August 24th, 2012Jane Austen and the Best of Englandby Joseph Pearce
Following the lively debate on the Ink Desk that accompanied the criticism of the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics, I thought I’d post something more positive about my native land.
Last night I had the delightful and edifying pleasure of watching the film adaptation of Sense & Sensibility, starring Emma Thompson as the charmingly sagacious Miss Dashwood. Thompson’s own politics and atheism aside, her scripting of Jane Austen’s classic and her portrayal of the novel’s heroine are simply sublime. I hadn’t seen the film for many years so it was fresh enough to evoke the right rational and emotional responses. I even felt my eyes welling up with tears of joy at the film’s eucatastrophic climax. What a joy to watch! What unadulterated pleasure!
For all her own undoubted brilliance, Emma Thompson was ultimately basking in the glorious genius of Jane Austen, a giantess of faith and culture compared with whom the denizens of modern England are nothing but mere pygmies. And this is the paradox of which Thompson’s association with Austen serves as a metaphor. The modern socialism, atheism and secular fundamentalism, which Thompson espouses, are parasitical. They create little or nothing of genius and can only survive by living off the Christian capital that they have inherited from the giants of the past.
The lunacy of modern England is like the moon. It is dark and lifeless and becomes beautiful only when reflecting the light of the Sun. Jane Austen, like her compatriots William Shakespeare and J. R. R. Tolkien, is a child of the Sun, reflecting its life and light. Her feminine genius exorcises the pale genies of feminism. Her timeless wisdom transcends the fads and fashions with which modern England is bewitched.
The delightful irony is that Emma Thompson owes her greatest roles, and therefore her greatest debts, to the Christian orthodoxy of Shakespeare’s and Austen’s moral vision, much as Ian McKellen, another homosexist atheist, owes his greatest roles, and therefore his greatest debts, to the Christian orthodoxy of Shakespeare and Tolkien. The fact is that Miss Dashwood is bigger and wiser than Thompson, as Gandalf is bigger and wiser than McKellen. In despising the Christianity that gave birth to Austen’s heroine and Tolkien’s heroic wizard, Thompson and McKellen are contemptuously kicking down the ladder by which they’ve climbed (to borrow a phrase from Chesterton).
And this brings us back to the Olympics closing ceremony. If the debauched Olympian spectacle is placed beside the serenity of Miss Dashwood we can see instantly how far England has fallen from greatness to banality in the two hundred years since Sense & Sensibility was published. The moral and cultural abyss that separates the greatness of England’s Christian past from the shriveled remnant of her sickeningly secular present is as large as the difference between the music of a Shakespearean sonnet and the vacuous din of modern rap. This abysmal descent can be called many things but only the most empty-headed would call it progress.