Please explain to me the import of a quote, written by Tonny Tanner, concerning Jane Austen.Here is the quote: That Jane Austen held many Tory sympathies need hardly be questioned,” Tanner...

Please explain to me the import of a quote, written by Tonny Tanner, concerning Jane Austen.

Here is the quote:

That Jane Austen held many Tory sympathies need hardly be questioned,” Tanner explains, “but it does not follow that her work is uncritical of her society in many profound ways.” In fact, he concluded, “by the end of her work social systems themselves are called in question and found increasingly inadequate to satisfy her heroine."

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While many of Jane Austen's novels subtly and comically criticize a woman's dependence upon marriage as a means of social standing and economic security, she nevertheless ends her novels with the heroine(s) getting married.  Thus, it sometimes appears that she is yet complacent with her Tory society.

Another common criticism of Jane Austen is her acceptance of the class structure in her society; like the Bennet family of her novel Pride and Prejudice, she lived on the fringes of upper-class British society. But in this mentioned novel, Austen satirizes the patriarchal society in which she lived.  For example, Austen sets her plot around the Bennet girls' urgency to find husbands because if their father were to die, the estate would go to their cousin, the superficial and irritating clergyman, Mr. Collins.  But, when Mr. Collins proposes marriage to his cousin, Elizabeth Bennet, she refuses him despite her mother's pleas to be practical. Then, Collins turns around and marries her friend Charlotte, instead, proving his superficiality and hopes of inheriting the estate.  Later, however, sisters of Elizabeth marry and she marries Mr. Darcy, a very wealthy gentleman.  And, through the character of Mr. Darcy, Austen satirizes the supercilious wealthy gentleman even though she does have her heroine Elizabeth finally succumb to his better qualities and marry him.

Still, at the end of her novel, Jane Austen dramatizes this pragmatic desire of Elizabeth to find a husband that yet conflicts with her idealism and romanticism, implying that it may not be possible

to reconcile her independence and naturalness with Mr. Darcy's conservatism and conventionalty.

While critics complain that Austen has "Tory sympathies" and complacency with her society, Arthur Kettle dismisses Austen's complacency pointing to her affect upon subsequent authors:

....after Jane Austen, the great novels of the nineteenth century are all, in their different ways, novels of revolt. The task of the novelist was yhe same as it has always been--to achieve realism (with whatever innovations of form and structure their needs must discover) the truth about life as it faced them.  But to do this, to cut through the sholw complex structure of inhumanity and false feeling that ate into the consciousness world; it was necessary to become a rebel...The great novelists were rebels and the measure of their greatness is found in the last analysis to correspond with the degree and the consistency of their rebellion.  It was not always a conscious intellectualized rebellion...very seldom was it based on anything like a sociological analysis.  It was, rather, a rebellion of the spirit, of the total consciousness, and it was only indirectly reflected in the lives the writers led.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I have not read Jane Austen, but I think I can help given what I know about English political history.

The main thing to understand here is that the Tories are the more conservative British political party.  They were the party of the upper class -- a party that really liked a society that was stratified.  They thought that it was fine to have the elites on top and a lot of poor people underneath.  Dickens, for example, would not have been a Tory.

The Tories would also have been satisfied with the way women were treated in their society.  This is, from what I have read, an important concern of Austen's.

So this quote is saying that everyone knows Austen was a Tory.  However, she still criticizes her society in "many profound ways."  In fact, she seems to be saying that the society of her time was not good enough.  It, for some reason, did not do what her heroines needed it to do and so they (the heroines) were left in some way unsatisfied.

lit24's profile pic

lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

The quote from Tony Tanner's book "Jane Austen" (1986) implies that Jane Austen  was a conservative and supported the Tories of the day. However, being a sensitive and intelligent critic of contemporary society she could not fail to observe and expose the hypocrisies of the conservative Tories.

In Jane Austen's time women could never inherit the property of their father. The estate would pass on to the eldest son after the father's death. In case there was no son the estate would be 'entailed.' to a distant male relative like Collins in "Pride and Prejudice." Although Jane Austen does not explicitly criticize this principle it is obvious that she disagrees with this convention.

The central theme of all her six novels --how much money is necessary for a successful and a happy marriage--is explicitly stated by Elizabeth in Ch.27 of "Pride and Prejudice: "Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? WHERE DOES DISCRETION END, AND AVARICE BEGIN?"

In Ch.33 of "Pride and Prejudice" Col. Fitzwilliam tells Elizabeth "I may suffer from the want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like." Clearly hinting at her impoverished status. Col. Fitzwilliam manages to charm Elizabeth within the short period he is acquainted with her. He is obviously a very wealthy man but because he is not the eldest son he will not inherit his father's estate and so he is determined only to marry a very rich woman for the sake of financial security. In fact Elizabeth would have been an ideal match for her, however he clearly hints to her that since she is poor he will not marry her. He is telling lies for he certainly will not "suffer from the want of money;" he just does not want to get married to her because she is poor.

Was Col. Fitzwilliam Darcy 'discreet' or 'avaricious'? Thus Jane Austen implicitly criticizes the hypocrisy of the Tories.

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