Looking At Jane Austen’s Love Through C.S. Lewis’ Eyes

Looking At Jane Austen’s Love Through C.S. Lewis’ Eyes

Chapter XXXIX of “The Exile” has a recovering Kitty Bennet breaking a trek up Oakham Mount in the forests covering the slopes of that ancient hump. As she munches on some dried fruit while listening to the noises of a forest in the height of a Hertfordshire summer, she begins to contemplate the nature of love.

That brought my writing to a sudden halt. Most of my readers and friends know that I tend to seek to understand the hidden discourse that runs through all of human activity and emotions. I do try to make my characters true humans rather than literary representations of idealized persons. And that urge forced me to sit back and seek to understand the nature of love

Blaine Sergent, with pulled-up leg, talks with his miner friends on the front porch of the company store on a Saturday pay-day morning. P V & K Coal Company, Clover Gap Mine, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky. (1946) (Dept. of the Interior, Solid Fuels Administration for War).

In the process, I found a remarkable treatise by C.S. Lewis—The Four Loves—which was published in 1960. Lewis “explored the nature of human love from a Christian and philosophical perspective.”[i] And, I began to see that a deeper reading of Jane Austen would reveal that she used the Four Lovesstorge, philia, eros, and agape—throughout her works. Austen certainly did not approach love from Lewis’ academic perspective. However, she did offer substantive examples of all four types of love.

Consider Pride and Prejudice (although, please pick your favorite from the Canon).

Storge: The Empathy Bond

This is love that finds its rationale through the liking of someone based upon familiarity—parent/child, and some siblings. Lewis noted that this was both natural and emotive: natural because it is present without coercion and emotive because it is the result of fondness due to familiarity. Thus, Jane “loved” Lydia because she was familiar with her…and she was not forced to care for her. In its opposite sense, Caroline Bingley may have borne Storge for Louisa…and even Charles…but she could never do so for Jane.

Philia: The Friend Bond

This is understood as the most likely bond between siblings. Yet, the Bennet daughters broke along age demarcations…with the older (Jane and Lizzy) forming a deep friend bond. The relationships between the other three could be held up as object lessons of dysfunction in philia. Mary was utterly isolated. Kitty was subjugated in an unequal relationship with Lydia.

The Greeks saw philia as a true friendship that explodes into the love (not romantic) that would be lasting and fulfilling. This deep, true friendship is, as Lewis noted even in 1960, almost non-existent in the modern world. Yet, Jane and Lizzy show philia. Darcy and Bingley may be close to a philia bond by the end of the book once they become more equal as Darcy evolves. However, for Darcy, the true philia bond is with Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Eros: The Erotic Bond

Now, the biggest difficulty is that the modern reader (2017) understands eros in the degraded sense which Lewis (1960) feared was becoming the connotation—hyper-sensuality and sexuality. Yet, for Lewis…and I believe Austen…eros was the true deep love that cemented the desire for one particular person as opposed to all others of that individual’s sexual focus. Lewis’ eros was not hedonistic…but rather experiential, deepening the bonds between two persons and elevating philia.

Now, eros was uncomfortable for the Regency writer…for exactly the same reason we have problems today. Austen lived her life in the midst of a maelstrom swirling around the Prince Regent. On top of that, writing conventions being what they were until the mid-20th Century, she could never have her characters experience anything more than a frisson when their hand accidentally brushed. But…when sparks flew…

Of the immortals, perhaps Darcy and Elizabeth were the closest to eros when they met and eventually courted. Jane and Bingley do not have an eros bond until later. But there is one pair which Austen holds up…and JAFF writer have continued in that tradition…Uncle and Mrs. Gardiner. Their philia has clearly evolved into the most powerful eros. We all hope that Lizzy and Jane—because of their closeness with the Gardiners—reach eros much like the elder couple.

And perhaps, like them, agape.

Agape: Unconditional Love

Christian mystic that he was, Lewis reserved agape for God. He averred that God offered unconditional love…a love that will always exist regardless of changing circumstances.

However, I believe that many of our great characters experienced agape; a love which remained deep and rich through thick and thin. Consider Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion. Their philia skipped eros and went straight to an agape that was proven through their separation. Aunt and Uncle Gardiner clearly have moved into agape.

One could argue that the entirely off camera couple Mr. George and Lady Anne Darcy had enjoyed agape on top of their eros. Austen puts this to use when she has Darcy fighting his youthful observations of that complete and unconditional love when he encounters the conflict between Elizabeth and duty. He has this shining example of the ultimate—much as Lizzy has the opposite in the form of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet—love in front of him, driving his inner turmoil.

As a final point, Austen also offers us at least two examples…and through inference, a third…of relationships in which there is no storge, eros or philia, let alone agape. These are seen as object lessons of what is to be held up in obloquy; loveless, opportunistic relationships. See the editorial commentary Austen provides about the marriages of Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, Charlotte and William Collins, and Lady Catherine and (the late) Sir Lewis DeBourgh.

Jane Austen assuredly provides us with a primer on the types of love. Her deeper hidden discourse, once perceived and understood offers a rich insight into the human condition her remarkable eye perceived.

Below I offer Chapter XXXIX of “The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque.” I have finished the novel (Part 1 of 2). I hope to release it by the end of May. Please stay tuned.

Chapter XXXIX

Longbourn Estate, Hertfordshire, July 21, 1892

The day had broken as most Meryton summer days had done when she was a child…or so they seemed to do. The mid-afternoon warmth caressed her in its verdant green waves, lulling her spirits with that languor that seemed to make time stand still. The buzz of grasshoppers whirring in the hayfields competed with gentle birdsong for Kitty’s attention as she strode purposefully along the path leading up the side of Oakham Mount.

Decades had passed since her feet had trod this specific trail, but it was clear that Lizzy and Mary’s successors, the new Bennets of Longbourn, had found the heights above the Mimram River valley to be a destination of choice. Now she herself had stepped away from the estate’s parlor and into the forest skirting the hump, not so much to escape Uncle Michael or Aunt Estelle as to regroup after today’s early morning session with Dr. Weisblatt, Freud’s London-based protégée.

Unconsciously shaking her head as she ascended through the oak forest, uncut this past 140 years, she silently marveled at the differences she had encountered in her hyphenated lifetime. The idea that she could rise early and catch a train from Meryton to the City, attend to a doctor’s appointment, and then return home shortly after luncheon would have been laughable when she had been a girl in 1811. Yet, here she was trekking up the side of this beautiful piece of England a scant three hours after having left Charing Cross Station.

With Michael collecting her at the Meryton platform, Kitty had made quick work of changing from her summer-weight travelling ensemble into clothing more suitable for a passage through brush and foliage ready to snag flowing cloth billows.

I can appreciate Mama’s despair with the wear and tear on Lizzy’s gowns. That girl was always prowling these woods. And, from what I read of Mary, she started coming up here immediately after the weddings. In fact, Papa told me she was up on the Mount the morning I left Longbourn. Imagine Mama’s surprise when her most serious daughter suddenly became a hoyden like Lizzy!

But, then again, imagine Mama’s reaction if she caught sight of me right now!

Kitty looked down at her tan jodhpurs tucked into knee-high brown leather boots. She had appropriated one of her uncle’s—I cannot call a 55-year-old Nephew—work shirts which hung down below her waist hiding her shapely hips which would have been otherwise dangerously visible in the tightly fitted pantaloons. A heavy canvas bush hat completed her ensemble.

The afternoon sun sent a thousand shafts of dust laden light through the canopy of arching oak branches. A trickle of sweat tickled her nose and reminded her to pause. After shrugging her dark green rucksack off her shoulders, she rummaged around inside the bag to find her canteen and a waxed bag of dried fruit. She perched atop an ancient log, ripped up by some long-ago storm that had overwhelmed its root system, finding the moss a convenient cushion.

As Kitty munched the fruit—Longbourn’s apples and pears taste as good today as when I was a child—and sipped water to wash down the bits and pieces which conspired to stick to her back teeth, she looked through the forest angling up from the gently sloping hillside. She imagined the peoples who had lived and died on these hills and in the valley throughout the thousands of years of the history that had shaped the region.

She recalled the stories Papa and Lizzy had told her of the history of the area: of how the Romans themselves moving away from their base in Londinium had pushed the Celtic peoples from Hertfordshire and established the first estates. While the ruins that graced the top of Oakham Mount were of more recent vintage, perhaps just 500 years old, Papa had told the girls that scholars from Cambridge had excavated around the foundations to discover more ancient artifacts. She could sense the shades of the settlers who farmed the manses and the legionnaires who defended them moving through the silent glens furrowing the flanks of the Mount.

These people called themselves Romans, but with the exception of the minutest proportion—governors and generals and later bishops and priests—few could ever lay claim to at least residence if not birth in that Imperial bastion south of the Rubicon.[ii] Most had migrated to Britannia from Gaul or Iberia. Yet, even though they had never seen Rome, they ascribed to those cultural norms that through a common agreement with their neighbors made them Romans.

Kitty mused about herself and her place in this modern world.

Am I not hoping to find that which, like those ancient Romans, establishes my place?

The process of introspection had become ingrained in her the deeper she analyzed those events and forces that had shaped her life. Such effort had become second nature to her. And in this place so near to her childhood home, yet so far separated from it by the Wardrobe, she stretched the boundaries of her consciousness to find her place in this world.

She had landed in Matlock House because she did not fit into the society of 1811. Oh, one could argue that if she had gone to seminary in Cornwall, she would have overcome the deficiencies of her lax upbringing in the shadow of Lydia’s bad behavior. But, in the end, educated in the ways of a provincial life, she would not have been suitable for anything but marriage to an obscure gentleman or a back-country parson. She would know nothing except that which reminded her that she should be grateful for the pittance she was given and the sufferance she was shown by the man who condescended to be shackled to her.

It was that word—shackled—that raised the hairs on the back of her neck. She snorted and shook her head startling a few birds that had settled on some saplings struggling in the shade of the towering oaks. For a man, a marriage was seen as a loss of freedom. Even now, most women did not gain any identity or currency without being married…and then in direct proportion to the position of her husband.

No wonder Caroline Bingley drove herself to distraction and illness in pursuit of Darcy. T’was not until she threw away those primitive notions and went to America that she became a woman in full.

The lack of agency endured by the women at both ends of the 19th Century irritated Kitty. Even Lizzy and Jane, married as they had been to men who had adored them, could still only have taken comfort in that love and have prayed that it did not fade. While she could not imagine Darcy or Bingley actually mistreating her sisters, she could easily see the distance that might grow between them once children had left the nest and looks had faded. Then the sad years would come as husbands wandered and wives pined, both moving in their own spheres, rarely intersecting with one another.

Now, in a Victorian world vastly different from the Regency one, although many women would justifiably argue that their sex had leagues to go before true equality, Kitty understood that she could negotiate her own space. This agency—admittedly fueled by her wealth—none-the-less could continue whether she remained unmarried or chose to wed. New laws protected her property. New technology opened the world up to her. Should she choose to be a bluestocking, she could earn an Oxbridge education.

Of all the words in the rich vocabulary of this weird amalgam of Celtic, Saxon, French and Norse tongues we call ‘English,’ the greatest for me is ‘choice.’ Consider that when I was growing up at Longbourn, the only options I believed I had were to listen to Mama and marry a redcoat. And, honestly, that was a forced choice, for now I know that her lessons were born out of desperation.

The last year had purified Kitty, had purged her of those dark streaks that had previously weakened her. This she felt—believed—to the core of her being. The innocent who willingly walked into the clutches of the devil last July died on that bed in the garret room under the eaves. In her place, phoenix-like, rose a woman knowing that the glories of true self grew out of never hiding in another’s shadow.

Happily enough, she had also learned to distinguish deeper human emotions. Of these, love had, when she was an adolescent, posed the greatest confusion for her. When Mama had pushed the girls forward, she was emphasizing a false sense of eros—sensuality and sex, base desire. Of course, that was what appealed to militia officers. False eros as an appeal to a mate pushed the frosting on the cake rather than the mix of flour, eggs and powder itself. This was lust and did not last and could be easily transferred from one target to another.

Witness the speed with which Wickham’s love for Lizzy and then Mary King proved inconstant. He found excitement in the idea of taking Lizzy’s body and Miss King’s wealth. If anything, this was an expression of self-love at its foulest.

Eros in its purest sense was unalloyed pleasure—either individual or joint—by a couple desiring only the other. Through eros, that deep and wonderful sharing, the closest bond two people could hope to achieve, their mutual love is deepened and enriched. Yet, eros can lead to dark places and can, like all heightened sensual experiences, lead to addiction—Wickham and Winters—or a profound dissatisfaction if eros cools.[iii]

There was yet another love which transcended all: agape.

Yet, what she was beginning to sense and what she had come to believe that Lizzy, Jane, Mary and, ultimately Lydia, at least with the General, had discovered was agape—that unconditional love which prevails throughout changing circumstances.

She saw agape in the touch of Monsieur’s hand on Madame’s shoulder as he passed through the kitchen at the Château. Agape brightened Maggie’s eyes as she watched Jacques puffing away on his pipe while patching a harness. And Caroline Anne Cecil bundled her agape for her little son and her husband as she watched Lord John struggle to chase down the two-year-old flying across Larchmont’s lawns.

The agape borne for her by those around her had laved her injured soul and had healed her. From Ellie to Aunt Elaine, from the Renoirs to Maggie and Jacques, she had been saved by agape.

And, now she would save herself…and him…again.

Swiftly standing, Kitty brushed the seat of her jodhpurs clean of moss, repacked her ruck and moved back down the slopes of Oakham toward Longbourn and beyond.

[i] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Four_Loves for a discussion of Lewis and love.

[ii] That river lying across the Italian peninsula that traditionally served as the northern boundary of metropolitan Rome. Julius Caesar violated a protocol of the Roman Republic when he brought his legion south of the river into metropolitan Rome. That initiated a civil war. Hence the phrase “Crossing the Rubicon” which means taking an irrevocable action.

[iii] Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves (Geoffrey Bles, Belfast, 1960), p. 108-133.

12 Responses to Looking At Jane Austen’s Love Through C.S. Lewis’ Eyes

  1. Between your words, Don, and Regina’s I do believe I have learned my something new to reflect upon today. Very interesting and intriguing. I do appreciate the lesson for today.

    • SLM….thank you for your note. I realized that I needed to have Kitty overcome the skewed outlook on love which she learned at her mother’s knee. I hope you take a look at The Bennet Wardrobe series. “The Keeper” is Volume 1 and is already out. “The Exile” will be available on June 2.

  2. Interesting post, Don. I’ll have to pay even more attention to Austen’s works. Personally, I would also add Lydia and Wickham’s marriage to the loveless. Both, I think, truly loved only themselves. Lydia was attracted to Wickham, but his lack of regard for her would probably kill any feeling she had for him. I could see her looking elsewhere for companionship.

    As to your excerpt, am I understanding correctly that Kitty would be around 98 years of age on July 21, 1892? I’ll admit that my curiosity has been aroused by this bit from ‘The Exile’ and look forward to more.

    Thank you for your post.

    • Hi Gianna…

      Thank you for your kind words about the post.

      As for Miss Kitty…she was 17 in 1811…and 17 in 1886. “The Exile” (I think will hit the system by the end of the month, if not sooner. Janet Taylor is working on the cover right now. The Exilr is Volume 2 of The Bennet Wardrobe Series. “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey” is Volume 1. A New Cover version should be available by the end of the week. Janet Taylor designed. Rolling out the cover reveal in JustJane1813 on Tuesday.

      • Ah, that’s what I get for not getting familiar with your books before reading this post. 🙂 You ARE into time travel. That’s does make a big difference. From info I’ve read, you incorporate quite a bit of history in your books. I can see where that could make them quite interesting. I’m beginning to incorporate actual history into some of my books as well. And I’ve thought about doing just straight historical fiction/romance at some point. I’ll just have to wait and see. At the moment, I’m still in love with P&P Variations.

        • For non-time travel, check out the paired novels “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.” I try to keep my historical foray’s relevant. See Henry Wilson’s PTSD episode in Hyde Park when Kitty is injured. He flashes back to the awful winter retreat by the British Army at Corunna in 1809. The intrigue of Congress of Vienna/post-Waterloo Europe sets the stage for the plot action…but is there like a backdrop in a stage play. Anytime you want an historical consult…as long as it is Europe post 1789.

  3. Great post. I never thought of the different types of love before in relation to Jane Austen’s works. Thank you for sharing your insight and for the excerpt. I look forward to reading more.

    • Welllll…if you are looking at “reading more,” I am releasing “The Keeper” by this Friday with a brand new cover look (by Jan Taylor). AND…”The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque” should be available by the end of the month. May offer “Henry Fitzwilliam’s War” free so folks can get set up for “Exile.”

  4. Excellent post, Don. The types of love in relation to Pride & Prejudice was interesting and informative. Your thoughts give insight and make me think. I like that.

    Regina, I enjoyed reading your comments too. Good food for thought.

    • Janet…Thank you. I find that a big part of the enjoyment I derive from my writing is the research I undertake to understand the nature of my characters and the environment through which they move. Appreciate your comments.

  5. RJ….These are remarkable amplifications…and most apt…given that Austen was the child of a rector. I wonder what the Reverend Mr. Austen’s approach to his congregations may have been.

  6. I like to look at all sides of these type of principles. What do you think of this? Questions.org, tells us…The ancient Greek language had four words to describe different types of love: agape, phileo, eros, and storge. Only two of these Greek words are used in the New Testament, agape (self-sacrificial love) and phileo (brotherly love).

    A third type of love, eros, expresses sexual love, but the word is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. The fourth Greek word for love is storge, which relates to natural, familial love such as the love between a parent and child. In the New Testament, the negative form of storge is used twice. Astorgos means “devoid of natural or instinctive affection, without affection to kindred.”

    Romans 1:31 describes sinful humanity as having “no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.” The Greek word translated as “no love” is astorgos. The other instance of this word is found in 2 Timothy 3:3, where it is translated “without love.” Paul warns that one mark of the “terrible times in the last days” (verse 1) is that people will lack natural love for their own families.

    In Romans 12:10 we find an interesting compound: philostorgos is translated as “be devoted.” The word combines philos and storge and means “to cherish one’s kindred.” Believers in Christ, children of the same heavenly Father, are to “be devoted to one another in love.” As part of God’s family, we should show loving affection toward each other and be prone to love. Philostorgus is used only once in the New Testament, and that’s in Romans 12:10.

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