How are women being controlled by the patriarchal system and being treated, as we see in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Jane Austen was actually quite the feminist of her time. While the women in her novel are limited by their stations in life, just as the women in Austen's society were, some of the women in her novel were actually quite rebellious, especially Elizabeth. In fact, Elizabeth even blames the impropriety of her family's behavior on her father's lack of control as patriarch of their family. However, while Mr. Bennet has his faults, in general the men are very respectful towards the women. While Darcy may have a problem with feeling he is above his company in the beginning of the novel, by the end even he is very respectful and even acts as a patriarch towards the Bennet family by rescuing Lydia from her disgrace.

The women in the time period were of course forbidden to work, and the women of the novel, as genteel women, of course did not work at all. However, what is very interesting about Austen's characters is that, as genteel women, they were expected to be "accomplished," meaning capable of speaking foreign languages, sewing, drawing, playing music, and singing. Elizabeth, while talking with Lady Catherine at Rosings Park, actually points out that the Bennet daughters have very few accomplishments at all. Elizabeth says she plays the piano and sings a little and that Mary is the only other sister who plays. Mary can play the piano well enough but sings horribly. When Lady Catherine asks if the Bennet sisters draw, Elizabeth replies, "No, not at all" (Ch. 29). Elizabeth happily relays her sisters lack of accomplishments and education in a spirit of rebellion. Elizabeth is quite happy to rebel against society's requirements. However, the Bennet girls' lack of education further shows just how much the Bennet household lacked strong patriarchal control.

Elizabeth blames her father's lack of control on his poor choice of marriage. As Elizabeth explains, "Her father, captivated by youth and beauty ... had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had, very early in their marriage, put an end to all real affection for her" (Ch. 42). Due to her ill breading, Mrs. Bennet lets her youngest daughters run wild. Hence, as a result of his poor marriage choice, in order to escape all of the improper and foolish behavior he must witness around his house, Mr. Bennet escapes into his library rather than takes any corrective measures. As he once explained to Elizabeth, "though prepared ... to meet with folly and conceit in every other room of the house, he was used to be free from them" in his library (Ch. 15). Elizabeth refers to her father's refusal to take corrective measures as so "ill-judged a direction of talents" (Ch. 42). Hence we see that the Bennet family actually lacks any control from their family patriarch.


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