October 25, 2010
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v2.1 Reference

Constancy and the Ethics of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park

What grounds our ethical choices in a modern world of competing versions of virtue and conflicting ideas of law? Constancy, Jane Austen's cardinal virtue, provides a foundation for making such choices. Constancy and the Ethics of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park offers a rigorous philosophical examination of the novel, the first book-length, close reading to do so.

Joyce Kerr Tarpley begins with an introduction that provides a background for reading Austen's ethics, noting her genius for synthesis, in particular her synthesis of ethical contexts. The book brings together classical thinkers (Plato and Aristotle) with Christian (Augustine, Aquinas, and Dante), and modern (Shaftesbury, Locke, and Adam Smith). While acknowledging these influences, Tarpley argues that constancy relies primarily on a Christian philosophical framework. She defines constancy and delineates its role in guiding ethical thinking.

Relying on textual evidence from the novel and focusing on Austen's heroine, Fanny Price, the first half of the book contrasts the Christian liberal education that fosters the development and practice of constancy with its secular utilitarian counterpart, which impedes its development and practice. The second half considers the two most important subjects for Christian liberal learning, beauty and truth. Tarpley delineates the dual role of constancy — moral and intellectual — to guide the heart's pursuit of beauty and the mind's pursuit of truth. Her argument contributes to the ongoing debate on the philosophy of literature, religion, ethics, and emotion.


Joyce Kerr Tarpley holds a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Dallas and teaches at Mountain View College in Dallas.


"Mansfield Park offers important philosophical insights, and Joyce Kerr Tarpley is quite right to see Jane Austen as a brilliant source for moral philosophy. Tarpley's focus on constancy as a virtue is excellent. This book offers a careful, thoughtful, and substantive contribution." —Anthony Cunningham, Professor of Philosophy, St. John's University

"Through a rich and lucid reading of Mansfield Park, Joyce Kerr Tarpley not only displays the facets of 'constancy' but opens up the breadth of Jane Austen's complex ethical reflections on education, beauty, and truth. Tarpley's remarkable comparison of Austen to Dante unveils a deeply religious novelist whose narratives conduct readers toward comfort, happiness, and a Christian consciousness, which is the end of constancy. A very satisfying study that abundantly justifies Alasdair MacIntyre's attention to Austen as both a novelist and a thinker of the first rank." —Peter Leithart, Senior Fellow of Theology, New Saint Andrews College

"Constancy emerges from Joyce Kerr Tarpley's study as a convincing moral, aesthetic, and epistemic virtue, tied to the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful. She also shows how Aristotelian and Christian understandings of virtue are woven into Jane Austen's ethical framework, revealing that precise, delicate complexity and lightness of touch that have led so many—conservatives, postmodernists, feminists, Marxists, theologians, and atheists—to find resonance with at least some strands of Austen's thinking. The insightful and careful analysis of constancy offered here does much to demonstrate Austen's status as a formidable virtue theorist in her own right and, at the same time, this book shows why Austen is and remains so beloved by contemporary professional philosophers. Constancy and the Ethics of Jane Austen's 'Mansfield Park' is likely to delight the Austen enthusiast, and also to serve as a resource and inspiration to those working in the growing field of virtue ethics." —Alice MacLachlan, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, York University

About the Author

Joyce Kerr Tarpley holds a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Dallas and teaches at Mountain View College in Dallas.

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$75.00 USD

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