The Influence of Social Classes on Jane Austen’s Persuasion
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Austen). In the society of Austen’s time, marriage was one of the most common ways to increase one’s social status. Social status was based on one’s family background, reputation and wealth. Marriage was very crucial for women, for this was the only way to increase their social status. Women were not given the chance to improve their status through hard work and achievement. Women were under the dominion of men, they were not allowed to speak up their ideas. Even if a woman was from a wealthy family, once they got married, their wealth will be given to the husband and they had to vow that they would obey their miser. Their sole purpose was to get married and reproduce (“Social Class in the Regency Period”). Jane Austen’s works were influenced by several authors, her family, and social classes during her time.
Jane Austen is an English novelist known for portraying lives of the middle class during the early nineteenth century in England. Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 at Steventon in Hampshire, England. She was the second daughter and seventh child of Reverend George, a rector, and Cassandra Austen who were in the middle class of society. Jane was first taught by her father then enhanced her knowledge by reading in his library (“Jane Austen Biography”).
To formally educate Jane and her sister, the Austen’s sent them to a boarding school in Oxford; but they returned soon due to the spread of typhus. They were sent to Reading Ladies Boarding School to continue their studies, but had to halt their studies again due to financial decline. Even though she didn’t receive much formal education, Jane learned through reading in her father’s library with the help of her father and brothers who taught her. When she started to show an interest in literature, her father provided her tools and paper to explore her creativity (“Biography of Jane Austen”).
It was common in their household to make home-based productions of plays that already existed, or writing and acting out their own invented forms of literature. As she grew older, she started to gain interest in making her own works, she first started to write poems, stories, plays and verses which were parodies of literary pieces that she gained interest in. She wrote these in three notebooks that were soon compiled to and named Juvenilia. One of her first few works was Love and Friendship, which mocked novels about sensibility. It was also during this time that Jane decided whether to continue writing and start a career as a professional writer. She soon started writing a play, but she dropped it for another work, Susan, a story in the form of letters. She decided to pursue writing and continued writing her Juvenilia (“The Family Influence on Jane Austen’s Juvenilia”).
She first wrote Elinor and Marianne, which she read to her family for entertainment, it was soon published as Sense and Sensibility. She then met Tom Lefroy, the nephew of a friend, and fell in love with him (Jane Austen). The family of Tom thought that it would not be good for Tom to have a relationship with Jane so they sent him far away. Jane continued with her writing and finished First Impressions which soon became Pride and Prejudice. To help Jane publish her work, Reverend Austen went to Thomas Cadell, a London publisher, to help publish Pride and Prejudice, but to no avail. She finalized Elinor and Marianne, then continued writing Susan which soon became Northanger Abbey (“Jane Austen Biography”).
Reverend Austen soon retired so they moved to Bath. Jane liked Steventon, so she felt depressed when they had to leave. She could not continue writing for a short while due to the sadness, but soon met Harris-Bigg Wither, her childhood friend, and he proposed to her. She accepted his proposal seeing that it was practical, he was well-off and it was good for her family if she married him; but the following day she took back her word because she did not want to marry a man whom she did not love (“Biography of Jane Austen”).
Henry, Jane’s literary agent and brother, visited Benjamin Crosby to publish Susan, but Benjamin did not fulfill his request. Jane continued her writing and started to write The Watsons. At the same time, her father’s health started to decline, then he passed away soon after. Jane had to put a halt to her work as they were in a crisis. The brothers tried their best to help Mrs. Austen and their sisters to find a new home. They first moved in with Francis at Southampton, then moved in with Edward at Chawton Village. The surroundings helped her to get motivated to write again. She started by sending an angry letter to Benjamin Crosby, with a hold on the Susan copyright, but he only allowed to give it back if she paid him ten pounds. She could not pay for it due to financial problems so she continued to write more works. Henry soon approached Thomas Egerton, a London publisher, who published Sense and Sensibility, which gained favorable reviews. He also published Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park which were both successful. Jane soon moved to a well-known publisher, John Murray, who published her following works. Emma was very successful, but the second edition of Mansfield Park was not, so they lost a large sum of money. Jane became more determined and started to write The Elliots which soon became Persuasion. Henry also bought back Susan for ten pounds (“Jane Austen Biography”).
During 1816, Jane’s health started to deteriorate but she brushed it aside and continued to write her work. Jane’s health was in a really bad condition in 1817, but she was able to finish Persuasion and start a new work. She was soon confined and could not continue her writing. Cassandra and Henry brought her to Winchester to seek medical help, but there was no cure for the disease she had at the time. She passed away on July 18, 1817 at the age of forty-one. She was buried at Winchester Cathedral without the fact that she was an author. Henry published the last two finished works of Jane as a set, and also made public that Jane was the author (“Jane Austen”). During the eighteenth century, novels were very expensive.
Since Jane was raised in a middle-class family, she had to rely on libraries to be able to read. The books at that time were commonly Gothic and Sentimental melodramas which Jane loved to read. Among the authors that Austen admired, Ann Radcliffe, a famous author at the time, was an inspiration to Austen. She loved to read her works and also mentioned Radcliffe’s novel in Northanger Abbey. Jane was also influenced by Frances Burney and Maria Edgeworth, Burney often wrote about politics of society. In the last paragraph of Cecilia, Burney’s novel, Burney wrote Pride and Prejudice three times, which influenced Austen in her work Pride and Prejudice. Edgeworth, one of the most influential authors during that time, was admired by Austen for her usage of humor and irony (“Jane Austen: What Books were on Her Reading List”).
Austen not only admired famous authors but also admired obscure authors like Charlotte Lennox, her works The Female Quixote and The Adventures of Arabella were models for Austen’s Northanger Abbey. She also admired Samuel Richardson. She read his books over and over again and his works influenced her Juvenalia (“Jane Austen: What Books were on Her Reading List”).
Living around educated people, Jane was taught and given materials that helped boost her creativity and imagination. Her father was a scholar and her brothers were educated in Oxford. Her family also influenced her to learn and think creatively. Her parents sent her to school even though it was uncommon for women to study at that time. When she finished her studies, she continued to read in her father’s library then soon shown interest in becoming a writer. Austen’s sister was familiar with her unfinished manuscripts and tried to persuade her to change the ending of Mansfield Park (“Jane Austen Biography”).
Jane Austen was within the gentry which were in the growing middle class. Jane’s mother, Cassandra Austen, was in a higher social status compared to her father so her status was degraded. Austen portrayed the life of women in her time and reflected the life and social classes during her time. In Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet was mocked for her intellectual pursuits. It portrays that women were discouraged to study because their mental abilities were said to be inferior compared to men. Women had to marry into a good family to increase their social status. Jane satirized people with social status, like in Persuasion, Sir Walter reads his favorite book, the Baronet, but he only reads the section of his family; he even has many mirrors to see his own reflection. Sir Walter and Lady Russell discouraged Anne Elliot from marrying Captain Wentworth due to his low social status. She wrote mostly about life in the middle class, where women were only taught a bit of education for the sole purpose of marrying a good husband (“Biography of Jane Austen”).
Rank determines one’s social standing, the upper class during Austen’s time did not work. They were already provided with money and given a large sum of inheritance. The middle class were filled with well-respected people who did not do hard labor. While the lower class was the working class, they had to do hard labor and received weekly wages. Austen portrayed that ranking determines how a person lives his life (“Jane Austen”).
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