I’ve just finished re-reading Jane Austen’s Emma, which I first read while studying it for A-level in 1967. It’s a sparkling and thoroughly enjoyable novel, full of moral wisdom. But I was struck by something I have not heard commented on: Mr. Knightley confesses to Emma that he first fell in love with her when she was thirteen! Since he is quite a bit older than her (maybe fifteen years older) that makes the chronological situation similar to that of Dolores and Humbert: the latter would no doubt describe Emma as a nymphet at that age. And yet Mr. Knightley is depicted as the most moral of men. Austen herself appears to have no qualms about this early infatuation. How times have changed! The difference, of course, is that Knightley Knightley has no designs on the young Emma, while Humbert Humbert is all designs. But remember that sex before marriage was taboo in Austen’s time anyway: what if KK had proposed marriage when he first fell in love with Emma? The stab of queasiness is hard to dispell.
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never read Jane Austen. Are you of Chomsky’s opinion that there’s more psychological and moral insight in fiction than there is in philosophy? With that I could never agree—though there is the exception of Gore Vidal’s, “Myra Breckinridge”
That’s a difficult comparison, but fiction certainly contains a lot of moral and psychological insight. I recommend you start with Emma, but any of them will do.
Speaking of fiction. What think you of Michel Houellbecq? I suppose one must read him in French to get a true taste, but from what I’ve read in translation he seems a delightfully de-moralizing chap. Suitable to the age, reflecting in every respect the delectations of the exasperated.
I haven’t read him.
Sorry for the flippancy, but Houellbecq is worth a read.