“Critiques [in the 1990s] that faulted her for a tendency to succumb to the norms of the patriarchal society in which she lived were routinely balanced by those that found a strong revolutionary strain in her work.”
“…a more balanced view would be articulated by many of the feminists who published work on Austen [since 1991] …although several would continue to claim her as a revolutionary or dismiss her as a conservative.”
“Austen learned to make accommodations in her style to disguise her efforts to express resistance to the dominant patriarchal ideology.”
“a recurrent theme [of Austen’s novels is] the heroine’s resistance to the efforts of the patriarchal community to force her into a social role at the cost of her own identity.”
“[Austen] was not a consistent critic of [the] close-knit society with its chain of obligations, duties and shared values.”
“Even while mocking some aspects of the dominant ideology of her time… [Austen] did seem to subscribe to others.”
Austen is particularly noteworthy because she manages to describe women’s daily struggle “in plentiful believable detail” giving her works a cast of hard realism while still “enveloping women’s lives in romantic comedy.”
Austen was important in the history of the form because she was successful in “moving the novel beyond narrow conduct-book didacticism” – a role assigned to it by men like Samuel Johnson – toward “a more subtle and searching, and thus more deeply moral, criticism of life.”
Austen… values “the inner life”, a condition originally prompted by their position in a patriarchal society but “transformed through the living of their lives” into a quality that gives them authority as moral figures.
Too many feminist readings are “largely ahistorical and ungeneric” often “removing Austen from her contemporary context and from other women writers who receded and surrounded her”.
These ahistorical interpretations “made her sisterhood across time but not within it.”
Arguing for a middle way in feminist studies of Austen, rejecting both the “cult of sentimentality that characterizes conservative, patriarchal readings”, and those that are overly sceptical of the “pities of home and hearth”.
“Austen’s six novels express and obscure aspects of the women’s culture, [but at the same time] they unequivocally endorse patriarchal ideology. [The novels are filled with] inconsistencies of perspective [and feminists] need to acknowledge these inconsistencies …relinquish some of your intimacy with her work.”
Austen “employs sibling relationships to negotiate within and to critique the complex ideology presented in her fiction… A “herald of Victorian values” in her portrait of the family circle “as an innovative social and moral power-base”.
In Sense & Sensibility Austen “most aggressively undertakes to reconstruct dominant concepts of gender.”
Austen was primarily an ironist and her “ironic laughter is animated by a peculiar type of opposition to traditional views of women’s situation and abilities.”
Tauchert (2005) – escapist fantasies”
…that Austen adopts the fromof romance, a genre that “structures femininity in a way that demands attention”, but centres on “the basest of feminist fantasies” – the rescue fantasy, in which the heroine, saved by a worthy hero, lives happily ever after. As Tauchert’s close reading of Austen’s novels demonstrate, however, the heroine does much to civilize her saviour; these are real love stories, not simply escapist fantasies.
Austen adopted many of the conventions of novel-writing as it was being practiced in her day to assure herself an audience for her novels. Her “political sympathies may be fundamentally conservative, but her mind is critical and her vision ironic”. Throughout her career, Austen offered in her fiction a “critique of conventional notions of women” and society’s expectations of them.
…finds in Austen’s social comedies a strong critique of “the complex power relationships between women and a social world that reduces their options and makes them marginal.”
While Austen often entertains her readers with “the highly comic mixture of sexual and economic motives that prompt courtship and marriage” she is equally concerned with “the much less comic operations of power – of dominance and submission – that occur within and around both institutions”.
Austen’s novels as “texts that engage questions of authority specifically though their production of narrative voice”… concentrating on conflicts that arise when women presume to speak with authority.
“Austen wants us to see the myriad ways in which patriarchal power – especially the possession of money – can corrupt both men and women.”
In comedies written by women – including Austen – “the straightjacket of conventional femininity is challenged, confronted, and, finally, thrown off.”
“A significant aspect” of Austen’s humour derives from her belief in “an equality between men and women based on rationality and a perception of the incongruity of women’s lot.
…launches “her own subtle humourous assaults upon the patriarchal construction of nineteenth-century femininity.”
…the success Austen enjoys in “concealing socioeconomic and political problems behind the illusion of ‘private’ experience.”
Of Emma… “the first English novel in which the existence of the unconscious seems indubitable – the first in which the heroine’s misunderstanding of her own mind is the subject of the story.”
“Money… is the love tipped arrow aimed at the hearts of Austen’s heroines”
– both the author and characters are only interested in income for marriage
– love is the result of money and happiness the result of fortune
“The heartbeat of romance lies in a good income”
– women based a man’s suitability on his income
– Austen is using money to demonstrate love
“decisions of domestic economy define the heroine”
– the theory and practice of household management
– only purpose is to worry about household affairs
“complex relationships between income and romance held in centre focus”
– Austen is only concerned with income in her novels
– romance between characters is clouded by money
“the usual cast of economic scavengers”
– the most significant problem is their lack of fortune
– shallow/ self-indulging female characters
“Austen is a shrewd observer of the economic terrain of her class”
– “economic ideology” is expressed in Austen’s work – a perspective on the way an economy should run and to what end
– writes from “pseudo-gentry” class – approaching the subject of money from different perspectives
“Marianne Dashwood’s ‘masturbatory’ absorption in her own pleasures”
- Self-indulgence is usually seen as a female thing, but this seems to suggest that it is male
- Is selfishness a male thing?
- Either way, Marianne is going against society’s expectations by doing what she wants to do
“Austen’s distaste for a still-current idea of female identity is apparent”
- Context – what the role of women was at the time
- It is questionable how much Austen actually challenges this expectation
- Does Woolf question this idea of female identity?
“Austen’s microscopic interest in the performative nature of social roles”
- Austen raises questions about the falseness of people within the society – even the characters we like are seen to play up to society’s expectations
- Links to Woolf’s celebration of the individual and the freedom they have only when they are alone
“Homosocial intimacy was arguably more important than heterosexual romance in Austen’s life and art”
- Austen seems to advocate being a decent human, rather than arbitrary distinctions of class or gender
- She also doesn’t place all the emphasis on romantic love, similarly to Woolf who prioritises the individual
“The militantly anti-romantic deliverance of Marianne to Colonel Brandon”
- Idea that the patriarchy has reductive ‘solutions’ which don’t actually take into account the feelings of those involved
“The hero’s motives and feelings are opaque for the heroine, and yet her fate depends on the resolution of the hero’s plot”
- We never get the male perspective in Austen, unlike Woolf’s use of free indirect discourse
- This separates male and female, suggesting that they can’t understand one another effectively
‘Austen inherited no obvious, no precisely defined tradition’, ‘she is chary of influence’
- Like Woolf/modernism which made a deliberate break from inherited convention
‘a novelist of ideas’, ‘take her seriously as a thinker’
‘the most thorough knowledge of human nature’ (what novels show according to Austen’s defence of them in Northanger Abbey)
- Austen was concerned with tackling the real issues of her time
- Women’s novels are valuable not frivolous
‘she allows Marianne, or Willoughby, to be demeaned … through their eagerness to exact conformity of taste’
- What is Austen’s attitude to conformity more generally, and exacting of it?
‘Elinor’s Johnsonian attempts to combat grief and depression through mental activity, and Marianne’s Cowperesque savouring of melancholy’
‘she avoids … models of unmixed virtue … and heavy-handed poetic justice’
- Neither Elinor nor Marianne is wholly perfect
- Austen rejects conventions which give unrealistic pictures of women
‘Elinor’s pity for Lucy Steele’s lack of education … is genuinely felt’
- Does Elinor really pity Lucy Steele? Does Austen?
- Does Elinor’s pity have a hint of smug superiority?
‘meditation and self-examining, are to play some part in [Marianne’s] redemption’
- Is Marianne ‘saved’ by herself, or by Brandon?
- Is internal reflection more important than external circumstance for Austen?
“The way in which wealthy men manage their property is designed to reveal aspects of their characters.”
- John Middleton – He is very caring and loves company, almost to the point of being intrusive; he looks after them and makes sure that they are comfortable at Barton.
- Fanny Dashwood/John Dashwood – Have very little regard for the Dashwood women. Force them off their estate almost immediately etc.
“Jane Austen sometimes makes use of a servant to bring out the essential meanness of spirit in one of her characters.”
- Fanny Dashwood – discussion of annuities to servants
- “My mother was clogged with the payment to three old superannuated servants… it’s amazing how disagreeable she found it.
“Good people valued their servants.”
- Mrs Jennings – Looks out for her servants. “She is excellent housemaid, and works very well with a needle.”
“Jane Austen clearly decided on giving a motive for wishing to marry a woman with money.”
- Willoughby’s marriage to Miss Grey purely for money and to get him out of a bad situation.
- Mrs Farrars looks down upon Lucy Steel because she has little in the way of a dowry and cannot further her son’s social and economic status
“Her father was a clergyman; there clergymen in each of her books, and three of them marry the heroine.”
- “All his [Edward] wishes centred in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life.”
- Colonel Brandon offers Edward a control of rectory. “Simple” life yet respectable to many not including Mrs Ferrars and Fanny!
“A woman who tries to make her own way in the world would find it… very hard.”
- Eliza – She was seduced by a series of men, and fallen into a disreputable life. Eliza didn’t have enough money left to keep her in good health.
- Eliza junior – Eliza’s disappearance was Willoughby’s fault – he’d seduced her, left her, promised to return, then never did. He got her pregnant and fled the scene.
“Jane Austen exposes an unmistakeable social unease.”
- All the single women strive to get married and most want to ‘better’ their social status for security.
- Edward would have been in trouble when he was disinherited if it wasn’t for Brandon
- ‘Class difference was of course a fact of life for Austen’
- Class difference was part of life in 19th century England – everything was constrained by it
- The way Austen wrote about class was influenced by her experience – she was also well placed to make judgements as an unmarried woman, as she fell outside of class boundaries
- ‘Austen insists that with privileges go extensive responsibilities’
- In the novel, this manifests in John Dashwood’s responsibility for the Dashwood sisters’ financial security, because of the principle of primogeniture
- Link to Mrs Dalloway – this responsibility comes with the employment of Doris Kilman as Elizabeth’s tutor, which is shown to be a charitable act
- ‘The novel’s heroine makes prompt though often inaccurate judgements about the social station of people around her’
- In the novel, the best example of these inaccurate judgements is Elinor Dashwood, who is quick to condemn Lucy Steele as ‘illiterate, artful, and selfish’
- We trust the omniscient 3rd person narrator more in their judgement, which is often satirical of the social situation/class system of the time
- ‘Austen highlights the injustices of this system of inheritance’ (primogeniture)
- Primogeniture – the system by which property is accumulated in the hands of one (male) family member, so as to preserve the family name and estate
- Mr Dashwood – deprives his wife and daughters of an inheritance, and bestows it upon his son instead, which is inherently unjust
- [Austen] ‘writes no explicit analysis, but […] fills in the large social picture and provides indirect commentary’
- One of the main criticisms of Austen is that she fails to tackle the problems of the domestic and foreign scene at the time, eg. poverty, the slave trade, and the Napoleonic wars
- The omniscient narrator – condemns the class system with subtlety and satire
- ‘Many of Austen’s most contemptible characters are those who place undue emphasis on social station’
- This is true regardless of whether they are upper class or lower class, for example both Lucy Steele and Mr and Mrs John Dashwood are presented in a negative light
- “Eighteenth-century sociability was fundamentally a product of the provincial town.”
- “The Dashwood girls endure as defeated victims of the imperious code of politeness.”
- “The adventure of eighteenth-century sociability- … the prospect of losing or finding oneself in the company of others- is here rendered as a hollow ritual.”
- “men and women can saunter together in blissful ignorance of each other’s demands, needs or precedence.”
- “such sociability involved people outside the immediate family circle… to sustain and advance its ‘place’ in wider society.”
- “Her fiction is enduring testimony to our own investments in the companionability of culture.”