Meyer Waxman, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), xvi,

[10] Deronda  P. 455

[11] See Eitan Bar-Yosef, The Holy Land in English Culture (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005).

[12]Deronda, P. 456

[13]  Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species ed. Gillian Beer, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 395,

[14] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, August 2000 [Etext #2300], retrieved on January 22, 2011.

[15] See David Littman ‘Mission to Morocco’ in The Century of Moses Montefiore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) 171-239

[16] Gordon S. Haight, ed., The George Eliot Letters, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1954-55) Vol. 6 pp. 288-289

[17] Ibid

[18] Jewish Chronicle, 21 July 1876, 251. Cited in Eitan Bar-Yosef, The Holy Land in English Culture 1799-1917, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007)

[19] Holy Land, p. 184

[20] Chronicle, Ibid

[21]Haim Guedalla, Introductory notes to Jews and Christians, Princess Nathalie Gortschakoff-OuvaroffLondon : Darling  &Son. Limited, 1888 from Accessed January 22, 2011.

[22] See for instance Henry James, “Daniel Deronda: A Conversation”, Atlantic Monthly (December 1876), xxxviii, 684-94, repr. In David Carroll (ed.) George Eliot: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971), 423, 417.

[23]Deronda, 688

[24]Deronda, 456-457

[25] Deronda,  459

Some Thoughts Regarding ‘Theory of Mind’ in Jane Austen’s Early Letters and Their Influence on Pride and Prejudice

Some Thoughts Regarding ‘Theory of Mind’ in Jane Austen’s Early Letters and Their Influence on Pride and Prejudice

Trevor Jackson

In her earliest existent letter, dated January 9, 1796, a twenty year-old Jane Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, the following:

You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend [Tom Lefroy] and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself, however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. But as to our having ever met, except at the three last balls, I cannot say much; for he is so excessively laughed at about me at Ashe, that he is ashamed of coming to Steventon, and ran away when we called on Mrs. Lefroy a few days ago[i](My italics).

I have italicized the second half of the last sentence to underscore what I see as a subtle, yet remarkably complex manner of communication that I believe would fall under the heading of what many today would term Theory of Mind (or ToM) a term originating in the cognitive sciences but which has lately shared significance with the humanities and has become a popular subject in some branches of literary criticism, with noteworthy authors such as David Herman, Alan palmer, Lisa Zunshine and a growing list of others producing titles that detail the role of how the human mind and its inner-workings might shed some new significance on the fiction we read, the characters we keep track of, as well as the manner and extent to which those characters keep track of each other’s thoughts and actions within the novel.

In the dependent clause that concludes the paragraph, Austen is poking fun at her own social anxieties, which she spoke of more plainly in different contexts within a number of her later letters, and which would have been immediately understood by Cassandra in this instance as being of humorous intent. The form this brief parody takes involves assuming the imaginary powers of an omnipotent narrator:  one who is capable of knowing not only the thoughts, feelings and motivations of her friend Tom Lefroy[ii], (her ‘Irish friend’) but also relevant social information one socially embedded level up from him, that is, the supposed conversations held behind her back, in which her friend was ‘laughed at about me at Ashe’[iii]. She then presents this imagined content as factual information to Cassandra in the form of a brief parody concerning the sort of Theory of Mind (as we call it today) that they undoubtedly shared  a sizeable mental index of over the years they grew up together.

To illustrate the economy of this turn of phrase as well as some other noteworthy features within it, let me attempt to unpack all of the information contained here by showing (imperfectly, I am afraid) how an author of lesser ability than Austen might have conveyed the same information contained in the italicized clause above:

I was hoping to see my Irish friend, Tom Lefroy, when we went to visit his aunt, Mrs. Lefroy, a few days ago, but I was disappointed to find that he was not there when we arrived. I tried to think of a reason for why he was not there. Was it because he knew I was coming and he did not wish to see me, so he ran away, I wondered? I recalled that he had also not visited at Steventon, as well. The thought crossed my mind that the reason he had not visited Steventon, and was not there at Mrs. Lefroy’s when we visited, was because he was ashamed to see me. The reason he was ashamed, I imagined, must have been because his friends at Ashe laughed excessively at him after seeing us sitting together at the last ball. The reason they laughed excessively, I imagined, was because they thought that I was an inferior person for him to sit with. As a result of this feeling of shame that their laughter caused,  when Tom heard that I was going to be visiting at Mrs. Lefroy’s, he must have ran away to avoid the further embarrassment of continuing to be associated with me. [I know that in all likelihood none of this is true, however, and that there is probably a much more reasonable explanation for why he wasn’t there when we went to visit Mrs. Lefroy, so I really shouldn’t take my own thoughts about the reason for his absence, and what other people might think of me, very seriously].

I have bracketed the last sentence to indicate that there is nothing textually to suggest what I have presented as thought report directly in the original text.  However, the self-generated negation of her own social anxiety is very much implicit within the context of Jane’s pithier rendition, and this would have been immediately comprehended by Cassandra. Cassandra would certainly also have seen  that the information concocted by this omnipotent narrator that Jane had momentarily created was just another example of Jane’s biting wit, seen throughout her letters, and in this instance turned inward and aimed at her own social insecurities.  Specifically, Cassandra would have understood by its context that it was extremely unlikely that Tom Lefroy was truly laughed at Ashe (and that Jane somehow learned of the affront) or that he actually ran away in reaction to Jane visiting Tom’s aunt, Mrs. Lefroy. Rather, this was simply an example of playful conjecture, likely shared more often than we have direct evidence for, that they volleyed back and forth when trying to interpret other peoples’ actions and motives.  (And in fact, the same letter contains an addendum stating that Tom Lefroy paid a friendly visit to Jane later that afternoon).

Of course, the above attempt at unpacking everything conveyed in Austen’s original clause destroys the off-handed wit that she dashed it off with in half a sentence. The fleeting existence of her personal anxieties which are simultaneously dismissed using the vehicle of humour can hardly be reproduced by the method above.

Why, then, is this brief dependent clause of interest in relation to her novels?  I point it out, along with my lengthier and more awkward rendition of its contents, to shed light not only on the considerable quantity of information expressed in remarkably few words, but more importantly to suggest it as a fledgling and unpretentious example of a unique category of information, contained in all of her six novels, at least two of which she had reportedly already begun work on.[iv]  I think this clause reveals a tendency for the young Austen to concern herself with the unknown thoughts and actions of others in interesting ways; a predilection which she was busy developing, in her fiction, into a narrative mode that she not only utilised to expose character, but which she seamlessly integrated as a central feature within the movement of each of her plots.  A quick survey of her six finished novels does not lend an immediate refutation to this idea – all of them contain, as a central element to the functioning of each plot, the necessity of uncovering hidden information about the thoughts and feelings of central characters, embedded within the complexities of their respective social milieus. In each of the six novels, this information needs to be uncovered and successfully mediated in some way for the plot to progress to its conclusion. Misunderstandings and faulty intelligence abound and serve to propel each plot twist forward.  While a prolonged study may show that other authors conveyed the same sort of information I have dissected above, what made Austen unique, I think, is the manner in which she integrated this category of information within the plot structures of her novels.

With this theme in mind, I would like to suggest in what follows how Austen made a significant, and still largely unrecognized, contribution to the development of the novel by integrating a new layer of social as well as personal information, not only in the service of character development, which is obvious enough, but more importantly to the creation of plot structures that were uniquely capable of accommodating her characters’ development with the accompanying social and psychic accoutrements she appended in ways that were not apparent in any significant sense within the novel’s ascension before Austen.

Hidden Motives and ToM in Pride and Prejudice

Perhaps the simplest way to suggest how her representation of characters’ consciousness   was uniquely integrated into the workings of plot within her novels (as well as the missing information they came with) is to take a look at the novel which, we understand from Cassandra, Austen began working on shortly after this letter was written.[v]  Like the letter above, the first of chapter of Book II of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is also of interest for the ways two sisters (in this case fictional sisters) attempt to fill in missing information.

Before detailing the parallels, though, perhaps it is worthwhile to mention Austen’s friend Tom Lefroy again, as many have since argued that their brief acquaintance played a significant role in the sentiments later expressed in her novels. Exactly how their friendship, and the feelings she had for him, were integrated in her subsequent fiction is unfortunately not possible to retrieve with any great assurance.  Much later in life, though, after a long and illustrious political and legal career, Sir Thomas Lefroy confided to a nephew that he had been in love with Jane Austen. “It was a boyish, love,” his nephew quoted. [vi] Austen may very well have experienced a more potent form of the shared sentiment. In a letter written shortly after the one detailed above, she wrote:

Friday.-At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over. My tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea…There is a report that Tom is going to be married to a Lichfield lass.[vii]

The feeling of melancholy she reported in his absence may be echoed in a pivotal scene in Pride and Prejudice. The first chapter of Book II opens with a conversation between Elizabeth Bennet and her sister, Jane, which includes a discussion of the contents of a letter from a “friend,” Caroline Bingley, and ends with a narrative account of the growing familiarity the family enjoys with a new potential suitor named Wickham, whose friendly and easygoing manner is contrasted with Fitzwilliam Darcy, who appears to be the antagonist at this point in the plot – a signature entanglement of misunderstanding  and misinformation that will have to be straightened out before the plot can be resolved.

Some back story is necessary to put this conversation in its proper context. Towards the end of Book I,  A letter from Caroline Bingley arrives, containing the unexpected, and very unwelcome news that, “[t]he whole party have left Netherfield by this time, and are on their way to town; and without any intention of coming back again.” In the world of Regency-era marriage politics, this was devastating news for Jane, who by all accounts would not have been too far amiss in believing a proposal from Mr. Bingley had been imminent before the arrival of his sister’s letter.  Caroline’s letter continues:

I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three, of whom we shall deprive you.”

The two sisters immediately go to work at interpreting this important social data. The gullible Jane Bennet concludes: “It is evident by this,” added Jane, “that he comes back no more this winter.” The more hawkish Elizabeth fires back, “It is evident that Miss Bingley does not mean he should.”

The conversation that follows consists of a minute dissection of the thoughts, feelings, and hidden motivations of everyone involved in the matter, and every possible influence on Mr. Bingley’s decision to leave.  Elizabeth is blunt:

Miss Bingley sees that her brother is in love with you, and wants him to marry Miss Darcy. She follows him to town in the hope of keeping him there, and tries to persuade you that he does not care about you.”

Subsequent events will prove Elizabeth absolutely correct in her mind reading, but Jane responds

naively: “Caroline is incapable of wilfully deceiving any one; and all that  I can hope in this case is,

that she is deceived herself.”

The conversation continues with Elizabeth playing the hawk and Jane the dove. An enormous amount of social information is minutely examined; considerations of the hidden or otherwise unknown motives of not only the Miss Bingleys but also Miss Debourgh (who has been identified as a likely marriage partner of Mr. Darcy), Miss Darcy, Mr. Darcy and of course Bingley himself. An attempt is made to integrate all of these components in order to solve a puzzle from very limited amounts of information, and most of it provided by, what we suspect as readers and are later confirmed in our beliefs, to be from a very unreliable source (that is Caroline Bingley).

I have described this instance of mass-ToM in Austen’s novel in an attempt to illustrate a very important distinction between how Austen incorporates ToM and how earlier writers used it in a much more causal manner. The above plot twists that Caroline’s insincere letter introduces –Bingley’s unexplained absence, his sister Caroline’s obvious duplicity and unreliability concerning his disappearance, Jane’s despondency in the matter, and, centrally, Mr. Darcy’s as yet undetected but pivotal role in the matter, all contribute Elizabeth’s “long indulged” but “unavailing” ruminations on the whole conundrum , which in book II will form the central components of the plot’s movement forward, and ultimately the keystone to the plot’s multiple, yet remarkably symmetrical resolutions.

Why Is This Important?

Alan Palmer recently suggested:  “It could be, perhaps, that Jane Austen was the first great English novelist of social minds, just as she was the first of free indirect discourse. That sounds quite likely to me.” Many share his opinion, giving a prominent place to Jane Austen in the development of the representation of consciousness within the novel. However, by Jane Austen’s time, Theory of Mind, as it is described in contemporary cognitive science, and more recently in literary criticism, was certainly nothing new – as others are quick to point out.  Theory of Mind is visible in the writing of Aphra Behn, Miguel Cervantes, and arguably much earlier, as indicated in many passages of old English as studied by Monika Fludernik and others. Don Quixote, to take one example, was a picaresque novel which, arguably, incorporated the sort of cognitive structures noted above, equipping the reader with, among other tools, a window into the minds of Don Quixote’s and Sancho Panza’s minds as they fumbled along from episode to episode of their many adventures. However, this window offered little if anything in the way of plot development in a manner that could be said to be directly integrated with the representation of their inner selves.  This is not so in Austen.  For instance, the ‘intermental’ framework that Caroline Bingley’s duplicitous letter’s bring to the continuation of the plot at the end of Book I and the beginning of Book II of Pride and Prejudice  is an example of a unique device that can be uncovered in all of Austen’s plots. In contrast to the picaresque meanderings that the novel before Jane Austen was known for, the incorporation of Theory of Mind and its deep Intersubjectivity served as a means to explore new possibilities not only for the representation of consciousness, but for the development of possible new worlds in which those characters could interact. Jane Austen, then, created a new kind of plot that was capable of accommodating a new kind of person that could be narrated in such a way as to incorporate their inner lives with the outer world of the rapidly changing social milieu that Austen’s miniaturist representations portrayed.

Now that we have recognized, and are beginning to more fully describe, Jane Austen’s contribution to the representation of consciousness in the history of the novel, the next logical step, I believe, is to more fully explore what she did with this information about people’s minds that she uncovered and how this information was incorporated novelistically within the broader framework of her plots.  Taking Pride and Prejudice as an example, it is not enough that misunderstandings are serendipitously cleared up and true character (good or bad) revealed as a result. For Pride and Prejudice to reach its conclusion, a different variety of transformation in the main characters needed to take place: in uncovering the truth regarding Bingley’s disappearance, Elizabeth first needed to reject a marriage proposal, firmly stating her reasons, triggering a letter from Darcy which offers crucial information regarding the real state of affairs. She then must use this information to modify her own character in order to respond to appropriately. Symmetrically, Darcy must also receive and process information regarding Jane’s true feelings for Bingley, among other issues, acknowledging his own errors and modify his own character in the process as well. Rather than simple misunderstandings that must be cleared up in order to bring closure to a more conventional novel of the period,  the intermental material associated with the commonly used plot devices serves as a catalyst for personal change and the opportunity for a new kind of synergy in the novelistic depiction of interpersonal relations. The self at the conclusion of an Austen novel is a new kind of social figure, capable of a sort of interaction that had not been narrated in the same manner or to the same extent before Austen.

Does Austen’s brief dalliance with Tom Lefroy offer a bridge between art and life in the development of her uniquely emplotted Intersubjectivity? Like much in Austen’s personal life, making firm connections are often frustratingly difficult. It is possible that the emotions portrayed by the character of Elizabeth, and shared symbiotically by her sister Jane Bennet in response to Mr. Bingley’s disappearance at the end of Book I were somehow inspired by similar feelings of absence felt by Austen when Lefroy was whisked away from Austen by his family (it was apparently deemed a bad match for financial reasons).  The last surviving letter mentioning him, written two years after those quoted above, indicates that his aunt volunteered no information about him (reminding us again that the absence of information is a theme throughout Austen’s corpus). In a letter to Cassandra shortly after this visit she reports:

I was too proud to make any enquiries; but on my father’s afterwards asking where he was, I learnt that he was gone back to London in his way to Ireland, where he is called to the Bar and means to practise.

So ended an extremely rare instance of anything approaching concrete evidence of romantic love in Austen’s life, the absence of which may very well have propelled her plots forward a great deal more than any thoughts on its consummation, which would take up a great deal of the remainder of the nineteenth century novel.

[i] Austen, Jane . Jane Austen’s Letters To Her Sister Cassandra and Others, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library, 2012-07-13

[ii] Sir Thomas Langlois Lefroy, who would later serve as an MP as well as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.

[iii] Ashe was a village very close to Austen’s home at Steventon Rectory where balls were frequently held. Austen and Lefroy had many mutual friends whom they met there.

[iv] For reference, this letter was written in January of 1796. It is difficult to ascertain a definitive timeline for the commencement of her first three novels, but it appears by this time that she may have had a readable draft of an early version of Sense and Sensibility and had apparently started work on an early draft of Pride and Prejudice three months before, in October of 1796. Reports differ for her commencement of Northanger Abbey, either 1795, or 1798. Suffice it to say that there is ample evidence that she was actively engaged in writing novels at the time of this letter’s composition.

[v] See above for the timeline of the commencement of her first three novels.

[vi] Tomalin, C. (1997). Jane Austen: a life. P. 49 New York, Knopf: Distributed by Random House.

[vii] Letters, Letter 2