Holy Saturday

After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes

by Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?
.
The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –
.
This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
.

Good Friday

The Passion According to St. John

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Image

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

The “Dignity and Vocation of Women” in the Life of Saint Edith Stein, Part Three

This is the third and final post in a series on how John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem illuminates Saint Edith Stein’s spirituality. Her devotion to the Cross and her unique perception of the privileged role of women in Christ’s passion is so beautiful.

You can read the earlier posts here:

Part One

Part Two

saint-teresa-benedicta-01Saint Edith Stein’s exploration of the feminine vocation in her writings is inseparable from her exploration of the human being as such, as both male and female. That is, she emphasizes the differences between the souls of men and women, as suggested above, and at the same time she offers an important insight into a common aspect of all human beings that is grounded in scripture. For her, the key to developing the human soul is to discover one’s unique gifts: “The parable of the talents refers to the unique gift given to each individual; the Apostle’s word describes the multiplicity of gifts afforded in the Mystical Body of Christ. The individual must discover his own unique gift.” She proposes that in men and women, “the same gifts occur in both, but in different proportions and relation.”[1]

This is a controversial statement to make by society’s standards today. We are searching for the true definition of equality, and many of us cannot reconcile our ideal with Stein’s “different proportions and relation.”  Personally I think this is very understandable: the notion that men and women are inherently different is not very popular because in the past (and even in the present) it has been used as an excuse to degrade and stereotype both sexes with destructive norms of “manliness” and “womanliness.” We cannot simply ignore this difficulty, and I do not think Edith Stein would want us to.

Nonetheless, John Paul II also emphasizes the important distinction between the gifts of men and women, but he insists that this distinction not only doesn’t take away the mutual dignity of the sexes, but rather constitutes it:

The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different. Hence a woman, as well as a man, must understand her ‘fulfillment’ as a person, her dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation and which she inherits as an expression of the ‘image and likeness of God’ that is specifically hers. (emphasis added) [2]

A woman’s “expression of the ‘image and likeness of God,'” according to Pope John Paul, is jp2andmother“specifically hers”–it is a special gift for all women, a particular way of reflecting who God is to the world. It is not the same expression of God’s image and likeness that men have been given–it is unique and carries within itself a special dignity.

This is very beautiful to me, but somewhat hard to understand concretely. I think that it can also be hard for many women to believe and trust in as well–especially those who have experienced the hurt of a vapid, idealized femininity stylizing itself as appropriate “gender roles” that in the end degrades women and limits our freedom. Isn’t it easier, in some ways, to insist on equality as being “sameness”–and to have done with all of this talk of “distinction,” “complementarity,” and “different but equal” (it does sound a lot like “separate but equal”)?

However, I think what John Paul II is trying to describe is a mystery that can be better understood when lived by a real person. Saint Edith Stein exemplifies the discovery of the special “expression of ‘God’s image and likeness'” in her cultivation of her gifts and unique “resources.” I especially admire her quick intelligence and hunger for truth, which motivated her to pursue her education even at the highest levels in a time when philosophical discourse at the university level was usually reserved for men. (Societal expectations of gender roles are thus not the standard she was interested in.) Her enthusiastic engagement with her own gifts and talents helped lead her to faith; her desire for the truth allowed her to recognize it in the biography of Saint Teresa of Avila—a discovery which allowed her to make a profound and courageous gift of self by converting to Catholicism and subsequently joining the Carmelite order, despite the suffering it caused her as a Jewish woman. Moreover, as a Carmelite she used her gifts in service to her fellow sisters, often in her writings on the saints and spirituality. You can see this best by reading her in her own words. Her perceptiveness and keenness flourished in the service of God.

Here is a brief example. Although Stein, like Pope John Paul II, emphasizes the differences between men and women and their gifts, she also insists upon the unity of their destiny—that it is in Christ that humankind, both male and female, is brought to perfection:

To belong to and serve God in love’s free surrender is the vocation of every Christian, not only of a few elect. Whether consecrated or not, whether man or woman — each one is called to the imitation of Christ. The further one continues on this path, the more Christlike he will become. Christ embodies the ideal of human perfection: in him all bias and defects are removed, the masculine and feminine virtues are united and their weaknesses redeemed; therefore, his true followers will be progressively exalted over their natural limitations. That is why we see in holy men a womanly tenderness and goodness and a truly maternal solicitude for the souls entrusted to them, while in holy women there is manly boldness, proficiency, and determination.[3] (emphasis added)

For Stein, “holy men,” the more they become like Christ, will exhibit feminine gifts, and “holy women” will similarly exhibit “manly” gifts. This idea is really fascinating–and, if we reflect on it for a while, true to our experience of the holiest people we know. There are members of my own family and personal acquaintance that seem to embody this mystery. The distinction that Saint Edith Stein and John Paul II insist upon is somehow caught up in a deeper union–a union achieved in Christ that does not ignore but rather exalts differences between men and women.bodyofchrist

That is, it is only in the unity and complementarity of man and woman that the destiny of the human race can be achieved by God’s grace. Both man and woman, insofar as they are conformed to Jesus Christ, can embody “the ideal of human perfection”—since in Christ “all bias and defects are removed, the masculine and feminine virtues are united and their weaknesses redeemed.”

Her words do not necessarily eliminate all confusion, and they certainly do not make the mystery any easier to swallow. But getting to know her in her life and writing is the most convincing to me.

Just as Stein locates the perfection of men and women in Christ, Pope John Paul the II locates it in the very life of the Holy Trinity–in the mystery of God Himself:

The fact that man ‘created as man and woman’ is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a ‘unity of the two’ in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life. … This ‘unity of the two’ which is a sign of interpersonal communion, shows that the creation of man is also marked by a certain likeness to the divine communion (‘communio’). This likeness is a quality of the personal being of both man and woman, and is also a call and a task.[4]

The communion of men and women is a reflection of the communion of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Go back and reread the above excerpt from Mulieris Dignitatem again, slowly. It is not only a beautiful image, but it is a challenge to all of us in our relationships with one another. I think John Paul is also referencing St. Paul here– he says something somewhere about God being the source from which all human families are named.

Some of my friends have asked me that if it is true that both men and women reflect the communion of the Holy Trinity, then where is “the feminine” element in God? Many people seem bothered by the fact that God is always referred to in the Church as a “He”–when of course he is beyond our sexual categories. Is it therefore appropriate to think of the Holy Spirit as “feminine,” in order to include our masculine and feminine human communion in our concept of the Trinitarian life?

I do not think this is appropriate, since such a gesture reverses the actual anagogical (not analogical!) meaning of communion as proceeding from God and then to us human beings, not vice versa. We are but the reflection of the light, not the light itself. But that is probably a subject for another post.

Anyway.

This likeness to Christ and to the life of the Trinity was a “call and a task” that Saint Edith Stein answered with profound love. Her search for the truth lead her to the Cross, to the very giving over of her own life for the people of Israel—an act of love that conformed her intimately with the life and sacrifice of Christ. She completely embraced the call to conform herself to Christ and to the image of God in a way that united her with the women in the Gospels who followed Christ even to Calvary.

Of her vocation as a cloistered Carmelite she said simply, “I even believe that the deeper someone is drawn to God, the more he has to `get beyond himself’ in this sense, that is, go into the world and carry divine life into it.”[5] (See Pope Francis’ similar challenge to us today here.) I think that discovering the true meaning of masculinity and femininity will similarly involve a “getting beyond ourselves,” toward Christ.

Saint Edith Stein offers a beautiful example of a woman who discovered her gifts and talents and offered them to God, a true instance of what Pope John Pall II calls “the manifestation of the feminine ‘genius.’”  She is an answer to the prayer of the Church which he articulated years after her death: that the gifts of the Holy Spirit,

which with great generosity are poured forth upon the ‘daughters’ of the eternal Jerusalem, may be attentively recognized and appreciated so that they may return for the common good of the Church and of humanity, especially in our times. Meditating on the biblical mystery of the ‘woman’, the Church prays that in this mystery all women may discover themselves and their ‘supreme vocation.’ [6]

StEdith


[1] Ibid.

[2] Pope John Paul II. Mulieris Dignitatem.10

[3] As quoted by Kathleen Sweeny. “Is there a Specifically Feminine Spirituality?: An Exploration of Edith Stein’s Thesis.” Catholic Education Resource Center. http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/feminism/fe0056.htm

[4] Pope John Paul II. Mulieris Dignitatem. 7

[6] Pope John Paul II. Mulieris Dignitatem. 31

The “Dignity and Vocation of Women” in the Life of Saint Edith Stein, Part Two

This is the second post in a series I am writing about how John Paul II’s encyclical on the dignity of women illuminates the spirituality and theology of Saint Edith Stein.

This post references John Paul II’s beautiful encyclical, Mulieris Dignitatem, which you can read here.

You can also go back and read Part One of my series.

ImageWhen we consider Stein’s emphasis on (1) the special unity between the physical and the spiritual in women, combined with (2) their natural desire to give and receive love, we see how clearly Pope John Paul II not only echoes but also explicates this twofold insight in Mulieris Dignitatem. In his careful scriptural exegesis, the Pope discerns that when “Christ speaks to women about the things of God… they understand them; there is a true resonance of mind and heart, a response of faith.” He notes how the Lord “expresses appreciation and admiration for this distinctly ‘feminine’ response” to his message. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, the Pope emphasizes that the Gospels “highlight the fact that women were in the forefront at the foot of the Cross, at the decisive moment in Jesus of Nazareth’s whole messianic mission” (emphasis added). He goes so far as to say that “in this most arduous test of faith and fidelity the women proved stronger than the Apostles”—only Saint John remained faithful and did not abandon Christ. The “true resonance of mind and heart” demonstrated by the women of the New Testament suggests the unique dignity of woman’s vocation:

From the beginning of Christ’s mission, women show to him and to his mystery a special sensitivity which is characteristic of their femininity. It must also be said that this is especially confirmed in the Paschal Mystery, not only at the Cross but at the dawn of the Resurrection. The women are the first at the tomb. (emphasis added) [1]

In a sense, the special unity between the soul and body of woman makes her particularly able to suffer like Christ: just as his physical torments during the Crucifixion were the concrete expression of the spiritual Passion he suffered for our sins, so too can the physical sufferings of women affect the soul—and, when engaged in an act of love and self-gift, these experiences can be united into Christ’s redemptive work.

Perhaps this is partially why the mystery of the Cross was so important in the life of Saint Edith Stein. The completion of her work on Saint John of the Cross, entitled The Science of the Cross, occurred shortly before her arrest by the Nazis in August, 1942, when she herself would undergo the special union with Christ’s Passion in actual martyrdom. Her particular devotion to this mystic and saint seems to have already arisen from her own spiritual experience:

One can only gain a scientia crucis (knowledge of the cross) if one has thoroughly experienced the cross. I have been convinced of this from the first moment onwards and have said with all my heart: ‘Ave, Crux, Spes unica’ (I welcome you, Cross, our only hope).[2]

Indeed, Edith Stein saw suffering as part of her own unique vocation as a Catholic, a Carmelite nun—and as a daughter of Israel. Witnessing the growing persecution and hatred toward her people, Stein spoke about the relationship between the Cross, the destiny of Israel, and her own vocation as a Bride of Christ:

I understood the cross as the destiny of God’s people, which was beginning to be apparent at the time (1933). I felt that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take it upon themselves on everybody’s behalf. Of course, I know better now what it means to be wedded to the Lord in the sign of the cross. However, one can never comprehend it, because it is a mystery.[3]

 Stein’s sense of union with the Cross was also profoundly Marian. She points to the Mother of God as the true exemplar of the feminine vocation to love through union with the Cross of Christ, since Mary “was the gateway through which God found entrance to humankind.”[4] John Paul II concurs: “this mystery also includes the Mother’s sorrow at the foot of the Cross—the Mother who through faith shares in the amazing mystery of her Son’s ‘self-emptying.”[5]

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For both Saint Edith Stein and John Paul II, Mary is the model and example of how to unite oneself to the will of Christ, even in suffering—especially in suffering. Moreover, Mary, as the New Eve who is “blessed among all women” (Lk 1:42) is uniquely able to reveal for us the dignity and destiny of women who suffer. John Paul II makes this clear:

As we contemplate this Mother, whose heart ‘a sword has pierced’ (cf. Lk 2:35), our thoughts go to all the suffering women in the world, suffering either physically or morally. In this suffering a woman’s sensitivity plays a role, even though she often succeeds in resisting suffering better than a man.[6]

This ability to suffer and to endure is a characteristic that conforms woman even more closely to Christ. The “special sensitivity” which allowed the women of the Gospel to respond so lovingly to Christ also, the Pope suggests, seems to increase their capacity to bear suffering.

At the same time, the Pope’s reflection raises important questions about the distinct roles and abilities of men and women, questions which Saint Edith Stein was also very interested in. Both of them emphasize the uniqueness of the vocations of men and women, yet at the same time reaffirm the complementarity of their gifts which contribute to their mutual dignity. The secular feminist movement, which was gaining momentum during the life of Edith Stein, had emerged as a powerful and frequently destructive force during the pontificate of John Paul II. Remarkably, however, the perspectives of this Jewish-Catholic nun and Polish Pope exhibit a profound unity, and even a similar gesture toward the direction a Christian must take.

As noted above, Saint Edith Stein recognized that the role of women in the world was becoming the locus of a troubling conflict that ultimately concerned the very nature of the human being:  “A great responsibility is being laid upon us by both sides. We are being obliged to consider the significance of woman and her existence as a problem. We cannot evade the question as to what we are and what we should be.”[1] Far from evading the question, Stein engaged this problem directly in a philosophical treatment that was nevertheless informed by her own experience as a woman of faith.


[1] Stein, Edith. “Spirituality of the Christian Woman.” http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/SPIRWOM.HTM


[1] Pope John Paul II. Mulieris Dignitatem. 15-16

[3] Ibid.

[4] As quoted by Kathleen Sweeny. “Is there a Specifically Feminine Spirituality?: An Exploration of Edith Stein’s Thesis.” Catholic Education Resource Center. http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/feminism/fe0056.htm

[5] Pope John Paul II. Mulieris Dignitatem.19

[6] Ibid. 19

Happy Birthday, Flannery O’Connor!

ImageToday – March 25, The Feast of the Annunciation (and, fittingly, The Incarnation) – is Flannery O’Connor’s birthday. I just love her.

Here are a few reasons why (in her own words, because no other words will do):

1. “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.” 

2. “There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his sense tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.”

3. “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

4. “Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.”

5. “I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.”

6. “There is no excuse for anyone to write fiction for public consumption unless he has been called to do so by the presence of a gift. It is the nature of fiction not to be good for much unless it is good in itself.”

and most of all, because:

7. “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. […] What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.

Here are some audio recordings of her reading her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and her essay “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction.”

http://www.mhpbooks.com/audio-flannery-oconnor-reads-a-good-man-is-hard-to-find/

Here is a wonderful article written about her by one of my favorite Catholic writers and bloggers, Amy Welborn:

http://catholiceducation.org/articles/arts/al0058.html

As she would say at the end of her letters to Maryat Lee:

Cheers,

Tarfunk

The “Dignity and Vocation of Women” in the Life of Saint Edith Stein, Part One

In this series of posts during Holy Week, I want to share how much I love St. Edith Stein– or St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. These posts are adopted from a paper I wrote my senior year at UD while taking an amazing class on the theology of spirituality with Father Roch Kereszty, O. Cist.

edithstein

The “Dignity and Vocation of Woman” in the Life of Saint Edith Stein

A great responsibility is being laid upon us by both sides. We are being obliged to consider the significance of woman and her existence as a problem. We cannot evade the question as to what we are and what we should be… We are trying to attain insight into the innermost recesses of our being… Our being, our becoming does not remain enclosed within its own confines; but rather in extending itself, fulfills itself. However, all of our being and becoming and acting in time is ordered from eternity, has a meaning for eternity, and only becomes clear to us insofar as we put it in light of eternity.”[1] Saint Edith Stein, “Spirituality of the Christian Woman.”

            For Saint Edith Stein, the question of woman’s spirituality is inseparable from questions about her very being, from what makes her unique. Stein suggests that it is through an act of “extending” or giving oneself that woman finds “fulfill[ment],” but that special action can only properly be understood in the context of “eternity,” or ultimate ends—that is, Stein the existentialist philosopher and Carmelite nun looks at the question of woman from a philosophical perspective, but also under the light of faith. Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, also considers the question of woman’s dignity and vocation with a similar twofold view. In this essay, I would like to explore the particular dimensions of Saint Edith Stein’s spirituality in light of John Paul II’s document in order to elucidate the special calling of women in the life of the Church.

The life of Edith Stein is a beautiful example of a woman searching for the truth and finding it at last in the cross. Born in a Jewish family on the Day of Atonement in 1891, Stein spent much of her young years as an atheist, but her natural intelligence and desire for the truth lead her to pursue psychology and eventually a new branch of philosophy, called phenomenology, which she studied under the guidance of Edmund Husserl. He taught that the world does not merely exist in our subjective perception, but rather that it has an objectivity that can be engaged by the subject. Stein’s engagement with this new philosophical context opened up the intellectual possibility for her that truth was absolute—that it could be searched for and discovered. But even if her mind was opened to the possibility of truth, her heart remained closed to it until she experienced truth concretely lived out in the suffering of a Christian. Husserl’s assistant, Adolf Reinach, who had converted to Protestantism, was killed at Flanders in 1917; when Stein visited his wife Anne Reinach, she encountered a woman whose faith was lived out in union with the Cross. As Stein said later, “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it … it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me – Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”[2]

This encounter with the Cross of Christ profoundly shaped Saint Edith Stein’s spirituality and her view of the feminine vocation. In order to see this connection, we must emphasize two important points the concern her belief in the uniqueness of the female soul. (1) When discussing the differences between the souls of women and the souls of men, Stein emphasizes the special and intense unity between soul and body in woman:

With woman, the soul’s union with the body is naturally more intimately emphasized… Woman’s soul is present and lives more intensely in all parts of the body, and is inwardly affected by that which happens to the body; whereas, with men, the body as more pronouncedly the character of an instrument which serves them in their work and which is accompanied by a certain detachment.[1]

Stein identifies the strongest reason for this difference as originating in woman’s capacity for motherhood: “The task of assimilating in oneself a new creature in the maternal organism represents such an intimate unity of the physical and spiritual that one is well able to understand that this unity imposes itself on the entire nature of woman.”[2] For Stein, this unity between soul and body in woman is both a potential source of strength and weakness. She notes the danger that the soul will be controlled by the body instead of vice-versa. Nevertheless, “the strength of woman lies in the emotional life. This is in accord with her attitude toward personal being itself.”[3] This is because it is through emotions that a soul comes to understand itself and others, especially in the case of women. But just like in men, emotions “need the control of reason and the direction of the will.”[4]

(2) In addition to the unity between a woman’s body and soul, Stein also emphasizes the desire of woman to give herself in love. All women have

a longing to give love and to receive love, and in this respect a yearning to be raised above a narrow, day-to-day existence into a realm of higher being… The deepest feminine yearning is to achieve a loving union which, in its development, validates this maturation and simultaneously stimulates and furthers the desire for perfection in others… such yearning is an essential aspect of the eternal destiny of woman.[5]

This is a profoundly Christ-like desire, not only to love and to be loved, but to “further the desire for perfection in others.” For Stein, this loving desire that reaches out to others is present in the heart of every woman.

Part Two


[1] Stein, Edith. “Spirituality of the Christian Woman.” http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/SPIRWOM.HTM

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

An Introduction I wrote for my seniors, and my first post

peacock001Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: The Art of Manners

The 20th century American Southern writer Flannery O’Connor says:

Here are two qualities that make fiction. One is the sense of mystery and the other is the sense of manners. You get the manners from the texture of existence that surrounds you. The great advantage of being a Southern writer is that we don’t have to go anywhere to look for manners; bad or good, we’ve got them in abundance. We in the South live in a society that is rich in contradiction, rich in irony, rich in contrast, and particularly rich in its speech. The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery (O’Connor, Mystery and Manners).

Flannery O’Connor’s description of the relationship between mystery (that which can never be fully understood by the human mind) and manners (our rituals, the acts of courtesy and custom that preserve the mysteries of life) is a wonderful way to begin to understand Jane Austen. Again, “mystery” here does not mean a murder mystery or an area of empirical/physical/scientific reality that we just haven’t figured out yet. “Mystery” for O’Connor (and probably Jane Austen) really means those areas of life and experience that are so deep that we will never (in this life or the next) get to the end of them—such as love, friendship, holiness, suffering, forgiveness, redemption, death, etc. “Manners” definitely includes things like saying “Please” and “thank you,” opening the door for people, dressing appropriately, etc. But “manners” for O’Connor and Austen also includes something more: respecting the privacy of others, understanding and negotiating social boundaries, the art of conversation, the art of listening, etc.

Although Flannery O’Connor wrote in the 20th century American South (Georgia, to be specific) and Jane Austen wrote in the 19th century English countryside, they both are really interested in manners and how manners/social boundaries/customs can either preserve or damage human mystery. For example, good manners for Austen, like waiting to be properly introduced to someone before you talk to them, help people build relationships and friendships based on a solid foundation. Bad manners, on the other hand, like telling your whole life story to someone the first time you meet them, can damage both people involved because one hasn’t established the right foundation yet for that kind of intimacy.

Forgive me for generalizing a little bit, but the Southern states, for some reason, actually seem to pay a lot more attention to manners than the Northern states do, because their priorities are somewhat different. In this way, living in the South might help you appreciate Jane Austen more, since she too would appreciate people saying things like “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir” and offering people welcome and hospitality.

So:

When you are reading Jane Austen, pay VERY close attention to the manners of the various characters, how they treat one another, judge one another, respond to social situations, etc. Jane Austen is not going to directly describe a lot of emotions to you—but they are definitely there. They are brimming beneath the surface.

It’s like she respects the characters’ interior lives so much that she does not want to completely reveal all of their thoughts and feelings—since that would be a violation of manners and proper boundaries.

At the same time, Austen’s narrator is VERY critical of many of the characters. You may or may not always agree with her.

Don’t be fooled by Austen’s rather cool or lighthearted tone, or her stereotypes, or her ridiculous characters. There is some serious stuff going on underneath all the witty dialogue and brief descriptions.

Good luck!