Jane Austen Questions and Answers

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How does Austen’s work represent the constraints of Regency norms of femininity in regards to women's education?

Austen’s work represents the constraints of Recency norms of femininity in regards to women's education in several ways. Many of the characters in Austen’s novels are educated not for the purpose of working for money but rather for the purpose of being more marriageable.

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The women in Jane Austen's novels are often members of the upper class whose freedoms are limited by their social status. For example, neither Elinor Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility nor Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice can work to support herself or her family. It would be improper for a woman of their status to do so, even though both face the possibility of penury after the death of their fathers.

For Elinor, the worst has already happened; her father has died, and she and her mother and sisters have been displaced from the house they occupied with him by their half-brother and his wife. They are forced to rely on the kindness of relative strangers because there is no work that they can do, in part because they have not been educated to do any kind of work. For Elizabeth, whose father is still alive, either she or one of her sisters must marry well—that is, marry a rich man—so that they can all be supported once their father dies and they lose their place on his estate.

At the time, education for upper-class women like Elinor and Elizabeth had to do with learning other languages, playing an instrument and singing, or drawing and painting. In other words, their education seemed designed to help them attract a husband and beautify his home. Their education did not prepare them for work, and so we see how their limited education—one designed only to render them more attractive rather than more capable—led to a greater dependence on men.

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