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Perspective, Memory, and Moral Authority: The Legacy of Jane

Austen in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter

Westman, Karin E.

Children's Literature, Volume 35, 2007, pp. 145-165 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press

DOI: 10.1353/chl.2007.0021

For additional information about this article

Access Provided by University Diego Portales at 12/07/12 7:01PM GMT

Austin and Harry
Potter and Moral Authority: The Legacy
of Jane Austen in J. K. Rowlings Harry Potter
Karin E. Westman

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a childrens author, in

search of a readership, must be in want of a sourceor so claim J. K.
Rowlings detractors, who insist that her best-selling series is simply
derivative (Hensher), a mere magpies collection of shiny canonical
trifles easily dismantled by one industrious niffler. Such charges of
literary patchwork, however, deny the alchemy of Rowlings art, and
they fail to account for the complexities of character, narrative point
of view, and theme threaded through her fictional world. Rowlings
series does not so much show its seams (as Philip Hensher, Harold
Bloom, A. S. Byatt, and others have claimed) but rather it reveals
different shades in various lights. Place Rowlings novels alongside
Lewis Carrolls Alice books, and the Harry Potter series shows colors
of puzzles, probability, improbability, and mirrored desires; place it
alongside Thomas Hughess Tom Browns School Days, and we see highlights of the classic and classist boarding school tradition, the value of
sport, and the dangers of bullying.
And what of Jane Austen, whom Rowling claimed in 2001 as one
of her favorite authors (J. K. Rowlings Bookshelf),1 having already
cited Austens Emma the year before as the most skillfully managed
mystery Ive ever read (Let me tell you a story) and as the target
of perfection at which we shoot in vain (qtd. in Boquet)? Not only
does Rowling read Austens novels in rotation each year, but three
Jane Austen titles appear on the virtual bookshelf at her self-authored
Web site: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), and
Emma (1816). Indeed, Austens humorous self-critique of Pride and
PrejudiceUpon the whole, Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra
in 1813, the work is rather too light, bright and sparkling (Letters
299)appears in Rowlings introduction of Dumbledore: His blue
eyes were light, bright and sparkling (Philosophers Stone 12). Look at
Harry Potter alongside Austens novels, as few have done,2 and we notice
how perspective underwrites moral educationhow their similar narrative form develops a similar theme. For her series, Rowling selects a
third-person limited omniscient point of view favored by Austen. This
point of view allows Rowling to create a seven-volume study of one
Childrens Literature 35, Hollins University 2007.



Karin E. Westman

characters development, a study of what Edmund in Austens Mansfield

Park (1814) calls his epistle to Fanny Price: a picture of [his] mind
(412). In representing the wizarding and Muggle worlds through a
single mind, Rowling asks us to witness the process of Harrys education. The narrative result marks the limitations of private vision while
also evoking sympathy for others.3
Rowlings selection of an Austen-like narrative form therefore points
us to consider thematic similarities between their works, including the
necessity of perspective and sympathy for moral growth.4 It will also
help us to account for frequent criticisms of the series. The relative
simplicity of Philosophers Stone, the passivity of Harrys character in early
volumes, the lack of real-world detail in those same early volumes, the
series perspective on girlsall of these standard criticisms of Rowlings
series are mitigated by considering those aspects of the series which
the comparison with Austen brings to light. With Austens novels in
one hand and Harry Potter in the other, we can reply that Rowling is
interested in one characters experience of the real world, offering a
portrait of that individual mind and a record of its moral development. The novels narrative almost always presents the Muggle and
wizarding worlds through Harrys subjective, all-too-human point of
view. Harry is often a model of observation, detection, and action,
but he is also flawed. Rowlings vision of a moral self, like Austens,
emerges from this gap.5
Like her favorite author, Rowling encourages readers to use their
imagination to sympathize with, reflect upon, and then value those
characters who balance generosity of feeling with integrity of self. For
Rowling, as for Austen, moral authority depends upon knowing the self
in relationship to the past and the present; this knowledge allows moral
agency in the future. To explore these formal and thematic implications
of Austens legacy within Rowlings novels, I will first place Rowlings
series alongside Emma to discuss how narrative point of view shapes our
experience of the series and how it models the benefits of sympathetic
perception for knowledge of others and the self. I will then turn to the
less popular Mansfield Park to mark its resonance with Rowlings series
in terms of stoicism, humility, and reflective thought. I will conclude
with an extended look at the roles that memory and the imagination
play in the moral development of the self.

Jane Austin and Harry Potter


Perceptive Penetration
Like Austen, Rowling favors a narrative style which relies upon limited
omniscient point of view to restrict the readers experience of the story
to one characters view of the worldwhat Wayne Booth describes in
The Rhetoric of Fiction as Sympathy through Control of Inside Views in
his influential discussion of Distance in Emma.6 As readers, we only
gradually realize the degree to which our perspective on the wizarding
world is primarily shaped by Harrys perspective, just as Emmas limitations prevent our knowledge of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfaxs
engagement in Austens novel. We are nearly always aligned with Harrys
perspective, receiving very little third-person description of setting or
character that is not first processed through Harry. Real world details
of the Muggle and wizarding worlds only enter his consciousness and
therefore the series narrative as he experiences them, and not before,
because, as Rowling remarked during a global Webcast from Royal Albert Hall in 2003, Harry is the eyes through which you see the world
(Harry Potter). While Hermione and Ron may have known about
other wizarding academies like Beauxbatons and Durmstrang since
Philosophers Stone, we didnt know that there were other schools in the
wizarding world until Harry learns of their existence at the Quidditch
World Cup in Goblet of Fire.
Rowling had been criticized, until Goblet, for creating a world disconnected from the realities of contemporary culture, but her choice of an
Austen-like narrative style helps us counter this charge. Like Austen,
Rowling introduces social, political, and economic realities as they affect her main characters life, focalizing them through his experience
of these external forces rather than through an omniscient narrative
voice.7 In Emma, our heroine takes note of the poor when they can serve
as a moral lesson for herself and her friend Harriet (79); in Harry Potter,
our hero becomes attuned to systemic wizarding prejudice when Draco
Malfoy calls Hermione You filthy little Mudblood (Chamber 86). Harry
sees and comprehends much more about his world as he grows older,
and so with each year (and volume) we know more. Rowlings limited
omniscient view, focalized through Harry, therefore also explains the
varying tones and emphases of each bookwhy Philosophers Stone seems
so filled with joy relative to later novels, why the Hogwarts girls are often
described as giggly (Azkaban 56) and silly in Azkaban and Goblet by a
confused preteen boy, why the relative simplicity of Philosophers Stone
(derided by some readers and reviewers) yields to the complexity and


Karin E. Westman

confusion of subsequent volumes.8 Our frame of reference for each

book is dynamic, expanding to account for Harrys new knowledge of
his world rather than fixed from the start of the series.
Rowlings debt to Austens narrative style also reminds us that the
series is concerned with character more than external details, interior
emotions as much as exterior actions. A limited omniscient narrative
style emphasizes the development of Harrys character, as it does Emmas. This persistent proximity to his character forges our connection to
him. As the critic David Lodge says of Emmas character, we experience
[her] errors with her, and to some extent share them, creating a strong
pull of sympathy (x). Harrys errors in judgmentfrom mistaking
Snape for his prime adversary in Philosophers Stone to leading five friends
to probable death at the Ministry of Magic in Phoenixsimilarly evoke
our sympathy because we generally err with him, having followed his
train of thought and endorsed his course of action, knowing no more
than he does. We are often at the mercy of his limited perspective and
his degree of emotional maturity.
That we gain any critical distance on Harrys point of view is striking,
given the way Rowling deploys her Austen-like narrative. As readers of
Emma, we are warned in the opening pages of Emmas flaws, learning
from the narrator how [t]he real evils indeed of Emmas situation were
the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition
to think a little too well of herselfthe dangerous consequences of
which were at present unperceived (4). We are thus put on our
guard . . . against too close an identification with Emmas hopes and
expectations, as David Lodge observes (viii).9 By contrast, we have no
qualifying reservations about Harrys character offered by the narrative
voice at the start of Philosophers Stone, as we do when we open Emma
to read that Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a
comfortable home and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the
best blessings in existence (3). Later, in chapter XIII, Austens narrator
even explains Emmas failure to perceive Mr. Eltons confusion when
Emma encourages him to stay home on account of Harriets illness:
Emma is too eager and busy in her own previous conceptions and
views to hear him impartially, or see him with clear vision (99), even
as she is able to reflect upon others misperceptions, a few pages later,
amusing herself in the consideration of the blunders which often
arise from a partial knowledge of circumstances, or the mistakes which
people of high pretensions to judgment are for ever falling into. . . .
(101). In Rowlings series, no such narrative summations, warnings,

Jane Austin and Harry Potter


or humorous and ironic asides accompany our introduction to, or

experience of, Harry. Instead, our identification with Harrys point of
view is nearly seamless. Except for the opening of volumes 1, 4, and 6,
in Rowlings novels we do not see or hear anything that Harry does not
see or hearthough we may, like Hermione, identify some patterns to
Harrys experiences which escape his notice.
We do, then, gain a more ironic relationship to Harrys character,
closer to the one we have to Emmas, but it evolves gradually over the
course of the series, and this irony results from a tension between our
previous knowledge of Harrys character alongside his new circumstance or thought, rather than being the result of an intrusive narrative
voice.10 Ironic moments may occur inside a given novelperhaps we
realize, before Harry, why his stomach gives a lurch when he sees Cho
Chang in Azkabanbut such ironic perspective is mostly noticeable
between volumes. In Phoenix, for instance, we are concerned for Harry
when he shuns Occlumency training before bed, not wanting to train
his mind to resist others influence upon it, so he may instead fulfill
his desire to reach and finally open the door in the Department of
Mysteriesand we are concerned, because we have already watched
Harry suffer the consequences of similar desires: in Philosophers Stone
when he wishes to see his parents in the Mirror of Erised, and in Azkaban when he desires to hear his parents voices when he should be
fighting off Dementors. By Phoenix, weve gained an increasingly ironic
relationship to Harry, who in his self-absorption can, like Emma, try
our readerly patience.
Harrys and Emmas blind faith in the rightness of their perspective
can indeed be a double-edged sword, testing our sympathy. Emmas
having taken up the idea . . . and made everything bend to it (121)
echoes Harry and his friends persistent mis-perceptions, marking the
power of the mind to perceive that which it desires to be so. Emmas
faulty conclusions frustrate Mr. Knightley as well as usBetter to be
without sense, than misapply it as you do (57), he tells hermuch as
Harrys errors in reasoning, his flaunting of necessary rules, and his
disregard for others sacrifices frustrate Hermione (Phoenix 58788),
Snape (Azkaban 209), and Lupin (Azkaban 213). Often, Hermione
fulfills the role otherwise assigned to Austens narrative voice when
she reminds Harry and Ron of forgotten or over-looked information
which provides analytical distance on Harrys seemingly unassailable
position. Eager to rescue Sirius from apparent captivity and torture at
the Ministrys Department of Mysteries, Harry chafes as Hermione of-


Karin E. Westman

fers her reasoned observations: [I]ts five oclock in the afternoon . . .

the Ministry of Magic must be full of workers . . . how would Voldemort
and Sirius have got in without being seen? (Phoenix 645). When an agitated Harry replies that the Department of Mysteries has always been
empty whenever Ive been, Hermione must remind Harry, Youve
never even been there . . . Youve dreamed about the place, thats all
(Phoenix 645). So immersed in the emotionally real world of his visions,
Harry loses the larger context of the world around him. In offering her
rational perspective, Hermione not only represents Austens narrative
voice but also echoes Mr. John Knightley and his brother, Mr. Knightley,
and the perspective they offer to Emma. Through such comments,
from Austens narrator or Austens and Rowlings characters, we are
reminded of our tightly focalized view of the novels world and the
limitations of our heroines and heros perceptions of it.
Our ability to see into both Emmas and Harrys minds, however,
tempers our criticisms and maintains our sympathy, because we also witness Emmas and Harrys confusion and shame. When Emma receives
a rebuke from Knightley concerning her evaluation of Robert Martins
character, she made no answer, and tried to look cheerfully unconcerned, but the narrative shares her thoughts with us: how she was
really feeling uncomfortable and wanting him very much to be gone,
not repent[ing] her action but feeling the pressure of her habitual
respect for his judgement (59). Emmas emotional response is comparable to Harrys when he has been rebuked by Dumbledore, Hagrid,
Hermione, and Lupin, whose opinion he values. In Azkaban, Lupins
chastisement of Harrys behavior strikes Harry forcibly. After barely
escaping punishment for an illegal visit to Hogsmeade and Zonkos
joke shop, Harry listens to Lupins reminder: Your parents gave their
lives to keep you alive . . . A poor way to repay themgambling their
sacrifice for a bag of tricks (213). Lupins words arrest Harrys joy at
escaping punishment for his out-of-bounds activity and offer a sober
reminder of his relationship to his parents and their past. As a result,
Lupins rebuke leave[s] Harry feeling worse by far than he had at any
point in Snapes office (213), and Harry experiences guilt and shame
in place of indignation.
For both characters, then, we reserve our judgment because Harry
and Emma are willing to judge themselves. Emma admits herself to be
in complete error (119) concerning Mr. Elton, and her acknowledgment of error sustains our sympathy when we might otherwise fail to
care. Harry, too, maintains our sympathy because he is able to acknowledge his faults, to examine his mistakes, to feel shame (Phoenix 294),

Jane Austin and Harry Potter


and even, like Emma, to blush for the errors he has committed. That
eighteenth-century mark of true feelingthe physical manifestation
of emotional disquietis the outward sign of these characters interior
experience.11 The appearance of the blush secures our sympathy for
Emma (124, 127, 341) and for Harry, as the heat rises in his face
(Phoenix 687) on several occasions across the series, especially in Goblet
and Phoenix. Such involuntary physical manifestations of emotion
signal that Emma and Harry possess the eighteenth-century quality
of sensibility, the capacity of human sympathy: as it registers the
interface between the public self and private reaction, sensibility serves
as a sort of moral platform from which to reveal the self and know
the other (Doody xiv). As Emma and Harry become more sensible of
themselves within the world, both are increasingly perceptive about the
motives and actions of their own characters as well as those of others.
If one of the valued qualities of character in Emma is indeed penetration (122, 173, 314), the ability to perceive (394) oneself or
another in a clearer light, then the limited omniscient point of view
deployed by both Austen and Rowling grants such powers to the reader.
Able to see into Emmas and Harrys characters for their motives and
unspoken responses, able to watch their own attempts to master the
skill of penetration, we in turn learn to be discerning observers of
human character. In both Austen and Rowling, penetration is thus
linked to sympathy for others, the recognition of anothers point of
view. Emmas shifting view of Jane Fairfax over the course of the novel
depends upon Emmas ability to imagine herself into Janes perspective
(343). Likewise, Harrys shifting view of Snape across Goblet and Phoenix,
thanks to the Pensieve, comprises a similar exchange of perspective.12
Further, to Harry and his readers alike, Harrys ability to imagine
Lunas point of view at the end of Phoenix (760) provides a welcome
relief from the blinkered, self-absorbed, shouting Harrythe CAPS
LOCK Harry, in fan parlanceof the previous 753 pages. Rowlings
limited omniscient point of view therefore encourages us to respect
and sympathize with another persons experience, even if we may never
completely understand or accept that other perspective.
A Stoic Is Born: The Self in Perspective through
Reflection and Collaborative Exchange
Penetrating sympathy serves as one step towards becoming a moral
agent in the world; stoicism and humility are further resources towards
that goal. While Emma demonstrates these two additional qualities with


Karin E. Westman

difficulty, Fanny Price, heroine of the darker world of Mansfield Park, is

a quick study. At first glance, Harrys energy, courage, and risk-taking
spirit make him the mirror opposite of the meek and retiring Fanny,
but there are a number of similarities between the two characters which
highlight Austens and Rowlings shared concern for a stoic, humble,
and reflective self.
First, there are similarities of circumstance. Both Harry and Fanny
experience a Cinderella-like exchange13 of one home for another: for
Fanny, her departure from a chaotic and impoverished Portsmouth
family to the comparative luxuries of her relatives at Mansfield Park;
for Harry, his remove from his Aunt and Uncle Dursley on Privet Drive
to the wonders and financial solvency of Hogwarts and the wizarding
world. When the ten-year-old Fanny leaves her impoverished home,
she does so as if an orphan: she will be brought up by her wealthy Aunt
and Uncle Bertram without any likelihood of seeing her parents and
siblings anytime soon. The ten-year-old Harry already has lived as an
orphan his whole life when he learns, on his eleventh birthday, that he
will leave the privation of Privet Drive. Both Fanny and Harry are overwhelmed by their new worlds, yet quick to acclimate to the new home
once they have a sympathetic companion. Harry gains Rons sympathy
on the train, Fanny gains her cousin Edmunds soon after her arrival
at Mansfield Park, and their new friends offer guidance in exchange
for emotional support.14 For both characters, the change in lifestyle is
so complete that home becomes the new place rather than the old,
as Harrys return to Hogwarts at the start of Azkaban makes him feel
he was home at last (74). Further, it is the memory of the new home
which sustains them when Fanny and Harry are forced to be away from
Mansfield Park (384, 421) and the wizarding world (Azkaban 17).
From these similarities in circumstance spring similarities in character, which in turn highlight aspects of Rowlings series that garner
less critical attention but are crucial to her Austen-like view of moral
education: the value of stoicism and of humility. To survive their lots
in life, Fanny and Harry both evince stoicism, a quality of Rowlings
series noted by Edmund Kern (Boy Wonder; Wisdom). Fanny remains
impassive in the face of the reckless London wiles of the brother and
sister double-team Henry and Mary Crawford, meekly endures the
relentless menace of her Aunt Norriss insults, and sacrifices herself to
her Aunt Bertrams tireless requests for assistance. Fanny is, in the words
of Marylea Meyersohn, the moral presence who watches and listens,
a center of non-energy operating by the deferral of gratification

Jane Austin and Harry Potter


(22425). In his passivity, especially early in the series, Harry occupies

a similar center of non-energy, his actions governed by a deferral
of gratification as events impinge upon him, from his lightning-bolt
scar to Voldemorts intruding emotions. We witness stoicism in his
determination to withstand repeated threats to body and mind from
those who wish him ill; he remains equally dogged in his opposition to
Voldemort and in his loyalty to his friends and Dumbledore. Though
we do not yet have the conclusion of Rowlings series, we do know that
Fannys stoic patience guides her to happiness at the novels end: it is
her patience which grants her the one she lovesEdmundand she
has the pleasure of him thanking her for her patience when he is nearly
led astray, blinded for a time to the Crawfords moral failings (445). We
learn, too, in the novels final pages, that Fannys success in her young
life stems from the advantages of early hardship and discipline, and the
consciousness of being born to struggle and endure (456). Perhaps we
hear an echo of this statement in Dumbledores observation near the
end of Phoenix, as he reflects on Harrys upbringing with the Dursleys:
You arrived at Hogwarts, he tells Harry, neither as happy nor as wellnourished as I would have liked, perhaps, yet alive and healthy (737).
When placed alongside Fannys stoic character, Harrys constancy, selfsacrifice, and resilience come into the foregroundqualities that may
seem over-shadowed in Goblet and Phoenix by his adolescent anger, but
which nevertheless sustain his continued success.
Fanny and Harry also share the trait of humility. Although many
characters tell Harry that he is famous, highly skilled, and worthy of
great fame, Harry (unlike his adolescent father James) does not boast.
He modestly believes Ron and Hermione are joking when they ask him
to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts to his schoolmates, unable to
conceive that he could have received higher marks than Hermione in
this subject or that he has had more than luck on his side in his battles
against Voldemort (Phoenix 29194). The self-denial and humility
which Fannys Uncle Bertram finds so lacking in his own daughters he
discovers in Fanny by the novels end: whereas her cousins, Maria and
Julia, had not been encouraged through education and duty to govern
their inclinations and tempers, Fanny has governed hers (448). With
its emphasis upon mastering emotions for successful Occlumency and
for survival within the wizarding world, Phoenix suggests that Harry, too,
may need to supplement his humility with an ability to govern his
inclination and temper if he is to withstand and overcome the forces
ranged against him. Humility, like stoic resolve, thus de-emphasizes


Karin E. Westman

desires, placing those desires in the perspective of a greater purpose or

social good. For Austen and Rowling, the value of perspective therefore
resides not only in sympathetic penetration of a particular point of
view but also a well-tempered response to lifes vicissitudes. One must
place ones own self, as well as others, in perspective.
This balance between sympathetic engagement and stoic distancethis pursuit of perspectiveemerges in Austens Mansfield
Park and Rowlings series through an education built upon reading,
reflection, and intellectual exchange. Fanny revels in private reading
and intellectual exchange with Edmund about shared books.15 Fannys
small library in her attic room is her sanctuary, her place of reflection
upon her own thoughts and actions as well as others. Far from a strike
against Fannys development, as Alan Richardson notes, [r]eading is
associated throughout Austens novels with education in the broadest
sense, that is, with intellectual and moral development (402). As a
result, Fanny benefits from Aunt Norriss neglect, thanks to her own
private reading and reflection and to Edmunds alternate teachings. In
Rowlings series, as in Austens novel, educational experiences have a
lasting influence on characters choices and resourcesa consequence
which gives us pause, when we think of a Hogwarts under the control of
the censoring and censorious Dolores Umbridge who teaches only to
the test and through rote learning, a Hogwarts without the alternative
teachings of Harrys lessons for the D.A. in the Defense Against the
Dark Arts. Harrys practical, expansive, unorthodox, and frequently
illegal education during his years at Hogwarts has ably prepared him
not only for his battle against Voldemort at the end of Phoenix, but also
his OWL exams: Lower[ing] his eyes to the first question, Harry reads,
a) Give the incantation and b) describe the wand movement required to make
objects fly. Harry had a fleeting memory of a club soaring high into the
air and landing loudly on the thick skull of a troll. . . . smiling slightly,
he bent over the paper and began to write (628). This episode with
the troll, one of his first infringements on school rules, is the result of
collaborative, scrappy, and inspired maneuvers by Harry and Ron in
order to save Hermionethe result of putting a theoretical education
into practice, in turn creating a vivid memory of the act.
Austens view of education, though present throughout Rowlings
series, has its most pointed presentation in Phoenix with the introduction
of Dolores Umbridge. The textual trace of Mansfield Park in Rowlings seriesthe Hogwarts cat, Mrs. Norrisguides us towards this connection
between Austen and Rowling. Mrs. Norris certainly seems an apt name

Jane Austin and Harry Potter


for Filchs cat, who roams the halls of Hogwarts assisting her masters
efforts to curtail student and poltergeist infringement on school rules
and regulations. Like Filchs cat, Mrs. Norriss character in Mansfield
Park is walking all day (69) and filled with a spirit of activity (42),
but the tenor of Mrs. Norriss insults to Fanny mark Aunt Norris as an
Aunt Marge of the Regency period, while the menace and power-hungry
gleam motivating her activities around the Bertram household suggest
that she could equally have inspired Phoenixs Dolores Umbridge. Aunt
Norriss view of education further connects these two villains. The faulty
education of the Bertram girls, Maria and Julia, under Mrs. Norriss
guidance (55) provides neither moral compass nor compassion, as Sir
Thomas realizes at the novels end when he throws this would-be educator out of Mansfield Park (448).16 The ignoble departure of Dolores
Umbridge at the end of Phoenix echoes the ousting of Mrs. Norris from
Mansfield Park, and it expunges, for the moment, an anti-intellectual
and impractical educational philosophy from the halls of Hogwarts.
Reflective, collaborative education, connected to everyday practice
and moral purpose, is valued in both Austens and Rowlings fictional
worlds for the development of the moral self.
Speak, Memory: The Private Mind in the Service of Public Education
Reflection, whether on ones own or in collaborative exchange, depends
upon memory, a faculty of the human mind which Austen and Rowling
particularly admire. One of the most powerful tools for Harrys moral
education in Rowlings series is the Pensieve, a wonderful object that
allows one to store memories for future retrieval or consideration, to
unburden ones mind and evaluate a past experience in isolation or
alongside other memories for comparative analysis. For a series which
is part Bildungsroman, Rowlings creation of the Pensieve foregrounds
the importance of memoryones own and othersfor intellectual,
social, and moral growth. Harrys moral development, it seems, depends
upon access to and reflection upon the past.
The magic of Rowlings series permits her characters to realize
the full advantages of memory for moral development, while raising
some ethical complications regarding its use. One of Fannys longest
unprompted speeches in Mansfield Park shows how the benefits of her
educational experience depend upon the power of human memory.
Speaking to an unreceptive Mary Crawford, Fanny marvels at the
individuals experience of, and in, time: How wonderful, how very


Karin E. Westman

wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human

mind! (222). She then continues,
If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful
than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something
more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures,
the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences.
The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedientat others, so bewildered and so weakand at others again,
so tyrannic, so beyond control!We are to be sure a miracle every
waybut our powers of recollecting and of forgetting, do seem
peculiarly past finding out. (222)
Rowlings creation of the Pensieve alleviates Fannys lament of memorys failings (that it is so bewildered and so weak), and thus the Pensieve allows those who use it to benefit from memorys strengthsin
Fannys words, how memory is so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient. Yet is it acceptable to breach the boundaries of the private self,
to enter anothers mind? When is it necessary to do so? Is it possible
to maintain any integrity of self in such a permeable state of being? Is
integrity of self a valuable ideal? The magic within Rowlings social realism prompts us to pursue these ethical questions, if we are to understand
what constitutes moral authority within the series, and wizards use of
memory modification spells, the complementary skills of Legilimency
and Occlumency, and the Pensieve help us answer them. Ultimately,
Rowling advocates exercising the imagination as much as the wand,
in order to reapethicallybeneficial knowledge while maintaining
ones own integrity of self. In Austens novels, as in Rowlings series,
moral education and moral action evolve from a well-tempered, imaginative engagement with the world.
In the world of Rowlings series, the private mind frequently becomes public propertynot simply through sympathetic penetration
but by literal trespass. The minds thoughts, especially its memories,
are routinely explored, modified, extracted, or eradicated as one mind
controls another. Wizards regularly perform memory modification
spells on Muggles, so those outside the wizarding community will not
suffer confusion or curiosity about unusual people, places, or things.
Indeed, memory spells are Standard Operating Procedure for wizards
like Arthur Weasley and his Ministry colleagues. These spells are the
institutionally-approved, one-size-fits-all band-aid for leaks between
the wizarding and Muggle worlds. As we see throughout the series,

Jane Austin and Harry Potter


Ministry wizards are quick to point their wands at Muggles and say
Obliviateat the scene of a crime (the murder of Peter Pettigrew),
at an international sporting event (the Quidditch World Cup), over a
chance encounter with a magical object (a regurgitating toilet, a nosebiting teacup), or to prevent an inconveniently timed phone call from
a Muggle President to the Muggle British Prime Minister. Whether first
responders or clean-up crew, wizards from several Ministry Departments
use memory modification more than any other spell when Muggles
are involved.
Implicit in such acts, of course, is wizards belief that they have
the right as well as the need to make Muggles forget. According to
Harrys school books, the right to remove Muggle memories stems from
centuries of wizard persecution at Muggle hands, and the wizarding
communitys subsequent need to protect itself in order to survive
hence, the creation of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy
of 1692 (Quidditch 16). However, in the four examples listed above,
the need to remove those memories differs, suggesting that right does
not always align with need. That final example from the opening to
Half-Blood Princehaving a Muggle President forget to call the British Prime Minister so the Prime Minister can confer instead with the
Minister of Magicmodifies memory in order to rearrange events for
wizard convenience. Ministry wizards thus perceive Muggle memory
as expendable and infinitely malleable, whether they are adjusting
the memory of a President or adjusting and re-adjusting with frantic
repetition the memories of Mr. Roberts, the campground manager at
the Quidditch World Cup, or other Muggle minds. In sum, Ministry
officials may use their power to modify memory to suit personal convenience as well as public policy. Their own integrity of self is more
valuable than a Muggles, an exercise of privilege that the series has
yet to explore fully.
While Rowlings series questions only obliquely this wizarding privilege to modify Muggle memory, the novels are quick to indict wizards
who perform such spells on each other, especially for personal gain
rather than public good. Gilderoy Lockhart, for instance, seeks fame
by acquiring the memories of those better at Defense Against the Dark
Arts, and then passing off their knowledge as his own; he receives his
comeuppance when his own spell backfires upon him, eradicating his
memory. Although he has endangered lives through his polished skills
at memory modification, Lockhart serves as a humorous illustration
of one who misuses such magicat least as seen through Harrys eyes


Karin E. Westman

in Chamber of Secrets. Two years later, in Goblet of Fire, the experiences of

Barty Crouch Senior reveal the dangers of using such spells against other wizards. Crouch Senior, we learn with Harry, modified the memory
of Ministry wizard and gossip Bertha Jorkins so she would forget she
had seen alive a person who should have been dead: Crouchs grown
son, a convicted Death Eater. While Crouch Senior bears responsibility for removing this knowledge from public circulation, he also bears
responsibility for making Bertha Jorkins a veritable vending machine
of knowledge for Voldemort. Memory modification spells, like the
Delete command on a computer keyboard, can leave traces of the
information seemingly vanished; retrieving this information is possible
and may well cause permanent damage to that persons memory, if
the retrieval happens at the hands of a wizard like Voldemort, who
cares about ends and not means. Crouch Seniors selfish memory spell
thus makes him culpable on at least two counts: he is responsible for
endangering the public good, and, indirectly, for ending the life of
Bertha Jorkins.17 Crouch Seniors own loss of agency and subsequent
death while under Voldemorts Imperius curse might be seen as a
just punishment, but we are far from the humorous consequences of
Lockharts aggrandizing motives and the poetic justice of his mis-fired
memory spell.
Wizards memories, then, can be as vulnerable to modification as
Muggle minds, but there are few Ministry-approved examples of such
modification. Only one example appears so far in the series: the Auror
Kingsley Shacklebolt modifies the memory of student Marietta Edgecome, just as she is about to reveal to Ministry officials incriminating
details about the supplemental Defense Against the Dark Arts classes
Harry has been teaching for his fellow students (Phoenix 548). Even
here, though, the approval depends upon us seeing Harry, Dum
bledore, and Shacklebolt as being on the right side in two undercover
wars: one against Fudges inept Ministry, and one against Voldemort.
We will return to this war-time context, but for now we can conclude
the following about memory spells: First, that modifying Muggle or
wizard memory for the good of the many is more appropriate than
doing so for the few or for ones own benefit. Second, regardless of the
right to perform such manipulations of memory, we can be sure that
memory offers a somewhat tenuous, or at least less certain, foundation
for building an understanding of others and of the self, given that it
can be modified at any time. A more fluid, porous, vulnerable self is
thus inevitable in Harrys world, unless wizards defend their minds

Jane Austin and Harry Potter


and memories, and exercise, in Mad-Eye Moodys words, Constant

The prevalence of memory spells against Muggles and wizards only
begins to suggest the degree of permeability between self and other
in Rowlings series, the tension between a stable and a fluid self. As
we learn in Order of the Phoenix, the act of Legilimency can also make
the private mind into public property. Legilimency (gaining access to
anothers mind) and Occlumency (resisting anothers intrusion) are
two sides of the same coin: at issue with each skill is the integrity of the
mind, either penetrating it or preserving it. Those few wizards skilled
at one tend to be skilled at the otherVoldemort and Snape are successful in both, as is Dumbledoreand their success is linked to the
ability to control their emotions and concentrate the focus of their
minds. Perhaps because the skill is so rare, Legilimency flies under
the radar of Ministry supervision. The thoroughly close readers at the
Harry Potter Lexicon speculate that Legilimency might be regulated, or
restricted legally, like the use of Veritaserum, the truth-telling potion
(Legilimency), but, so far in the series, we only know that Voldemort,
Snape, and Dumbledore are all skilled Legilimens and that they dont
broadcast this talent. Access to other minds yields, in Snapes words,
access to memories [they] fear, which in turn become weapons
(Phoenix 473). The ability to see into anothers mind, gaining access
to memories and emotions, coupled with the ability to block anothers
intrusive gaze, grants these three wizards incredible power within a
world that runs on tactical knowledge and human emotion.
Human emotion, however, is the Achilles heel of successful Legilimency and Occlumency: as Snape tells Harry, Fools who wear their
hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions
(Phoenix 473), have left themselves vulnerable to intrusion, an easy
target for Voldemort or, in Harrys case, Voldemort and Snape. That
desirable quality of sensibility or sympathy, as discussed earlier, can
be a liability rather than an asset. During private Occlumency lessons,
which Harry undertakes so that he can learn to block Voldemorts access to his mind, Snape gains easy access to Harrys memories, rife as
Harry is with teenage angst and anger. A surge of unfocused emotion,
a loss of control, can also reverse the current of power and turn the
tables of access, as Snape and Harry discover when Harry gains access
to Snapes childhood memories (Phoenix 51920). When Snape lets
down his guard, the memories Harry observesa hook-nosed man
was shouting at a cowering woman, while a small dark-haired boy cried


Karin E. Westman

in a corner, for instance (521)illustrate the weapons Harry now

has at his disposal against a hated teacher and former Death Eater.
Harry, being Harry, is unnerv[ed] by what he has seen and responds
with sympathetic engagement, but in anothers hands, such memories
could be ready ammunition rather than an opportunity for pause
and reflection. Put to either use, the memories are no longer Snapes
alone: that part of his private self has, against his will, become public
to another mind. The dual skills of Legilimency and Occlumency show
us that the individual mind can be both the most permeable boundary
of defense, since it can be penetrated, as well as the last line of defense
against such intrusion, if one can marshal ones emotions and fight
back, preserving memory and, therefore, integrity of self.
Through Legilimency, one persons private memories and emotions
circulate directly to another persons mind; further circulation depends
upon the will of that second person alone. The Pensieve expands that
circulation of knowledge considerably, raising the stakes on individual
privacy and the ethical implications of shared knowledge within the wizarding world. Shaped like a bowl and swirling with the mist of memory,
the Pensieve offers a way to unburden ones mind and evaluate a past
experience in isolation or alongside other memories for comparative
analysis. These memories may be ones own or from someone elses
mind, retrieved with permission or by force; once in the Pensieve, the
memory is on display, performed from the original point of view for
whoever enters it. As Rowling explained in an interview in 2005, The
Pensieve recreates a moment for you, so you could go into your own
memory and relive things that you didnt notice [at] the time (Anelli
and Spartz). When the memories are reviewed only by their creator,
interaction with the Pensieve provides private reflection. When the
memories are reviewed by another, by accident or design, interaction
with the Pensieve provides performance of knowledge. Memory speaks,
and the private becomes public spectacle.
While the Pensieve provides Harry with new knowledge of how to be
good and do good in the world, thanks to its benefits of sympathetic
penetration and reflection, it does raise some difficult questions about
retrieving, storing, and displaying the experience of anothers mind. On
the one hand, the Pensieve certainly plays a crucial role in Harrys moral
education, granting him the ability to experience other points of view
and enlarging his capacity for sympathy. It is through the Pensieve, for
instance, that Harry learns about the limits of the democratic juridical
system in the wizarding world when accidentally experiencing one of

Jane Austin and Harry Potter


Dumbledores memories (Goblet 50919). Through the Pensieve he also

observes, on his own, the relationship between his father and Snape,
from Snapes point of viewknowledge that fractures Harrys idealized
view of his fathers character and grants him sympathy, even empathy,
for the teacher he so despises (Phoenix 56473). Plunged into Snapes
memory of Jamess taunts and boasts while still himself, Harry experiences a double-vision of consciousness which yields a painful knowledge
of his father, of Snape, and of his own self. On the other hand, what
right does Harry have to view Dumbledores and Snapes memories
without their permission? Why should Harrys moral education come
at the expense of anothers privacy? Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
partly side-steps this ethical issue by making the Pensieve a sanctioned
pedagogical tool in Harrys education and the fight against Voldemort, as
Harry meets with Dumbledore for private lessons. However, the various
memories that Dumbledore and Harry review together as they enter,
in Dumbledores words, the murky marshes of memory (Prince 187)
prompt similar questions, since some of those memories have been
retrieved through persuasion and not freely given (188).
The Pensieve, as an educational tool for moral development, thus
captures the crux of the issue concerning the integrity of the self and
the integrity of other selves: In pursuit of a moral self, is it appropriate
to invade someone elses privacy? Is it better to keep the self cordoned
off, or share the self with others? And if you share, what is the costfor
you and for others? Given that Dumbledore and Harry are engaged in
war against a tyrannical and fascist leader, immediate control over ones
private self may need to give way in order to prevent the total loss of
that self in the future. However, perhaps Rowling wishes to make a less
contextualized point about the self and privacy for moral education,
especially through Dumbledores efforts to share information in contrast to Voldemorts stranglehold on the circulation of knowledge.18 If
private memories can be retrieved, circulated, and shared with respect
and care, then potentially powerful forces like Harry, who might act
without concern for others, can acquire sympathy and compassion to
temper and channel their use of force.
Gained in this process is perspective, which can come from imaginative engagement as well as from a new factindeed, the imagination
will play a role in the processing of that fact into an existing puzzle of
experience and play a role in reflection on its significance. The imagination therefore offers a way to gain experience that is non-invasive, that
preserves the integrity of the self, that is not a threat to the privacy of


Karin E. Westman

others minds or of the self. Certain historical moments might call for
the use of memory modification spells, for Legilimency, for persuading others to produce memories for public consumption (or their
equivalent in our world), but imagination, and by extension art, offer
an ethical and secure way to turn the private mind inside outto have
memory speak, and to transform the self.
The role that memory and imagination play in moral education certainly links Rowling to Austen, drawing together the formal presentation
of their fictional worlds and the themes presented there. In Austens
novels, characters like Fanny who can recognize how wonderful, how
very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human
mind and the faculty of memory (222) are the characters who
can be moral agents within the world (De Rose 227). For Austen
and for Rowling, knowledge of the pastones own memories and
others experiencescan create morally responsible individuals in
the present and the future. In presenting such views for their readers,
Austen and Rowling share the artistic goal of presenting a picture
of [their characters] mind (Manfield Park 412) in order to paint a
portrait of moral authority for the social world. While some critics of
the novels, like Philip Hensher, still claim them to be only plotAnd
then, and then, and thenRowlings narrative style reminds us that
character and point of view, as well as a well-crafted plot, are pleasures
of the series and part of its strengths. If we are to appreciate Rowlings
representation of the world through one characters eyes, her call for
sympathy, and her view of the moral self, then her narrative debt to
Austen shows us the way.
In interviews since 1997, Rowling has consistently named Austen as her favorite
author; Roddy Doyle is often listed second. See, for example, Blakeney; Magic, Mystery,
and Mayhem; J. K. Rowlings Bookshelf; Comic Relief Live Chat; and Renton.
While reviewers and scholars have noted Rowlings love for Austen, none to my knowledge has offered an extended analysis of Austens legacy in terms of form and theme.
Rowlings debt to Austen, then, reaches beyond her borrowing Mrs. Norriss name
from Mansfield Park for Filchs cat. Suman Gupta, in his text-to-world study of books 14,
might see this naming as just one of Rowlings many evasive allusions, as he calls them,
which merely contribute to the inconsistency and indiscriminateness of the allusive
strategy of the Harry Potter novels (9798), but I believe we can read Mrs. Norriss
appearance as part of a more meaningful whole.
There are certainly further thematic connections to explore between Austens novels and Rowlings seriesAustens critiques of capitalism and patriarchy, her critique
of authority when it abdicates responsibility and cedes power to the selfish, her use of

Jane Austin and Harry Potter


the Gothic, to name a fewbut I will limit my discussion here to the development of
the moral self.
For a discussion of Rowlings series within the framework of Lawrence Kohlbergs
theories of moral development, see Whited and Grimes. The readings offered through
this lens echo several of the conclusions I draw, by comparison with Austen, about Harrys
moral development.
For a succinct overview of Austens narrative style, see Burrows; see also Hough; and
Flavin. In connecting Rowling and Austen through their narrative form, my argument
stands in contrast to Maria Nikolajevas claim that Rowling does not use any of the more
sophisticated narrative techniques for conveying psychological states and that the Harry
Potter novels are clearly action-oriented rather than character-oriented (134).
See, for example, Westman; and Chevalier. For discussions of Austens novels with
attention to the cultural and political world of her characters, see, for example, Johnson;
Stewart; Lew; Fraiman; and Roe.
Suman Gupta attempts to explain the changes between books through theories of
progression and elaboration (9496), without addressing this formal element of
Rowlings prose fiction.
Wayne Booth describes this narrative process in detail: The author herselfnot
necessarily the real Jane Austen but an implied author, represented in this book by
a reliable narratorheightens the effects by directing our intellectual, moral, and
emotional progress . . . reinforc[ing] both aspects of the double vision that operates
throughout the book: our inside view of Emmas worth and our objective view of her
great faults (256).
As Lodge says of our re-reading of Emma, citing Harvey, the ironic mode does not
totally dominate the second reading because our attention is so diversified by the thick
web of linguistic nuance that we do not concentrate singlemindedly on the ironic results
of the mystification. Re-reading is pleasurable, then, and also acquits Emma of failing
to see what, upon re-reading, we missed ourselves the first time through (ix).
As Roy Porter notes, in the eighteenth century, she who couldnt blush was a woman
without shame (qtd. in Gwilliams 148). Ruth Bernard Yeazell explains how the writers
of conduct books clearly valued the efficacy of shame and praised the blush precisely as
a sign of the young womans responsiveness to the judgmentsand feelingsof others
(71). For an extended discussion of the collective fascination with the sudden flow of
blood to [the] cheek (65), see Yeazells Modest Blushing in Fictions of Modesty.
Emmas view of Miss Bates undergoes a similar change, as does Harrys of Neville.
Along with other critics and reviewers such as Ximena Gallardo C. and C. Jason
Smith, Roni Natov notes Harry as a Cinderlad (315). Thomas Hoberg reads Fanny as
an artistic parody of the sweet Cinderella legend (138).
Both friendships are on a more equal footing than the one Emma initiates for her
amusement with Harriet in Austens later novel.
Fanny differs here from Emma, who cannot follow any course of steady reading
(Emma 32).
The effect of education afflicts Mary Crawford and her brother as well, so that
Mary speaks evil in playfulness (275), as she pursues wealth and social station. See Kelly
for an overview of Austens critique of contemporary educational precepts.
Slughorns decision to give Dumbledore a modified memory in order to save face
offers another example of selfish modification jeopardizing the public good (Prince 34748). Only Harrys appeals to Slughorns regard for Lily Potter and to the un-Slytherin
desire to be brave and noble bring the unmodified memory to light (459).
At issue here is the circulation of knowledge in relation to power: Voldemorts idea
of power depends upon the consolidation of power within one persona theory perhaps
at odds with his decision to fragment and disperse his soulwhile Dumbledore is willing
to share some of his knowledge and therefore his power with others.


Karin E. Westman
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