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Can someone please elaborate on the representation of women in the works of Jane Austen?

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lolaleon | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted July 20, 2013 at 11:32 AM via web

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Can someone please elaborate on the representation of women in the works of Jane Austen?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted July 20, 2013 at 7:08 PM (Answer #1)

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In brief, Jane Austen represents two aspects of women. She represents the dependent aspect and the self-sufficient aspect.

  • dependent: relying on someone or something else for aid, support, etc. (Random House Dictionary)
  • self-sufficient: needing no outside help in satisfying needs; able to provide for oneself emotionally and intellectually; able to supply one's own needs without external help. (Oxford, Collins, Random House Dictionaries)

Though seemingly contradictory representations, dependency has to do with legal, political, and financial status while self-sufficiency has to do with personal, moral, ethical and psychological competencies. The self-sufficiency of "personal resources" enters into the narrative of Emma and Pride and Prejudice quite significantly. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Miss Bingley unwittingly vie for dominance in attributes of self-sufficiency. In Emma, both Emma and Mrs. Elton speak of their personal resources. Granted, Mrs. Elton is a parody character who is meant to look ridiculous, yet she echoes the same concepts and sentiments Emma quite reliably and seriously describes for Harriet.

Emma: "[M]ine is an active, ... with a great many independent resources; and I do not perceive why I should be more in want of employment at forty .... Woman's usual occupations of hand and mind will be as open to me then as they are now."

Mrs. Elton: "Blessed with so many resources within myself, the world [of culture] was not necessary to me. ... To those who had no resources it was a different thing; but my resources made me quite independent."

Dependency enters significantly into the narrative of Mansfield Park, most notably in the characters of Fanny and Mrs. Norris. While Mrs. Norris is certainly not dependent in the dramatic way and to the extent that Fanny is dependent, her continual presence at Mansfield manor and her receipt of daily subsidy in meals and other comforts points out the contrast between the level of comfort her small private financial resources allow her and the great comfort her dependence upon her sister permit her.

Fanny's dependence is all too clearly demonstrated throughout--with the indelicate help of Mrs. Norris's commentary and guidance--for there to be any doubt about the limitations attendant upon a woman with no income, no social status, no influential family or friends, and (in those limiting circumstances) no significant education. Despite Mrs. Norris's indelicacy of mind and sentiment, Fanny was educated, protected, fed and clothed with some degree of delicacy, enough to fit her for either employment or marriage in a middle class social sphere (remember the Bertram's are upper class because of the baronetcy).

Mansfield Park
Mrs. Norris: "Give a girl an education, and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without farther expense to anybody. A niece of ours, Sir Thomas, I may say, or at least of yours, would not grow up in this neighbourhood without many advantages."

Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, in one way or another, represent a woman's dependence upon marriage in order to have the desirable attainments of independence from parents, a home of one's own and a family. Charlotte and Elinor quite notably demonstrate this dependency, as conniving Lucy demonstrates it as well. These narratives significantly contrast with Emma in that, as the context of the first quote above shows, Emma deems her situation in life absolutely perfect in her present single state: she has a home of her own, she is independent of her parents, she has all the affection of love and family that she is aware of needing, she is mistress of all that is important to her.


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Lauren1234 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted December 12, 2013 at 5:47 AM (Answer #2)

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One can also explore how women are positioned within her books as well as comparing the true nature of the women to the sarcasm Jane Austen uses to portray expected characteristics.

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