Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
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What are some examples of feminist critique of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?

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The Purdue OWL refers to criteria established by Lois Tyson in examining literature through a lens of feminist criticism. A couple of those include the following:

  • Women are oppressed by patriarchy.
  • Women are marginalized, defined by the way they differ from male norms.

Some may fail to see Jane Austen ...

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The Purdue OWL refers to criteria established by Lois Tyson in examining literature through a lens of feminist criticism. A couple of those include the following:

  • Women are oppressed by patriarchy.
  • Women are marginalized, defined by the way they differ from male norms.

Some may fail to see Jane Austen's work as particularly feminist because it was written in an incredibly traditional society over two hundred years ago. Yet if we take a close look, we can see that Austen was trying to voice her dissatisfaction with her patriarchal society through the conflict and characterization of her characters.

Elizabeth Bennet in particular offers a condemnation of the male patriarchy in Pride and Prejudice. On the surface, Elizabeth seems a product of her society. She is likely to end up destitute due to the way land and money must be transferred between males upon the death of her father. She isn't able to earn any income herself and must rely on the males in her life to provide for her. She is subjected to her mother's whims for marriage proposals and is expected to comply with plans that will provide for her future.

Yet Elizabeth retaliates against patriarchal norms. When Darcy initially proposes to her, he doesn't consider that she might refuse his offer. After all, her own social standing is lower than his. Darcy presumes that his wealth and social connections will equate to Elizabeth's ready acceptance of his proposal. His demeanor infuriates Elizabeth:

As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security.

Elizabeth, however, is not willing to sacrifice her own independent spirit to acquire financial stability. She insists that she has "never desired [Darcy's] good opinion" as she refuses his marriage proposal. Darcy is floored and angered that Elizabeth should refuse him:

Mr. Darcy ... seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature.

Though society offers her no real power, Elizabeth seeks to escape patriarchal expectations; she is willing to live in poverty rather than marry a man whom she does not feel is worthy of all she offers. This is a fiercely independent position for a woman of this era, demanding respect from men who outrank her in positions of societal influence. Her insights and bravery expose Darcy's own security within their patriarchal society and eventually serve to establish them as equals when she finally does see a transformation in his character.

I am attaching several analyses that further examine this work from a feminist lens.

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