EI and Jane Austen

Q: I’m writing a MA thesis on Jane Austen’s novel ‘Sense and Sensibility’. My argument is that she knew about EI even 180 years ago and that this novel is in fact about EI. To me the two concepts fit in so well within the theory. I am, however, a little confused about one very important issue with the analysis of it all. In the novel there are some unsympathetic but socially smart characters (Fanny Dashwood, Lucy Steele; motivated by greed) who are very good at manipulating other people’s emotions for their own self-gain. To me that cannot be emotional intelligent behaviour. Yet there are several other scholars within this field of psychology who would argue that it is emotionally intelligent. I would like to argue that it might have to do with intelligence but not emotional intelligence. Could you help, please?

A: No doubt Jane Austen encountered elements of what today we call emotional intelligence – the human brain has not changed in the last two centuries, and human nature is essentially the same.  Remember that EI is not just one ability, but a set of them: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skill.  People like Dashwood and Steele, who are good manipulators, have the pattern of strengths and weaknesses typical of the “Dark Triad”: narcissists, Machiavellians, and Sociopaths.  Such people are good at one type of empathy, lacking in another, and utterly devoid of a third. They are excellent at cognitive empathy, understanding how people think and feel  — this lets them be manipulative. They are lacking in emotional empathy, feeling with another person, which is a basis for sympathy. And they are devoid of empathy concern, which leads people to care about others. The Triad does not care a bit about the negative consequences for others of their manipulative actions, and so can deploy whatever intelligence they have toward their selfish ends.  These types have always been with us, and Jane Austen was clearly familiar with them.