How do you analyze feminism in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For her time period, I would actually argue that Jane Austen was rather pro-feminism. Although women of her time period were expected to remain at home and be "accomplished" by being able to sing, perform musical instruments, paint, embroider, sew, perform many other crafts, and speak foreign languages, it can often be seen that Jane Austen's characters rebel against the traditional roles and responsibilities of women.

For instance, Elizabeth, herself, is not what Mr. Darcy would call "accomplished." She plays the piano only moderately well, does not paint or draw, and is far too rebellious and independently minded to have a lady-like "air and manner," and yet, we see that Darcy falls in love with her (Ch. 8, Vol. 1). Because Austen is not having her heroine conform to the commonly held notions of accomplished women, Austen is playing the role of a feminist.

Aside from rebelling against being accomplished, another way Elizabeth rebels is in expressing her mind. We see her doing this throughout the novel, especially in her repartee with Darcy at Netherfield, however, my favorite verbal rebellion takes place at Rosings. When Lady Catherine de Bourgh revolts at the thought of all of Elizabeth's sisters being out in society at once, Elizabeth gives a long speech as to why it should be socially acceptable. Particularly, she says "The last born has as good a right to the pleasures of youth, as the first. And to be kept back on such a motive [as marrying the eldest daughters first]!" (Ch. 6, Vol. 2 ). She even further rebels against Lady Catherine's self-righteous, aristocratic air when she refuses to give her age saying only that she is "not one and twenty" (Ch. 6, Vol. 2). Contrary to social norms, Elizabeth's rebelliousness and independent mind is further demonstration that Jane Austen actually was a feminist.