Elena Kagan, Lover of Pride and Prejudice

Greer Garson as Elizabeth BennettGreer Garson as Elizabeth Bennett     

Elena Kagan, current nominee for the U. S. Supreme Court, is a “literature lover” who used to reread Pride and Prejudice every year.  So we are informed by a fascinating New York Times profile.  Does this tell us anything about what kind of justice she will be?

I wrote last year about books that were meaningful for justices Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas (Nancy Drew and Native Son respectively).   Sotomayor has proved to be outspoken, direct and unafraid, like Nancy, and Thomas seems driven by deep resentment, like Bigger Thomas.  Perhaps Kagan looks for inspiration to Elizabeth Benett.

Before speculating on this, let me first say that I understand why one would read Pride and Prejudice every year.  I used to do so at the end of each spring semester.  I would stumble into the Registrar’s office after weeks of intense interactions with students, hand in my grades, and then retreat into Elizabeth and Darcy’s love story. The novel gave me a sense of repose after the chaos of the school year.

Kagan, like Elizabeth, is a community builder.  In fact, as I read about Kagan’s success in transforming the Harvard Law School from a fractious group of egotists into colleagues, I am struck by all the resemblances.

Elizabeth may be surrounded by fools (Collins) and knaves (Wickham), but she maintains her poise, observes decorum, and blends principle with common sense.  She is confident but not arrogant.   Although she is very smart, when she discovers that she has been misled by her prejudices, she self-corrects.  When the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh tries to bully her, she sticks to her guns.  She refuses to be overthrown by setbacks but finds perspective, and refuge, in her ready wit.  

Concluding the book as Mistress of Pemberley seems a just reward for Elizabeth.  By most accounts, Kagan is similarly worthy of a place on the Supreme Court.


Literature in the News Alert – Yesterday on National Public Radio, the names of Austen and Emily Bronte were invoked regarding the rather remarkable developments in the recent British election.  While soundly beating the Labor Party, James Cameron and the Tories have failed to garner a majority of seats, which means that Nicholas Clegg of the centrist Liberal Democrats is in a position to be kingmaker.  He can join up with either the Tories or with Labor to make a majority coalition.

The NPR reporter noted that Clegg was being compared to an Austen heroine being courted by two suitors.  (They didn’t say which one.  Marianne Dashwood?  Anne Elliott?)  Or, in a better analogy, to Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, with Gordon Brown as Heathcliff and Cameron as Edgar Linton.

If the analogy holds, then Britain will have a Tory-Liberal Democratic government since Catherine marries Linton.  Of course, she then has second thoughts when Heathcliff returns, and the marriage goes south in a hurry.  Which, prognosticators are predicting, could happen regardless of who Clegg marries given Britain’s urgent need to begin implementing tough austerity measures.

I tell my students that listening to the popular media and understanding such literary references is one of the pay-offs of being well-read.  It gives life extra resonance.

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  1. […] Elena Kagan, Lover &#959f Pride &#1072n&#1281 Prejudice […]

  2. By Yet Another Dehumanizing Metaphor: Anchor Babies on August 8, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    […] chosen to the U. S. Supreme Court.  I have written about Kagan’s love for Pride and Prejudice here, as well as the reasons why, given a choice, it’s better to have a Pride and Prejudice lover than […]

  3. By Mitt’s Favorite Book: Sci Fi Nostalgia on May 30, 2012 at 5:09 am

    […] in order to see what insights we can gain. (See previous posts on Barack Obama, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Clarence Thomas, and a range of presidents.)  I was therefore interested when Mitt Romney […]


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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