Short on time?

Get essay writing help

Ways Jane Austen Questions The Society In Which She Lives On Its Moral Beliefs And Attitudes Towards Women

  • Words: 2486
  • |
  • Pages: 5
  • This essay sample was donated by a student to help the academic community. Papers provided by EduBirdie writers usually outdo students' samples.

How Jane Austen questions the society in which she lives on its moral beliefs and attitudes towards women (First Chapter Draft)

Röpke considers Austen to be a ‘conservative female writer’[footnoteRef:1]; a traditional woman who upheld traditional values throughout her writing. They believe Austen’s ideas on the behaviour of women are identical to what is described in eighteenth and early nineteenth century conduct books which outline exactly how women should behave and should be portrayed in society, but this is an idea that I do not support. I intend to discuss ways in which Austen questions both her own society, and the society in which her characters exist in Pride and Prejudice on their behaviour towards women and how she believes the behaviour of women should differ from that described in conduct books of her time. [1: Nadine Röpke, Jane Austen: A Political Author of her Time? (Munich: GRIN Verlag, 2005)]

In Pride and Prejudice, during Mr Collin’s first visit to the Bennet family home he reads out Sermons to Young Women by Reverend James Fordyce, a conduct book which describes what is expected of women’s behaviour, for example at the beginning of the book Sermon I informs women on the virtues they are expected to uphold such as modesty, it states ‘women should adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls’[footnoteRef:2]. Firstly, it is hypocritical for Mr Collin’s to preach about the behaviour of anyone in the novel as his own behaviour is often highlighted as indecent throughout, for example we learn of his pompous nature when he expects the Bennet family to be flattered when he decides to stay at Longbourn, without even being asked, because his aim was to marry whichever of the Bennet sisters he wanted, and he tells Mr Bennet ‘I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughter’[footnoteRef:3]. Claudia L. Johnson supports this theory, ‘it would be unreasonable for Austen to promote these ideas of women through Mr Collins as he is ridiculed by Elizabeth throughout the novel so he cannot serve as a moral influence on readers.’[footnoteRef:4] Through portraying the character and views of Mr Collin’s in a negative light, it is clear Austen does not agree with his beliefs or anything he attempts to teach, Johnson also states that ‘Collin’s approval of such ‘books of a serious stamp’ in and of itself signals Austen’s disaffection with the rules about women promulgated in them’[footnoteRef:5]. [2: James, Fordyce, Sermons to Young Women, (London: Cadell & Davis, 1814), p.138] [3: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Ed. Keith Carabine (Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth editions, 1992), chp. 13 pg. 2] [4: Claudia L. Johnson, Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990), p. 75] [5: Claudia L. Johnson, Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990), p. 75]

Austen creates the character of Elizabeth whom she presents as favourable and almost role model like in her eyes, yet she is a woman who constantly demonstrates opposite behaviour to that which was expected of women in Fordyce’s book. Austen writes Pride and Prejudice as a form of conduct book, but in a different way. Instead of taking on the role of a conduct book which educates the reader on social norms and how one should conduct their life including how to behave and how not to behave, she scripts a piece of narrative fiction including her own opinions on these beliefs in society and conduct books by creating characters whom we tend to favour such as Elizabeth, who’s behaviour is a strong contrast to what is taught in conduct books. Austen portrays Elizabeth as a superior woman in the novel and supports her actions and beliefs and we learn how much Austen favours her character through her letters to Casandra Austen about Elizabeth in which she details, ‘I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know’[footnoteRef:6]. She is very proud of Elizabeth’s character and all that associates with it when she refers to her as ‘my’ ‘admiring my Elizabeth so much is particularly welcome to me.’[footnoteRef:7] Therefore, through her novel Austen teaches that in order to succeed in life as a woman, you must act like Elizabeth; untamed and independent and strike out against what is expected in the world of conduct books. [6: Deidre Le Faye, ‘Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen 29 January 1813’, Jane Austen’s Letters (Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2011)] [7: Deidre Le Faye, ‘Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen 29 January 1813’, Jane Austen’s Letters (Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2011]

Austen portrays Elizabeth Bennet as a heroine throughout the novel, especially when she reads Mr Darcy’s letter and claims ‘Till this moment I never knew myself’[footnoteRef:8], we learn of her intelligence, a characteristic typical in many of Austen’s heroines. The fact that Elizabeth is a woman who can read is important, Austen often alludes to reading throughout her work since women didn’t receive the same education as men in Austen’s time which led to the belief that men were the more intelligent sex and therefore gained authority. Her reading of Darcy’s letter differs from the reading which is required of women in conduct books as they instruct that if women are to read, they are to read novels as merely a hobby and not to truly understand or give meaning to them. As Elizabeth reads the letter we recognise her intelligence as she begins to understand Darcy’s explanation and revisits every event up until now with a different outlook, coming to a different sort of truth and understanding than she had previously up-held, for example she now learns the ugly truth about Wickham. Through this we can also grasp the fact that she is more than capable of making her own moral decisions, which at that time in her society was typically a trait which was associated with men only. [8: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Ed. Keith Carabine (Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth editions, 1992), chp. 39 pg. 19]

Throughout Pride and Prejudice there is an obvious lack of authority and weakness of figures who, according to society at the time, should supposedly assume authority. For example, there is no maternal or paternal authority from Elizabeth’s parents; Mrs Bennet is an overbearing mother who often embarrasses her children, she is a character who should exert power, but does not. She concerns herself with getting her children married off, which even then Elizabeth defies when she wanted her to marry Mr Collins, whom she despised and therefore refused. According to society, Mr Bennet should be the main authority figure as father and head of the household, yet his authority is overthrown by his family, especially Elizabeth who he considers his favourite. Elizabeth is in control of her father and continually questions his authority, for example her father ‘heard her attentively’[footnoteRef:9] when he allowed Lydia to join Mrs Forster on a trip to Brighton, as Elizabeth was ‘secretly advising her father not to let her go’.[footnoteRef:10] He is further portrayed as a weak authority figure as Elizabeth teaches him about how to bring up his children correctly, ‘If you, my dear father, will not take the trouble of checking her exuberant spirits, and of teaching her that her present pursuits are not to be the business of her life, she will soon be beyond the reach of amendment.’[footnoteRef:11] Austen also highlights how the Bennet’s lack of authority over their children in the novel can be dangerous, for example when Lydia elopes with Wickham, had her parents had authority and been more receptive to their children’s actions they could have stopped it from the outset, and even afterwards Mrs Bennet refuses to acknowledge the role she played in it instead, ‘blaming everybody but the person to whose ill judging indulgence the errors of her daughter must be principally owing.’[footnoteRef:12] Elizabeth is not the dutiful daughter who obeys her parents which would have been expected of children at the time, and was taught throughout conduct books, Kelly emphasises that Elizabeth ‘knows her own mind’.[footnoteRef:13] I believe that Austen subverts authority from Elizabeth’s parents onto Elizabeth herself who should be subordinate to them through mother-daughter, father-daughter relationships, implying that she is going against the set beliefs and impressions of society in order to highlight how strong Elizabeth is as a young woman with a lack of role models in her life, who has to teach herself everything instead. [9: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Ed. Keith Carabine (Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth editions, 1992), pg. 222] [10: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Ed. Keith Carabine (Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth editions, 1992), pg. 222] [11: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Ed. Keith Carabine (Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth editions, 1992), pg. 223] [12: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Ed. Keith Carabine (Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth editions, 1992), pg. 186] [13: Helena Kelly, Jane Austen, the Secret Radical (London: Icon Books Ltd, 2016), p.161]

Save your time!
We can take care of your essay
  • Proper editing and formatting
  • Free revision, title page, and bibliography
  • Flexible prices and money-back guarantee
Place Order

Lady Catherine De Bourgh is a character in the novel who does assert her authority, yet it is also subverted when it comes to Elizabeth. Elizabeth lacks respect for authority figures which was highly criticised in conduct books, for example Lady Catherine insists that she should not marry Mr Darcy and Elizabeth is both bold and rude in her response, to which Lady Catherine tells her, ‘Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this.’[footnoteRef:14] The fact that Elizabeth, a young woman, is able to gain power over a figure who already asserts dominance helps to emphasise just how capable and independent she is, which would not be expected of women at her time. [14: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Ed. Keith Carabine (Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth editions, 1992), pg. 335]

Austen contrasts Elizabeth’s personalities with that of her sisters throughout Pride and Prejudice in order to highlight Elizabeth as an even more superior and dominant figure. Jane and Elizabeth are portrayed as the most similar of all of the sisters. Jane is the most ‘perfect’, she is described as beautiful, thoughtful and caring; everything the ideal woman should be. She was the image of what women were taught from conduct books. But, in Austen’s eyes she is flawed, as she cannot see the world or people in it for what they really are, or what they really want, only seeing the best in people. Austen introduces Lydia as the most outspoken sister, I believe she does this tactfully by presenting her character as a decoy to that of Elizabeth’s. Elizabeth’s unorthodox behaviour would have been extremely noticeable in Austen’s time and she would have been criticised for presenting such a character in such a positive light, therefore because Lydia is clearly more outspoken and improper than Elizabeth, her behaviour acts as a cover up for Elizabeth’s impropriety. Claudia Johnson supports this idea, ‘Lydia is a decoy who attracts the disapproval to which Elizabeth herself could otherwise be subject, and by lamenting Lydia’s glaring excesses, Elizabeth is cleared of her less egregious but still ‘improper’ rambles, conceit and impertinence without arousing our discomfort for incurring our censure’.[footnoteRef:15] [15: Claudia L. Johnson, Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990), p.76]

In Austen’s time, the moral understanding and goal of marriage was financial gain. Elizabeth did not adhere to these standards and would not simply marry someone because they were rich, she was determined she would marry someone who she falls in love with. She is very aware that she must marry with sense, unlike her sisters, for example Charlotte who married a man who she hated because his riches were plentiful; a marriage which Martin Amis describes as ‘routinely pitiful and creepy’[footnoteRef:16], or Lydia who married a man who she loved but happened to be poor. Lydia’s marries Elizabeth’s former love interest Wickham who Elizabeth turned down due to his financial situation, Elizabeth states ‘If it was not allowable for him to gain my affections, because I had no money, what occasion could there be for making love to a girl whom he did not care about, and who was equally as poor?’[footnoteRef:17] Austen again portrays Lydia as senseless and inferior to Elizabeth, whilst emphasising the importance of sense and intelligence in women. [16: Martin Amis, ‘Force of Love: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen’ A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, Ed. Susannah Carson (New York: Random House, 2009), p. 87] [17: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Ed. Keith Carabine (Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth editions, 1992), pg. 151]

Austen highlights Elizabeth’s superiority to her sisters throughout the theme of marriage; Lydia, who is the most inferior to her, ends up unhappy and poor whilst Jane who is only slightly inferior to her, ends up happy and rich. A characteristic typical of Austen is rewarding her less feminine characters, for example Elizabeth who ends up the happiest and richest of them all unintentionally, she only strived for happiness and love. Judith Lowder Newton disagrees with Austen’s depiction of Elizabeth’s happiness in her marriage as she claims, ‘any freedom the heroine may enjoy, will ultimately result in marriage, which meant relinquishment of power as surely as it meant the purchase of wedding clothes’.[footnoteRef:18] But contrary to her belief, I believe that through Elizabeth’s marriage Austen portrays how a woman who is independent and has a mind of her own instead of simply obeying her husband, will achieve true happiness. It was believed in Austen’s time that the more rich and prosperous your husband, the more successful as a woman you were seen to be, therefore Austen’s choice to have Elizabeth marry the richest man, and not Jane, confirms her superiority as a woman. During the eighteenth century women in the real world were often not given a choice on who to marry as it was prearranged by their families, women in novels were the only ones given this privilege. The idea that Elizabeth, especially given her financial status, can chose who she wants to marry; declining Mr Collins and choosing Mr Darcy, is Austen’s take on the feminist progression and a stand against what is taught in conduct books: that women lack intelligence and are unable to make decisions on their own. [18: Judith Lowder Newton, ‘“Pride and Prejudice”: Power, Fantasy, and Subversion in Jane Austen’, Feminist Studies Vol. 4 No. 1 (University of Maryland USA: Feminist Studies Inc, 1978), p. 38]

In conclusion, Austen creates a young woman who is strong minded determined and confident, intelligent in many ways, self-reliant due to the lack of role models in her life, and outright bold, and uses her to take a stand against the society of her time, in which such superior women did not typically exist and were highly frowned upon and discouraged throughout conduct books.

Make sure you submit a unique essay

Our writers will provide you with an essay sample written from scratch: any topic, any deadline, any instructions.

Cite this Page

Ways Jane Austen Questions The Society In Which She Lives On Its Moral Beliefs And Attitudes Towards Women. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/ways-jane-austen-questions-the-society-in-which-she-lives-on-its-moral-beliefs-and-attitudes-towards-women/
“Ways Jane Austen Questions The Society In Which She Lives On Its Moral Beliefs And Attitudes Towards Women.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/ways-jane-austen-questions-the-society-in-which-she-lives-on-its-moral-beliefs-and-attitudes-towards-women/
Ways Jane Austen Questions The Society In Which She Lives On Its Moral Beliefs And Attitudes Towards Women. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/ways-jane-austen-questions-the-society-in-which-she-lives-on-its-moral-beliefs-and-attitudes-towards-women/> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
Ways Jane Austen Questions The Society In Which She Lives On Its Moral Beliefs And Attitudes Towards Women [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/ways-jane-austen-questions-the-society-in-which-she-lives-on-its-moral-beliefs-and-attitudes-towards-women/
copy
Join 100k satisfied students
  • Get original paper written according to your instructions
  • Save time for what matters most
hire writer

Fair Use Policy

EduBirdie considers academic integrity to be the essential part of the learning process and does not support any violation of the academic standards. Should you have any questions regarding our Fair Use Policy or become aware of any violations, please do not hesitate to contact us via support@edubirdie.com.

Check it out!
close
search Stuck on your essay?

We are here 24/7 to write your paper in as fast as 3 hours.