Jane Austen's social criticism regarding the female role. An analysis based on selected novels

Pre-University Paper, 2015

15 Pages, Grade: 12


Table of content

1. Preface

2. Jane Austen´s life and oeuvre

3. The Georgian England
3.1. Important historical events
3.2. Rules of society in the 19th century

4. Jane Austen’s social criticism regarding the female role
4.1. Jane Austen - Part of any literary school at all?
4.2. Criticism on Austen´s novels
4.3. Review from the 21st century

5. Conclusion

6. Literature

1. Preface

I have decided to write my research paper about the image of women in the 19th century in Britain. I especially want to focus on how the novelist Jane Austen takes critic on it. Furthermore, I want to find out if she impassioned the thinking of humans and influenced her readers. I have chosen this topic because Jane Austen is a very famous novelist of her time and it is notable that she has had the nobility as women to her social status to analyse its values. Furthermore, she is still popular for her novels and even Hollywood copies Austen´s figures and ideas of romantic. I limited my theme to the novels “Emma”, “Northanger Abbey”, “Sense and Sensibilities” and “Persuasion” which is used to be one of her methodically sounded novels, and impressed me the most.

At first, I want to give a summary of Jane Austen´s life and oeuvre to explain who Jane Austen was and what makes her so special.

Secondly, there will be an overview of the epoch in which Jane Austen grew up and by which she was probably influenced and inspired. It also should help the reader to understand the background knowledge to know how society in the 19th century in Britain worked and which values existed.

Thirdly, an attempt will be made to classify her into a literary school. Besides, examples will be given of her style of writing and her criticism on the female role in her society. Moreover, two examples of criticisms on Jane Austen work will be given. And finally, there will be a short review from the 21st century.

In the last chapter, there will be a conclusion of this paper showing how Austen criticized the idea of society and its values. There will also be the answer to what makes Jane Austen so special. In addition to that there will be a review about the difficulties I had compiling my research paper and how it is possible to continue this work.

2. Jane Austen´s life and oeuvre

“Who was Jane Austen?” - is maybe one of those questions, which comes into someone’s mind whenever she or he holds a ten-pound note in her or his hand. Since 2013, the face of the novelist Jane Austen, who was born on the 16th December 1775 in

Steventon, a small village in England1 is printed on every ten-pound bill.2 She was the daughter of Revd George Austen, who was rector of the villages Deane and Steventon since 1773, and Cassandra Leigh. Besides, she had five older brothers, James, George, Edward and Henry Thomas, the younger brothers Francis William and Charles John but only one older sister named Cassandra Elizabeth Austen. She loved the theatre and so she acted a lot at the theatre of Steventon. When she was ten years old, she visited the Abbey House School in 1785 together with her older sister Cassandra and learned to read and write. Probably because it was too expensive to pay for the education of both girls, in the end of 1786, they already left school.3 With a big house library with over 500 volumes, it was clear that Jane Austen used her chance and read all the time. Her favourite moral writers were Samuel Johnson in “prose” and William Cowper in “verse”.4 Moreover, in 1787, Jane Austen began to write her “Juvenilia” with which she finished on the 3rd June 1793. Remarkably, Austen already criticized the inferiority of women at the time, at the age of 15 years.5 However, she decided to laugh about those social evils, which build to one of her recognizable stylistic devices. 6 Thenceforward she wrote all of her novels, which were first named differently to the published novels.7 The publisher Cadell, unseen, rejected the first attempt of Jane Austen´s father, Revd George to publish her novel “First Impression” (later called “Pride and Prejudice” on the 1st November 1797. From then on, she started to rewrite “Elinor and Marianne” into “Sense and Sensibility”. When Mr Austen decided to go into retirements, he moved with his family to Bath in 1801. On West-country holidays in that year, Jane Austen had presumably a romance until the autumn of 1804. During this time, she received a marriage proposal by Harris Bigg-Wither on 2nd December 1802 and revised “Susan” which she sold in spring of 1803 to Crosby& Son of London.

Her novels were always published by the pseudonym “by a lady” because of the low Le Faye Deirdre, Jane Austen: A Family Record second edition, 1989 Cambridge University Press p.13 http://money.cnn.com/2013/07/24/news/jane-austen-money/ 11.03.15 Le Faye Deirdre, 1989 p.52 Le Faye Deirdre, 1989 p.53 Castellanos Gabriela, 1995 p.30 Castellanos Gabriela, 1995 p.29 Le Faye Deirdre, 1989 p.66 position of women and feminine authors in the 19th century which she also criticizes in her novel “Persuasion”. In 1810, Thomas Ergerton accepted “Sense and Sensibility” to become published and after a correction by Jane Austen it was published on the 30th October 1811. Subsequently Austen edited “First Impression” into “Pride and Prejudice” and probably sold the copyrights of it to Thomas Egerton in autumn of 1812. One year later, it was published and Thomas Egerton decided to publish “Mansfield Park” and “Emma” as well. Unfortunately, in the spring of 1816 Austen began to feel ill. In this year, her brother Henry bought back Jane Austen´s manuscript. On the 27th January 1817, Jane Austen started her last novel, which she could never finish because on the 18th July she died in the early morning.1

3. The Georgian England

This period is named after the first Hanoverian Kings of Great Britain who were all named “George” and who ruled from 1714 to 1830. In this time, important developments in culture, society and politics took place. While at the beginning of this time most people still lived in the countryside, almost a quarter of England’s citizens lived in cities as a cause of the industrialization at the end of this period.2 The Georgian England got its characteristic architecture by famous artists like John Wood the elder and his son John Wood the younger who designed paths of Bath, a place where Jane Austen lived for many years and where parts of Austen’s novels “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey” are settled.

3.1. Important historical events

Jane Austen wrote ten novels. All of them were composed during the time of reign of King George III (1760-1820). In this time, England faced important political events such as the French Revolution (1789) and was involved in several wars and upheavals, for example the Anglo-Dutch war (1780-1784), the Quasi-War against France from 1798 to 1801 or Admiral Nelson’s victories in the Battle of the Nile in 1789, in the battle against Denmark in 1801 and, of course, the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).1 Although some of these events found a way into Austen’s novels, they receive only little attention in her work. This is even more astonishing as her cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, married to the French aristocrat Jean-Francois Capot de Feuillide, had been involved in the political events of the French Revolution, as her husband was accused of being a supporter of the royalists in France and he was guillotined on 22nd February 1794.2 Later, Eliza married Jane’s brother James, so it is very likely that Eliza brought information about the brutality of the French Revolution to Jane Austen and her family. Jane Austen’s political interest seems to be limited on displaying a certain pride on England being a sea power. And even here, she focuses on the field of military, always mentioning the high reputation of admirals. In her oeuvre, the slave trade (abolished in 1807) is never mentioned.

3.2. Rules of society in the 19th century

To understand criticism on the 19th century, first one needs to know about the condition of the society during this period. Women at this time did not have a high reputation in society and so they hardly had any rights. Most women were in the need to find the most riches marriage parcel. Even the heritage of the family was defined by the families’ history and so it often happened that if the father, as the head of the family had died, the women had to depend on the nephew’s generosity.3 Furthermore, upper class women did not officially have the possibility to work in Britain and housework was their destiny. In the 19th century, women were expected to accept the social status in which they would live in for many years. It was not typical for women to analyse the social structure and chiefly not to utter any criticism.4


1 Le Faye Deirdre, 1989 “notes and abbreviations“

2 http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/explore/georgians/daily-life/ 5.3.2015

1 Stein Werner, Fahrplan der Weltgeschichte, 1994 Weltbild p.877-887

2 Le Faye Deirdre, 1989 p. 77

3 Austen Jane, Sense and Sensibilities, 1811 Wordsworth Edition in Ware

4 Castellanos Gabriela, Laughter, War and Feminism, 1995 Peter Lang p.29

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Jane Austen's social criticism regarding the female role. An analysis based on selected novels
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Jane Austen, Criticism, social, female role, persuation, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, 19.Jahrhundert, Frauenbild, literature
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Sigrun Rohling (Author), 2015, Jane Austen's social criticism regarding the female role. An analysis based on selected novels, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/351888


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