Jane Austen is known as one of the greatest novelists from England. Born in 1775, it is no surprise that her novels are still in print. She is best known for writing pride and prejudice. Back when she wrote pride and prejudice she was a teenager who did not want to come out as an author. She published this book back when a female’s entrance into the public eye was considered was considered not very lady like. Jane’s distinctive literary style relies on a combination of free indirect speech, parody, irony and to some extent realism. Both burlesque and parody are used to bring out a comical effect and to criticize the portrayal of women in novels. This paper looks at the common theme across some of Austen’s novels
Education is a fundamental theme in Austen’s books. The heroines in her book go through various processes, and at the end of the story, they become better people. For instance in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth goes through a process of prejudicial thoughts. It’s a process of error-when she thinks prejudicially about Darcy, recognition of the error-when she finally realizes Darcy is not a bad person as she had perceived him to be. Last in her education process, Elizabeth, is determined to do better. In the novel Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth realizes that she was mistaken about Darcy and Wickham. It dawns on her that she has never been objective about Darcy and concludes that there is no reason not to like Darcy. “She grew absolutely ashamed of herself: neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd. 'How despicably have I acted!' she cried. I, who have prided myself on my discernment! Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either was concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself” (Austen 27) the books are also educative to the reader. Through the many experiences that the characters in her novel go through, the reader can deduce some teaching. This is educating the reader. The books have been known to cause emotional attachments through the years” Jane Austen is trying to educate her readers emotionally. In sense and Sensibility and the novels that follow it, Austen focuses on eliciting sympathy and judgment. Reading an Austen novel is characterized with moral and intellectual and moral development (Bloom 171).
The individual and the society.
Austen portrays an actual society. When writing Pride and Prejudice, Austen was living in a society where women were allowed a few aspirations. Elizabeth Bennet, Austen’s protagonist is clever and brilliant young lady who rises above superficial concerns of her status driven society. Austen in this novel writes about her concern as a young female living in a society where woman were only allowed to be beautiful. Austen does not agree with these values, and she uses her protagonists and other characters to show that women can rise above the prejudice that they can only be beautiful and ornamental. Many of Austen’s works bring out the tension between the individual claim and that of the society (Grundy 190). Through her use of free indirect speech, Austen’s novels are part of the development of individual consciousness and individualism.
In his novels, Austen emphasizes on the disadvantages and dangers of individualism. In Manfields Park, the characters of moral degrade-Rushworth, Bertram daughters and Henry Crawford all represent individualism. On the other hand, Emma the heroine embodies the dangers of individualism since her position of power allows her to affect every citizen of Highbury (Green 29).
Austen also brings out the notion of class in her novels. In Pride and prejudice, the Bennets are allowed to socialize with the Darcy’s who are a class ahead but the Bennets are still regarded as inferior by those in Darcy’s class. In Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility, Austen focuses on the lack of fortune for women as a significant economic problem. In Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Emma, women move through an examination of the society as a measure of socio-economic morality and a source of identity.
The issue of social mobility and class rigidity are also constant in Austen’s novels. The naval profession and marriage are the two ways through which individuals could improve their social status back in Austen’s times (Jones 30). One could marry into the next social class (Green 20). Austen manages to capture this detail both in pride and prejudice and persuasion. Austen defends the traditions and values of her social structure; she is not a revolutionary. However, she is relentless in her call for greater social mobility.
Austen is a conservative. She defends the established social order by defending the values and traditions of her social structure. Her stories are either divided into a heroine who is right or into a heroine who is wrong. In cases where the heroine is right that heroine brings change in the other characters (Grundy 193).
Commentators and critics believe that Austen was a believing church woman. As a church going young girl, Austen heard the Book of Common Prayer, and it greatly influenced her writing. Her short brief sentences are influenced by the New Testament. Her growing religious views are notable in Persuasion and Mansfield Park. In Manfields Park, a character named fanny stands for proper spirituality and morality. Fanny characterizes Henry Crawford’s affair with Maria in religious terms (punishment, language of sinners and guilt).
Austen was a feminist writer. She has often been classified under the ‘Tory feminist’ category. Tory feminism is a traditional thought that people held. Austen believed that women were treated as inferior to men in the society. Back in her day, women were not allowed to participate in any development matters. They were restricted to look beautiful and running the kitchen. For example, in Northanger abbey, the hero who is named Catherine says that history tells her nothing that does not either vex is or weary her. In the persuasion, Anne Elliote gives a brief description of men and women. She says "We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us. You are forced on exertion. You have always a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or other, to take you back into the world immediately, and continual occupation and change soon weaken impressions." However, this novels lack a female authority figures and female mentors. Women do not progress from ignorance to knowledge without a mentor. For one to become a woman, they need to relinquish their achievements and accommodate themselves to men. Louisa and Mary in Persuasion lose their independence and rely on those around them.
Austen uses her novels to bring into focus the financial position of the women in the 18th century and late 19th century. She realized that women in poor financial positions felt the pressure to marry someone who was better off than them so that he could provide for them.
Love is a prevailing theme in most of Austen’s novels. Love is as old as Adam and eve. Pride and prejudice contains one of the most cherished love stories in the history of storytelling: The love between Darcy and Elizabeth. We see the lovers overcome many stumbling blocks and elude them to be together. Elizabeth’s pride makes her misjudge Darcy. Darcy on the other hand thinks of Elizabeth as a social climber who is only after him for his high social status. In Manfields Park, Henry and Maria have a love affair. Though not a socially acceptable thing to do, the two seem to be in love.
Jane Austen is one of the most talked about novelists in history mostly because of her novel pride and prejudice. Her plots are essentially about education. Her heroines transform from their old selves into new and better selves after going through the process. During Austen’s time, women had little place in development matters; Austen has brought out the issues of feminism in her novels. Social classes were major issues back in the day. The wealthy families were highly regarded. The naval profession and marriage were the only way to improve one’s social status. Her novels are also known to be politically progressive and conservative.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. New York: W. W. Norton and Co, 1813. Print.
Bloom, Harold. Jane Austen. New York, NY: Bloom's Literary Criticism, 2009. Print.
Green, Lindsay. Emma by Jane Austen and Clueless Directed by Amy Heckerling. Glebe, N.S.W: Pascal Press, 2001. Print.
Grundy, Isobel. "Jane Austen and Literary Traditions". The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Eds. Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.
Jones, Hazel. Jane Austen and Marriage. London: Continuum, 2009. Print.