Sunday, January 24, 2021

Lady Russell, Mr. Woodhouse, and theory of mind in Jane Austen

When Sir Walter Elliot in Jane Austen's "Persuasion" determines to let Kellynch Hall and live elsewhere to save money, his friend Lady Russell would prefer he go to Bath rather than London: "Lady Russell was fond of Bath [...], and disposed to think it must suit them all". That is, she assumes that others share her preferences. An Austenian character with a more extreme form of this "disposition" is Mr. Woodhouse in "Emma", who "could never believe other people to be different from himself." That is, Mr. Woodhouse lacks a "theory of mind" in the psychological sense of an ability to understand how others might have tastes that differ from his. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 January 2021)

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