Not Looking To Get Well: Critiquing Cure Culture with Jane Austen
Jaime Konerman-Sease, PhD (c), Saint Louis University
Americans expect cures. The ability of modern medicine to cure almost any ailment is pervasive in American culture. We shroud ourselves with the reassurance that if anything were to go wrong with our bodies, we just need to follow the doctor’s orders, and all will be well. The reassurance in the curative power of medicine breaks down when we meet face to face with chronic and incurable illness. We are left with the question of how to care for patients with incurable illnesses in a culture of medicine focused on cures. In this paper, I argue that Christian practitioners should reclaim the tradition of healing found within Jane Austen novels. Healing is historically distinct from cures and curative medicine. One Christian novelist who makes this explicitly clear is Jane Austen, who critiques the culture of cure seeking that just begins during her lifetime. Through textual analysis of Mansfield Park and Emma, I trace Austen’s distain for cure culture and her theological commitments to the role of healing in everyday life. Through her novels, she asserts that health and healing can be found without explicitly “getting well” or finding a cure. Importantly, Austen resists the burgeoning idea that health is the integrated functioning of a mechanistic, isolated body. Health, for Austen, consists of rightly formed and maintained relationships. Through stories of everyday 19th century women, Austen offers resources to frame the healing relationship and re-order the goals of modern medicine. Reading Jane Austen can assist practitioners in reclaiming the focus on healing in medicine. By returning to the source of cure culture, practitioners can identify strategies to act when a cure is not possible by reclaiming a pre-modern emphasis on healing. Through analyzing the rise of curative medicine in the early 1800’s through Jane Austen novels and its distinction from the art of healing, I offer ways practitioners can care for patients who likely will not get well.