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It is unclear whether Austen would have regarded herself as a feminist, and it is important to remember that this is a term that critics use retrospectively when considering her works and the themes contained therein. However, it is clear that it is possible to argue Austen was challenging patriarchal notions of the time concerning women, social class and marital choice. This is achieved through the central character of Lizzie and her union with Mr. Darcy. Note the way that Lady Catherine de Bourgh's biggest concern about her nephew marrying Lizzie is her middle class background and her connection to Mr. Wickham, as she says very openly when she visits Lizzie at her home:
I am no stranger to the particulars of your youngest sister's infamous elopement. I know it all; that the young man's marrying her was a patched-up business, at the expence of your father and uncles. And is such a girl to be my nephew's sister? Is her husband, is the son of his late father's steward, to be his brother? Heaven and earth!--of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?
In Lady Catherine's mind, Lizzie's class should automatically preclude her from making such a fortunate alliance as marrying Darcy. In Lizzie's defiant response and her determination to follow the leading of her heart and nothing else, Austen was actually presenting a view about social relations and marriage that was profoundly challenging to societal thinking concerning marriage and relationships. Lady Catherine de Bourgh lives her life by social conventions; Lizzie, by contrast, lives her life by a different compass, and it is possible to see the character of Lizzie as being Austen's appeal against a social system that often prevented people following their own inclinations.
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