Austen, Dickens, and Eliot each responded to discussions of their time concerning class, gender, and social change. One of the ways they addressed these issues, and sought to find solutions to the problems facing their culture, was through benevolence. Knightley, in Emma, uses benevolence as a means of mediating self-interest and sympathy. By acting out of sympathy, through benevolence, he achieves the self-interested benefits of reinforcing the class system and achieving his romantic conquests. Likewise, Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby learns how to use benevolence as a means of social mobility from his mentors, the Cheerybles. Throughout Nicholas Nickleby the hero learns how to engage in benevolence out of sympathy, and by doing so he establishes himself as a gentleman and reaps social, economic, and romantic advantages. Eliot's Bob Jakin in The Mill on the Floss engages in benevolence out of true sympathy unhindered by self-interest. His freedom from social constraint and self-interest allows him to truly help Maggie Tulliver when no one else can. These authors' depictions of benevolence all illuminate ways that nineteenth-century literary authors sought to navigate the “Adam Smith Problem" of sympathy vs. self-interest. Benevolence, in these novels, is not disinterested (regardless of their motivation) but is influenced by the character's and author's perception of class, gender, and social change in the nineteenth century.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Hammer, Aubrey Lea, "A Gentlemen's Benevolence: Symptoms of Class, Gender, and Social Change in Emma, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Mill on the Floss" (2007). Theses and Dissertations. 957.
sympathy, benevolence, class, gender, social change, charity, philanthropy, Austen, Dickens, Eliot, Emma, Nicholas Nickleby, mill on the floss, child victim, canine, dog, boundary, enclosure, chivalry, gentleman, masculinity