Challenges Women Face in Jane Austen’s Literary Works
Jane Austen and the Contemporary World
Jane Austen has thrilled the world through her skill in the quill delving into critical issues in our world such as the relationship between the sexes, the role of money within the establishment of marriage, and the comedy of manners. Because of the growing power of feminization and the assertion of the woman’s right in society, Jane Austen grows into a stentorian voice calling for female equality and opportunity. Her novels are set in her own Victorian Age where the role of the woman was confined to the home, however the typical Austen heroines as well as modern women still face the same challenges: social relations, gendered social conventions and marriage.
Austen explores the criteria which the woman ought to follow to improve her nubility, desirability, and her success. The primary books which have gained high notoriety in movie and theatre are Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and certain famed adaptations of her autobiography such as Becoming Jane, and Atonement. With the evolved position of the woman, contemporaneity still stands enthralled at Austen’s depiction of the classical Victorian nature of courtship rules and gender mores. It must be noted that in most of Austen’s dénouements, the protagonists endure the affliction of real or imagined betrayal which dissolves into a happy ending by the conclusion. This story line fits it with the preferred style of popular audiences for idyllic love reigns triumphant despite the odds.
The battle of the balance between reason and sentimentality rages on today as matters of the head and heart still are raised in question. Wit and satire permeate her writings and they constitute another of the reasons for which her work draws so many. Jane Austen’s life has commanded renewed interest for she embodies two main contraventions: her bachelorhood and her successful literary career. Her election to remain single and a writer is singular whereas today’s women are choosing to live lives independent of the marriage institution and pursue her livelihood without the sole support of the man. In the novel/ film adaptation of Jane Eyre, the preponderant themes which emerge are the woman question, religion, social class, childhood and marriage of convenience. The thematic concerns of Jane Austen harmonize will with those of Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte, her contemporaries uring the Victorian Era. Other contemporary women artists who highlight these same themes are Jane Austen in all of her works, her cinematographic and biographic representation in “Becoming Jane” and Elizabeth Browning in her most famous poetic work, Aurora Leigh. Jane Austen throws in relief, the struggles of the young woman in search of a place in society.
In Austen novels, the bildungsroman genre is featured where one can trace the growth, development and maturity of the character from childhood or pre-adolescent to adulthood, contending with societal norms and mores, social belonging, abject poverty and her only way for survival – marriage prospects. The other issues that Jane Austen characters must confront are the suitability of marrying above her class, compatibility issues and when she chooses chastity above debauchery. Instead of attempting to marry a married man, she chooses to leave him and fall on adversity. In 19th century England, during the Victorian period such is the lot of the woman. Forfeiting a marriage offer often means penury and a threat to a decent existence. Parellels of this identical circumstance resurface constantly in Austen and her contemporaries – which themes reoccur today, bestowing such timelessness and lending practical relevance to Austen’s novels.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. the Journey of Self-recovery
The journey of self-love, self-discovery, and self-awareness is a complicated and confusing path that one must take in order to gain complete introspection and confidence in oneself. Jane Austen illustrates this journey perfectly in her renowned novel Pride and Prejudice through her character Elizabeth Bennet as said character progressively learns about herself throughout the book in an attempt to understand her path to self-recognition. This theme of “knowing thyself” is explored through the structure of the story, the hidden traces of prejudice seen in Elizabeth, and through her unpliancy to omit to social norms.
Firstly, throughout the course of the novel, Elizabeth goes through multiple changes that drastically transform her character and help her realize things about herself that were previously unknown to her. Austen helps the readers keep track of her character’s development by using the structure of the book as a metaphorical timeline to her road to self-discovery; one going from the beginning to the middle to the end. At the beginning of the novel, for instance, Elizabeth is described as having “had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous,” (Austen 51) and as disposing a “real earnestness” (143), although these are relatively good qualities to have, they are superficial traits, and are not the characteristics Elizabeth struggles to reveal in herself throughout the book. In fact, it is only at around the mid-point of the book when Mr. Darcy proposes to the young woman, that she realizes her faults and that she too has shortcomings of her own that must be overcome. At the end of the book, Elizabeth demonstrates that she is truly happy when Jane asks her about her relationship with Darcy: “There can be no doubt of that. It is settled between us already, that we are to be the happiest couple in the world” (372), which was only made possible through recognition of her own flaws, and by overcoming her own pride.
While the title of the novel indicates that pride and prejudice are reoccurring themes throughout the book, Elizabeth only realizes her own prideful ways near the middle of the story. Assuredly, in the first two volumes, Darcy’s arrogant, prideful, and prejudiced demeanor is a constant source of Elizabeth’s resentment for him. She reproaches time after time to herself, and to others in her surroundings how Darcy is plagued with too much pride, and holds bias for people with lower connections. However, it is when she reads Mr. Darcy’s letter explaining the reasons behind his falling out with Mr. Wickham hat her true nature his revealed. She finds out that she too was filled with prejudice against him: “How despicably I have acted! I, who have prided myself on my discernment! . . . How humiliating is this discovery! . . . Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself” (226-227). At this very moment, Elizabeth sees herself for who she is, and is outraged. She has let her unsubstantiated views of Darcy maker her blind to so many things. Mr. Wickham’s true character, for example, had been brought to her attention on multiple occasions by Miss Bingley, Mr. Darcy, and even Mrs. Gardiner, but Elizabeth blinded with prejudice against the wealthy aristocrat, threw reason to the wind, and foolishly trusted Mr. Wickham. Despite her faults, Elizabeth, upon having this revelation about herself, does not suppress it like so many others would; rather she embraces it so that she may grow. We see this manifest at the end, when she finally sets her beliefs and misconceptions of Mr. Darcy aside, and thus realizes that she loves him.
Since the beginning of the story, Elizabeth repeatedly rejects and challenges every hint of traditional norms in relation to the roles of women, marriage and class: “In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentlemen’s daughter; so far we are equal” (357). This is a clear example of Elizabeth’s desire to defy societal conventions, and go against what has always been taught to her by her mother. In fact, this defiance is illustrated exactly when Lady Catherine De Bourgh comes to visit Miss Bennet, and forbids her to take Darcy’s hand in marriage on the basis that she and her family lack social status to which Elizabeth replies she is “equal” (357) in every way. However, by the end of the novel, due to her love affair with Mr. Darcy and her better understanding of herself, Elizabeth realizes that she is allowed to conform to what is expected of her and be a strong woman while also being in love at the same time. She discovers that love and independence are not exclusive and she accepts that Mr. Darcy’s love has actually helped her develop her character and enhance her personality instead of stripping away her individuality as she previously thought.
In conclusion, Elizabeth Bennet’s journey of “knowing thyself” is achieved through Austen’s metaphorical built-in structure of the book that allows her character to grow. It is also demonstrated through said character’s realization that she too has been holding the same prejudice she criticized in Mr. Darcy. Finally, through the acceptance that she does not need to completely disregard traditional and societal conventions for woman in that era to be happy. In fact, she finds a balance between the two, which she did with help from Mr. Darcy, thus finally understanding her true and proper self.
Staging a Jane Austen Romance by Director Geordie Brookman
Comical. Farcical. Satirical. State Theatre Company hilariously performs Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in their fast-paced production of this classic Jane Austen romance. Set in the late 18th century England, themes of marriage, gossip, social class, love, and family are explored. Director Geordie Brookman invites the audience to fall in love with this frivolous story of two Dashwood sisters – the sensible Elinor (Anna Steen), and the dramatic Marianne (Miranda Daughtry). Together, their reduced social-standing and financial troubles following the recent death of their father, remind the audience that there is only one way to resolve their issues – find a husband!
With the clever design and use of the set, costumes and props, Brookman admirably transports the audience into a single magnificent, large, high-panelled ballroom, with nine-candle holders mounted at identical intervals, casting a warm, golden glow over the perimeter wall of the stage. As the curtain rises, the audience are instantly drawn towards the colossal chandelier hanging from centre stage, exquisitely adorned with white ostrich feathers. During every scene, the chandelier emanates numerous shades of sharp and pastel hues, magically transforming the three-sided wall. The play commences rather peculiarly – two actors roller-skate from opposite ends of the stage, wearing large multi-coloured bonnets against their unembellished, yet naturalistic white costumes. The audience now watch baffled, as the characters unfurl a long, rectangular sign elucidating in cursive the title of the production. This melodramatic convention is followed throughout the play with various characters riding tricycles with large place cards, cleverly illustrating the location of a new scene, hilarity modern tunes are heard from ukuleles and kazoos and a human clock says “tick-tock,” signifying the passage of time. This rapidity also mirrors the swirling emotions of the Dashwood girls when they are left penniless by the selfishness of their brother John (Dale March) and his avaricious wife Fanny (Lizzy Falkland). Moreover, halved coconut shells intimidate the clacking of horse hooves, whilst each door reveals a gossiper ardently eavesdropping in on conversations. As such, the Greek chorus are an essential physical device used to provide the audience with further insight into what is going on in the lives of the central characters. Ultimately, through Brookman’s ingenious amalgamation of the set, costumes and props, the audience grow habituated to the incongruous, yet highly amusing events occurring onstage.
In the opening scene, Brookman skilfully creates understated humour through impeccable timing, acting and direction of the production. As such, chairs slide freely across the stage towards a large, wooden table, halting with perfect accuracy and precision to land neatly under Elinor’s descending buttock. These swift transitions continue throughout the production, and not one passes without a waggish chuckle from the audience. As a result, these directional conventions effectively set the predominately light-hearted and playful tone of this production for all audience members.
Falkland’s double dip as the diabolical Fanny and the panache Mrs. Jenning’s is highly commendable. Particularly, her ability to use a higher language register for the boisterous yet warm-hearted Mrs. Jenning’s, enables the audience to easily differentiate between these two characters. Whilst Mrs. Jenning’s thrives on matchmaking and innuendo, Fanny is the physical representation of the spoiled and selfish women of Austen’s time. Her pretentiousness is especially evident in her desire to preserve her money, prestige and reputation by manipulating John to think that the Dashwood girls should incur as little money as possible. Hence, the universal yearning for financial security and gossip in this era takes a central focus through Falkand’s magnificent interpretation of Fanny and Mrs. Jenning’s.
At the heart of this performance, Brookman aimed to explore both the exhilarating and painful side to love through the use of specific music, characters, lighting and costumes. With brooding tension, Marianne perches on the edge of the bed in her room, her eyes carefully following every word on the letter she receives from John Willoughby (Rashidi Edward), an unusually handsome young man. The audience watch intently as her hands quiver slightly, whilst her shoulders begin to slouch, effectively physicalising her anguish and hefty heartbreak. At the same time, the garrulous gossipers gradually tiptoe towards the bed, reminding the audience of the power of word of mouth in this time period. Approaching the bed, expeditious eccentric music from a grand piano moulded in the right corner of the stage cuts through the silence, whilst coruscating white lighting pervades the stage, as Marianne’s bed spins and rotates, emblematically mimicking how giddy she feels after reading the dreadful news. Abruptly, the bed halts and Marianne is seen sinking her head into the pillows of the bed sheets, crying hysterically. Dressed in white, Marianne is an innocent young girl who does not conceal her affection for Willoughby. Hence, her costume embodies “sensibility,” which juxtaposes the prudence of Elinor’s “sense.” These stage elements – music, characters, lighting and costumes, assist to create a sharper depiction of Marianne’s idealised notions of love, therefore effectively enhancing the audience’s sympathy for her situation.
Lighting, acting, music, The most unforgettable moment unfolds as Anne Steele (Caroline Mignone) convincingly plays a vulgar and tactless young lady. Leaning over the arm of a chestnut antique chair, she enthusiastically whispers a “family secret” in Fanny’s ear, reminding the audience that not all of the Dashwood family are trustworthy and loving. Immediately, white lighting beams over the stage, representing the exposure of a secret, whilst Falkland effortlessly captures Fanny’s disgust – her eyes become wide with horror. Her mouth drops opens, her face gaunt and immobile. Even her fists clench with blanched knuckles. As this scene approaches its climax, the audience observe as piercing screams tear through the air like shards of glass, shattering the taciturnity on stage. The scream comes again, frantic and terrifying. A third scream protrudes from Fanny’s mouth, full of hysteria and disbelief. Bewildered, Lucy Steele, (Rachel Burke) Anne’s younger sister from no fortune, steadily meanders on stage. Precipitously, Fanny advances towards Lucy, fists tightly balled. To underscore this action, a gossiper gravitates towards the wings, riotously playing a ukulele, the outlandish song intensifying as the two girls convene centre stage slapping each other in slow motion, whilst waves of undulating strobe lights impale the stage. Together, these highly stylised features have been adopted in association with each other to vividly underscore this nonsensical and ludicrous scene, all the while eliciting genuine belly laughs from the audience. MENTION DIRECTOR INTENT AND DIRECTION – was obviously executed by the actors and technical elements.
As Sense and Sensibility approaches its climax, theatrical elements including sound, lighting and acting combine to underscore Daughtry’s superb portrayal of the hyper sensitive Marianne, particularly when she marches out of the cottage. The booming rumble of thunder intensifies, enabling the audience to envisage bolts of lightning, streaking the stormy sky with flashes of radiance. As dark blue lighting materialises onto the stage, it effectively foreshadows Marianne’s melancholy and miserable mental state, emphasising how heartbreak can be devastating. This naturalistic portrayal of the romantically inclined Marianne is unreservedly convincing throughout. With her arms firmly wrapped around herself, Marianne treads forward, shrieking Willoughby’s name, searching helplessly into the audience as if expecting a response. Abruptly, she begins to drop to the floor. At the same time, two gossipers raise her horizontally towards the ceiling, effectually representing how she is too weak and drenched from the rain to even support her own weight. However, when Colonel Brandon (Dale March) an older bachelor, rambles on stage, without vacillation he carries Marianne in his arms, like a baby that is too feeble to walk on its own. As Marianne lies impotently on her bed, gossipers stand behind her, incessantly reminding the audience of their ubiquitous presence within the plot. The amalgam of lighting and sound efficaciously conveys the intensity of Daughtry’s performance in expressing Marianne’s childish and interminable quest to find love, in spite of the cost. As such, Daughtry’s impressive depiction of Marianne reminds the audience that finding love isn’t always easy, however pure and ideal relationships are also not impossible to find.
Brookman’s latest farcical but nevertheless moving rendition turns Jane Austenian tradition on its head. Using a variety of non-verbal dramatic techniques such as lighting, body language, facial expressions, symbolism, props, sound effects and stage directions, State Theatre Company is bursting with exceptional representations of the numerous characters; ultimately reminding the audience of the value of speaking from your heart as well as the danger of excessive sensibility.
The Feminism of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
Back in the Victorian Era, the British society was ruled by Queen Victoria, yet the society was a male centered thinking society. The book of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen satirized the 19th-century British society through contrasting Elizabeth to other following characters: Caroline Bingley, Jane Bennet, and Charlotte Lucas. Each of them represented stereotypes of traditional women who adapt themselves to fit the society for seeking marriage. The feminism of Elizabeth differentiated her from rest of the characters and stated the strong independence of women during the Victorian Era.
First of all, Caroline Bingley represented the type of woman that was educated according to the expectation of the society, but she doesn’t have too much of academic achievements. Caroline mostly focus on fulfilling her role of women of the society, such as playing piano or drawing. However, when Caroline heard Mr. Darcy stated his expectation for women, Caroline added, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” (Austen 42-43). Caroline’s reaction to Mr. Darcy’s expectation was the perfect example where a Victorian Age woman tried to impress a man. Caroline tried to adapt herself to a form where Mr. Darcy would find her attractive and to meet his expectation. On the other hand, Elizabeth is fascinated with intellectual pursuits, but she doesn’t receive the proper education that a woman should possess. “‘Has your governess left you?’ ‘We never had any governess’ ‘No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without a governess! I never heard of such a thing.’” (Austen 126). This conversation between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth displayed that fact that most families in the country hired governess to educate the girls, but the Bennets didn’t hired one before. Governess were hired to teach the youngest girls reading, writing, and arithmetic, while teaching older girls French conversation, history, and geography. Also, the eldest girls were required to learn skills such as drawing, playing piano, dancing and deportment (British Library). Although Elizabeth wasn’t properly educated by a governess, but her display of erudition was considered an unfeminine behavior, since men wouldn’t appreciate women to have more knowledge than them. While Caroline fulfill her role of being a less intelligent woman, Elizabeth wasn’t afraid of showing her intelligence to Darcy.
Second, Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s sister, represents the typical Victorian-Era woman. Jane was beautiful, incredibly polite, and shy. During the Victorian Era, shyness was considered one of the expected traits a woman should possess. (Pride, Prejudice, and Shyness). Throughout the novel, Jane remained very shy according to the society’s expectation. When Jane and Mr. Bingley first met at the Meryton Ball, Mr. Bingley was attracted to Jane’s beauty and sweetness, but her following indifference almost caused to her to lose the love of Mr. Bingley. As Mr. Darcy wrote to Elizabeth about why he is against the relationship between Jane and Mr. Bingley, “Her look and manners were open, cheerful and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard, and I remained convinced from the evening’s scrutiny, that though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment.” (Austen 150). Jane’s affection for Mr. Bingley was hidden because she was shy, moreover, is because the society expected her to be.
Thirdly, Elizabeth’s best friend Charlotte Lucas was a sharp contrast between Elizabeth and the traditional Victorian Era women. When Charlotte told Elizabeth about her engagement to Mr. Collins, she said, “I am not romantic you know, I never was. I ask only a comfortable home – and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.” (Austen 98). Charlotte’s pursue of marriage reflected the fact that she married Mr. Collins because he could provide her with connection, social status, and a comfortable home, which was what the society expected women to pursue in a marriage. Women pursued marriage because it would provide them with financial sense rather than sexual or emotional satisfaction (Hughes). Despite Charlotte doesn’t have much feelings for Mr. Collins, she believed he could provide her with financial secure in the future. Although Elizabeth understood why Charlotte would make such decision, but on the contrary, she would never forfeit her own happiness for financial reasons. The views of marriage between Elizabeth and Charlotte marked the feminism of Elizabeth, who wouldn’t be compromised even if a man with great wealth offers her a marriage proposal. This explains why Elizabeth turned down Mr. Darcy’s first proposal; Elizabeth believed Darcy couldn’t give her the happiness she intended to have (Austen 147).
In conclusion, by contrasting three different stereotypes of characters in the novel, Jane Austen emphasized the feminism of Elizabeth where she boldly presented her intelligence, assertiveness, and independence throughout the story. While other characters tried to adapt to meet the expectation of the society and to seek marriage, Elizabeth demonstrated how a woman could remain her feminism and also secure a husband.
The Conflicting Gender Values of Jane Austen’s Emma
On the surface, Jane Austen’s Emma reads as a simple account of its protagonist Emma Woodhouse’s emotional development. Through the course of the novel, Emma comes to realize the folly of her arrogance and cluelessness. Emma’s realization of her shortcomings allows her to correct her reprehensible thoughts and opinions and attain humility as a result. Whereas Emma displays an assortment of protofeminist beliefs at the onset of the novel, her pseudo-maturation causes her to forego these beliefs in order to acclimate to the society she resides in. Despite being the most affluent and respectable woman in Highbury, Emma experiences both empowerment and oppression during her maturation. Her unique position sheds light upon the novel’s conflicting opinion towards gender, specifically on matters such as empowerment, sovereignty, and individuality.
Although Emma is the de facto head of Hartfield on behalf of her hypochondriac father, she exercises significantly less power in the greater world of Highbury. In an attempt to influence the world within her reach, Emma continuously engages in matchmaking throughout the novel. Her hobby is promptly contested by none other than Mr. Knightley himself, who calls her match between Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston a “lucky guess” of “idle” thoughts and hopes (Austen 14). Emma responds:
“… a lucky guess is never merely luck. There is always some talent in it. And as to my poor word ‘success,’ which you quarrel with, I do not know that I am so entirely without any claim to it. You have drawn two pretty pictures–but I think there may be a third–a something between the do-nothing and the do-all” (Austen 14).
Although Emma concedes the possibility that the marriage may not have been entirely due to her actions, she adamantly argues that her efforts cumulated in a tangible contribution nevertheless. By devising and promoting matches that may sometimes be singularly visible to herself only, Emma attempts to break free from tradition, which confines women within their domestic spheres. Thus, Emma’s matchmaking is a progressive attempt of female self-empowerment.
This tale of self-empowerment may cast Emma in a protofeminist light, but a closer examination of matchmaking and its effect on the greater group of women shows that it has a retrograde silver lining. Emma’s matches are made without the will of the men or women involved taken into account. Furthermore, her matches are specifically intended to benefit herself. To keep her friend Harriet Smith “within the sphere in which she moves” (Austen 60), Emma encourages her to reject Mr. Martin’s marriage proposal. Emma’s obvious support of the preestablished social hierarchy is observable here when she explains that she “could not have visited Mr. Robert Martin, of Abbey-Mill Farm” (Austen 52) due to her social class. Emma’s inability to consider the prospects of associating with a family considered to be as socially inferior as the Martins trumps even the close friendship that she shares with Harriet. Thus, she deprives Harriet of the ability to choose her husband and delays her settlement into a marriage considered “safe, respectable, and happy” for her (Austen 63). Whereas matchmaking is a means of empowerment for Emma, it is also a means of disenfranchisement on the women it targets.
Emma’s privilege allows her to take up the potentially reprehensible action of matchmaking. However, it does not exempt her from the expectation of marriage. Matrimony is arguably the most significant pursuit that a woman in Victorian England can make as it cements her place in society as a respectable and established woman regardless of whether she chooses to marry within or outside of her rank in society. Miss Taylor’s marriage does not spare her from the duty of pleasing an employer or husband, but she is nevertheless congratulated by “every friend” as she is now “settled in a home of her own” and “secure of a comfortable provision” (Austen 13). Thus, the expectation and appreciation of marriage in Highbury continues to largely restrict the vocational sovereignty of its women.
While marriage presents itself as a universal requirement for women, the characters Emma Woodhouse and Jane Fairfax demonstrate the emergence of alternate options. Emma’s initial stance towards marriage questions the necessity of marriage and rejects the notion as a whole. As a notable character with “none of the usual inducements of women to marry,” (Austen 82), Emma makes it clear that her marriage will be a conscious choice in the event of love rather than in compliance with societal expectations. In comparison, Jane’s predicament is a product of the other extreme. Given little but a “very few hundred pounds,” Jane’s penury makes independence á la Emma impossible. She is instead expected to supply a personal means of “respectable subsistence” by occupying a position as a governess. Whereas employment is seen as an ignominy and a fall from respect for accomplished young women, the mere establishment of jobs for women paves the way towards their entry into the greater parts of society. The excess possession of wealth or lack thereof creates newfound forms of sovereignty for the women of the novel, who are able to not only renounce marriage but also find a means to support themselves without it.
Ascribing to the Victorian ideals of civility and propriety, the women of Highbury are encouraged to cultivate a variety of qualities that are considered desirable for women. These mannerisms and skills are solely acquired through diligence and devotion and are therefore expected from all of the female characters of the novel. Emma’s comparatively superior status does not exempt her from this expectation but conversely holds her to a higher standard to attain these characteristics as they are considered the marks of the accomplished, civilized woman. This appreciation is most clearly portrayed in the novel’s depiction and introduction of Jane Fairfax. Having acquired a “decided superiority” in her acquirements, Jane’s proficiency at playing the pianoforte and her reserved personality cause her to be considered as a “very elegant, remarkably elegant” young woman who is respected regardless of her worldly endowment. Her cultivation of these talents has a twofold effect; while it enforces the stereotype of the meek, domestic, yet intelligent woman, it also allows her to catch the eye of Frank Churchill, who appreciates her enough to the point of marrying her. Thus, Jane’s cultivation of her “feminine” qualities has a paradoxical effect. Whereas her accomplishments and ensuing respect reinforce a certain set of expectations for women, they are the very qualities that stress her individuality and save her from her barren predicament through the prospect of matrimony.
The depiction of gender in Emma possesses both progressive and conservative elements that can be observed in three main points of contention. The act of matchmaking can be viewed as the empowerment of an individual, it occurs at the expense of the individual’s closest peers. The societal expectation of marriage in the novel can be viewed as a stifling and unyielding mark of submission but serves to illustrate that women are beginning to vie for their sovereignty by circumventing this requirement. While the attainment of traditionally feminine qualities perpetuates a conventional stereotype of the “perfect” woman, it allows the women to cultivate their skills and differentiate themselves from others by doing so. Although the novel does not espouse a clear message on gender, it nevertheless conveys an emerging rift between expectation and reality.
Pride and Prejudice Analysis
During the 18th century, when women were considered to be weak and without options, Jane Austen wrote “Pride and Prejudice” as a critique of the social, patriarchal and marriage structures of her time. While focusing on Austen’s portrayal of strong female characters, we will argue how “Pride and Prejudice erodes exist stereotypes of women.
Sarah R. Morrison, the author of “Of Woman Borne: Male Experience and Feminine Truth in Jane Austen’s Novels”, writes, “Men are of secondary importance in the novels, however useful they may be to the plot, and male experience becomes relevant only in so far as it confirms “feminine” truth. And by this I mean not a truth for women alone but what for Austen is a universal truth reflected more clearly in women’s experience” (Morrison 341). If we take for example, the first line of the book, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Austen, 3), our first thought is of a man looking for a wife, but as we read on, we quickly learn that this story is not about a man’s experience, but of the women. Yes, there is a lot of engagement and marriage, and yes, some of the women are marrying for economic reasons, but they have all made their own choices, which is something empowering, especially during this time of oppression.
If we consider one of the core principles of feminist thought, which is that all people have value, and that value is not a property only or primarily of, and that women have value which should be articulated and rewarded, we need only look at the women in the Bennet family.
Many may argue that Austen’s novel reinforces sexist stereotypes of women, rather than erode them, such as when Mrs. Bennet says, “Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennett got rid of her two most deserving daughters” (Austen 263). Many times throughout the novel, we hear Mrs. Bennett express her want, and almost need, for her four daughters to be married. She even goes as far as to say that it is her only wish to see them married. Mrs. Bennet is a distinctly counter-feminist indulgence, but she is a strong woman. Does Mrs. Bennet’s character reinforce sexist stereotypes of women, or is she just a product of her time? I argue that she is but a woman who wants to see her daughters’ futures secured. Although not terribly bright, she is a driving force to be reckoned with. Mr. Bennet, her husband, clearly loves her and understands who she is. She acknowledges her own value vicariously, by recognizing herself in Lydia. Mrs. Bennet may seem like a character that reinforces sexist stereotypes of women, but that is only because of her time.
The common stereotypical portrayal of a heroine is that she is beautiful. Austen erodes this sexist stereotyped by creating a character who is recognized for her mind, not her beauty. Elizabeth Bennet, a strong-willed, intelligent, self-confident, witty, and described to have dancing eyes, is portrayed realistically as having areas of weakness. Her insolence and initial misjudgement of a male character, Darcy, leads him to understand and respect her as his equal by the end of the novel. Although said to have not a quite beautiful face, the reader is led to consider, “that the major concern of the book is with the possibilities and responsibility of free and lively thought” (Morgan 340). Elizabeth was a woman who remained her authentic self and did not need male acknowledgement to know her value or worth. Marriage was considered to be the best option for women economically during Austen’s time. It was a uncommon to see a woman turning down a proposal, but Elizabeth loved and received love on her own terms.
Jane Austen’s admiration of Elizabeth is also an admiration of herself. Austen was a woman who felt pride in resisting and questioning patriarchal prejudices during her time (Khei 58). She used “Pride and Prejudice” as a tool to challenge the assumptions of her time. In doing so, she upholds pride for women while eroding stereotypes. We find ourselves more completely, as women, after contemplating her novel, and our assumptions about status and gender, and our right or responsibility to challenge the assumptions of others (Nachumi 119).
In a time with strict cultural restrictions, emerged a novel by Jane Austen, which celebrated the uniqueness of women, and encouraged women to be true to themselves. “Pride and Prejudice” offers us a look into the lives of many different women, and how their independence were suppressed because of the time, and how despite these restrictions, some women thrived and refused to be have their value determined by whether or not a man found them worthy of marrying. With the use of critiques and writings from other writers, we are able to see how the novel erodes sexist stereotypes of women.