Jane on the Brain: Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence with Jane Austen

Wendy Jones. Pegasus, $27.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-68177-554-8
Being a Jane Austen fanatic isn’t required for appreciating this fascinating book; Jones, a psychotherapist and former English professor, will win over the initially unconverted by the book’s end. Austen’s appeal, according to Jones, comes largely from her acute social intelligence. This attribute encompasses both “automatic and nonconscious” and “fully conscious and self-reflective awareness.” Empathy is one hallmark of it; “mentalizing,” an understanding that “other people have minds,” is the second. The book engages with neuroscience, psychology, and psychotherapy, using Austen’s characters as case studies. Jones explains that “emotions are subcortical brain-body reactions that become feelings” when “consciously experienced.” Thus, in Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth Bennett is surprised by Mr. Darcy at Pemberly, her blush is the physiological expression (emotion) of her embarrassment (feeling). Jones also explores Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel’s work, which found that neurons change as the result of experience, applying his finding to how Marianne Dashwood, in Pride and Prejudice, recovers from depression after being jilted by a suitor. Readers will find this book well worth the generous investment of time required and finish it better informed about both the science behind human behavior and the artistry behind Austen’s work. Agent: Laura Wood, FinePrint. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/30/2017
Release date: 12/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-68168-990-6
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