the pastoral love story and political violence

For the last couple decades scholars have argued as to what ways (if at all) Jane Austen’s novels have grappled with the political realities of her day. In particular, scholars have noted that at a time of international upheaval (including the brutal, violent, volatile French Revolution), Austen appears to write (at first glance) insular pastoral love stories that seem wholly unconcerned with the violent geopolitical realities of the outside world. The world around Jane Austen is changing rapidly, dangerously, and yet her novels seem to only deal with the often trite and petty social games of rural British aristocracy.

Perhaps this narrative technique is not without precedence, particularly in the Christian scriptural tradition in which Austen was steeped. I am reminded in particular of the book of Ruth. Like Austen’s novels, it too tells a [seemingly] simple pastoral love story, even as it is canonically bounded by unceasing political violence. It is preceded by the book of Judges, which ends in a bloodbath with genocidal intent and a mass sexual assault on the young women of the tribe of Benjamin. It is followed by the book of Samuel, in which the murky morality of political intrigue leaves no one unstained and the body count rises at an alarming rate. You could choose to read Ruth as just a nice little love story, but its canonical positioning forces us to read it as more than just a cute love story. Like Austen’s novels, it is a bold declaration of Christian love in the midst of a senselessly violent world.