voodooqueen126 (voodooqueen126) wrote,

Pride and Prejudice: Draft Essay

{C}(1)   Analyse your chosen novel from a feminist point of view. In what ways is it progressive? In what ways is it conservative or regressive?

Jane Austen is a complex author, at once conservative and progressive. She also makes heavy use of irony, so that it can be difficult to tell in which vein she is writing at a given moment.

Nevertheless she was first female writer to gain widespread popularity in her own time and remain remembered today. While Authors like Aphra Behn, Ann Radcliffe,  X and Y may have come earlier, they are not widely known outside literary circles, or in the case of Ann Radcliffe, many are only familiar with her because Austen chose to satirise her in Northanger Abbey. Thus whatever Austen’s views, be they progressive or regressive, she is significant in the history of feminist thought.

Certain aspects of the text are regressive: Austen would appear to have an ambiguous relationship with sexuality, in that she shows deep suspicion of female sexual desire (this she demonstrates with the character of Lydia, the silly girl who marries for lust) and this could be seen as a regressive perspective on sexuality.  Another aspect of the text that could be seen as regressive is the portrayal of Mrs Bennet: the character openly states the characters must marry marry quickly and preferably to a wealthy man. This Mrs Bennet does  because she is aware that without marriage her daughter’s will be left in penury, because the estate is entailed to prevent women from inheriting property, indeed Mrs Bennet is the only character who complains about the estate’s entailment.  yet rather than presenting Mrs Bennet as a woman pressuring her daughters to make hard and unpleasant choices in order to gain financial security-a not necessarily sympathetic portrayal such a portrayal would nevertheless give Mrs Bennet pragmatic wisdom, yet the text consistently presents Mrs Bennet as ridiculous, vulgar and silly. Austen treats Mrs Bennet and her advice as comedic, this seems strange as Austen- who was well read and lived herself in a reduced circumstances because of this patriarchal social system-was surely aware of that Mrs Bennet’s advice was pragmatic.  A final aspect of the novel that could be seen as regressive from a feminist point of view is that Lydia’s seduction by Mr Wickham occurs as a result of Mr Bennet’s neglect. Had Mr Bennet exerted more patriarchal control over the irresponsible and flightly Lydia, it would not have been possible for Mr Wickham to have seduced her in Brighton.

Nevertheless the thrust of Austen’s novel is feminist, albeit failing to meet the standards of modern feminism.

Although Austen never directly states that it is wrong or unfair that the Bennet sisters are unable to inherit their father’s entailed estate, and the text frequently ridicules Mrs Bennett who openly states that the Bennet sisters must marry or else be penniless after their father’s death.

“…many arguments in literary criticism that identify irony across the range of literature in English, from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Austen and Eliot. Here the irony can either lie in the situation, where what the character says is undermined by what they do or say elsewhere; or, the irony can li in the speech itself where the rhetoric is so excessive or clichéd that we suspect the author is ironising the characters own limited imaginations…However as in all literature, we are challenged as to where the irony lies: does the character intend the irony, by wanting to be understood as not praising marriage, or does (Colebrook, 2004, p. 10) Chaucer intend the irony, by suggesting that all such praises and eulogies will be undermined by real love and marriages? It is not just the context that gives away irony in this case. The speech is so excessive that even if there were no contextual clue we might suspect irony. Our context could be human life and marriage in general: could anyone really love his wife and marriage this much? If one did want to offer such an exceeding praise of love and do so sincerely, then we would not need a more elaborate context: say the plot of Romeo and Juliet where the circumstances and characters would seem to be able to mean and intend such words sincerely. And, as sincere, we cannot just use everyday language excessively. So, when we do hear characters using praise  in a clichéd but intense manner, we expect that te author wants us to hear more than or something other than, praise. The ironic meaning is, perhaps, ‘how ungrounded, sincere and empty all this excessive praise must be! The irony here does not lie in a single word but requires the whole passage to alert us that what is being said is not what is meant.” (Colebrook, 2004, p. 11)

“Against the use of ‘romanticism’ as a label to convey everything from Jane Austen  (1775-1817) to Blake, McGann suggests that we should ask  how the very idea of the ‘Romantic’ has been used  to mystify a range of texts and their social emergence.” (Colebrook, 2004, p. 92)

“Characters who feel they are elevated or above the trials of common life are frequently the objects of satire. The irony of a text like Gulliver’s Travels or even Pride and Prejudice (1813) is satirical. Gulliver has no sense of his implication in the contingency of human life; his blindness lies in his belief that he adopts a position or above life.

Not only does Jane Austen (1775-1817) parody the way in which we take our local sentiments for universal truths, she also displays the blindness of those characters who believe themselves to be in simple possession of either a moral law or a social code. Her novels not only portray the vanities and tendencies of human nature, they also present characters  who arrive at fulfilment only through knowing and reflecting upon the social nature of man. One cannot disengage oneself from human life and nature. For Austen, the art of fiction and the art of satire is also an art of recognition: examining the follies of others with a full perception of our own weakness. Satire assumes the common ground of ‘man and (Colebrook, 2004, p. 145) and therefore works against the traditional aim of irony an elevated or ‘urbane’ point of view and beyond natural life. (Colebrook, 2004, p. 146)

“Irony, as we have noted, produces and implies aesthetic distance: we imagine some authorial point of judgement that is other than the voice expressed. But the stylistic implications and complications of this distance also lead beyond irony. If it is the case that an author or speaker can be other than what they manifestly say, it is also the case that complex forms of irony can make the recognition and existence of this distanced authorial position impossible to determine. It may be the case that the text resists clearly elevated or distanced position from the discourse it expresses. What is implied, not said or other than the narration, is not some clearly perceived ironic position that ‘we’ might recognise, for such a point of elevated recognition is precisely what the structure of the text seeks to destroy.

Modernist free-indirect style moves well beyond the clear location of irony and earlier uses of what is now identified as free-indirect discourse. We might say that Austen had already used free-indirect style in Pride and Prejudice (1813), describing characters in the elevated, manufactured and obsequious tones they would themselves use. But we would also have to say that while Austen herself never speaks in the novel, all the voices and the dialogues that characters maintain with each other allow a social whole to emerge, where some characters speak with a sense of the social whole, and others merely repeat received values. Austen presents two styles of dialogue: characters who do nothing more than voice received opinions (including characters, such as Mr Bennet who continues to look at his wife as an object of ridicule and satire). Other characters, by contrast, speak with an openness to others, not merely judging what they say, but allowing their actions an characters to fill out a picture of personhood that lies beyond mere speech. It is the narrative of (Colebrook, 2004, p. 160)the novel, the structured description of actions, places and the changes of human relations that allows certain voices to be seen as sincere and open and others to be seen as mere rhetoric and dissimulation. The plot allows some characters to emerge as those who have been capable of insight and development, while others remain within the style of repetition and received ideas through which they were originally described.

Austen’s use of voices and dialogue is centred in some grounding value: the value of social dialogue and exchange itself, as opposed to merely received and repeated values. Her good characters alter their opinions and values when presented with contrary events; they speak with a view both to self-reflection and self-renewal, admitting that there is more to life than merely adhering to what one says. Good sense and character are social and stylistic. Characters with a sense of the social whole allow their moral discourse to alter, expose itself to definition and articulate questions of how one ought to speak. Both Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy develop an awareness of their place in the community and a recognition of the effects of their own speech.  By contrast, Austen presents characters who are nothing more than rigid representations of style: Mr Bennett’s satire, Mr Collins’s pomposity and Lady de Burgh’s ritual propriety. Such characters cling to their personality and style of speech as if it were nothing more than a social role or a play; they have no sense of creating themselves in relation to others, or of acting in ways that go  beyond mere social rule and expectation. Jane Austen’s use of free-indirect style is ironic: she speaks in the language of characters  and their received morality, but she also allows a higher point of view trough characters who speak sincerely with a sense of moral discourse as dialogue and question, rather than fashion or truths ‘universally acknowledge’. (Colebrook, 2004, p. 161)


Colebrook, C. (2004). Irony. Abingdon: Routledge.

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