Conclusion: After Austen

  • Sarah Emsley


What happens to the virtues after Austen? There is certainly an Austen-inspired tradition of the country-house novel and/or the novel of manners, but is there a tradition of novels after Austen that represent the classical and theological virtues as a coherent, positive, and flexible tradition of ethical thought and behavior?1 When MacIntyre addresses this question, he suggests Henry James as the author after Austen who has the best claim to the continuation of the tradition, yet he qualifies this possibility by pointing out that by the time James was writing, the “substance of morality was increasingly elusive.”2 Robert B. Pippin argues in Henry James and Modern Moral Life that James wrote in a time of “historical crisis” that “greatly complicated our moral assessments of each other.” Pippin suggests that this “complexity has to do with the increasing unavailability of what we used to be able to rely on in interpreting and assessing each other.”3 A common language of morality becomes harder and harder to find. For James, as for Edith Wharton, also a novelist of morals and manners, ethical thought is tremendously important, but incredibly difficult, almost to the point of being impossible. If James is part of the possible tradition of the virtues after Austen, to what extent is this tradition related to the “Great Tradition” of English novelists that F.R. Leavis famously identified as leading from Austen to Eliot, James, and Conrad?


Moral Education Moral Life Ethical Thought Ethical Life Moral Assessment 
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© Sarah Emsley 2005

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  • Sarah Emsley

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