"I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment! Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb."
-- Jane Austen, letter of September 8 1816 to Cassandra
"I will only add in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire any thing more in woman than ignorance."
-- Northanger Abbey
"...when a young lady professes to be of a different opinion from her friends, it is only a prelude to something worse. -- She begins by saying that she is determined to think for herself, and she is determined to act for herself -- and then it is all over with her"Jane Austen a feminist? That has not been the traditional view (in 1870, Anthony Trollope declared that "Throughout all her works, a sweet lesson of homely household womanly virtue is ever being taught"), but once the question has been asked (which it was not, until relatively recently), it is not hard to see some feminist tendencies.
-- the character of Mrs. Stanhope in chapter 6 of Maria Edgeworth's Belinda [Here basically "friends"="family"]
Of course, Jane Austen is not a simple ideologue -- when a character in a Jane Austen novel makes a broad statement that seems to stand up for women in general, this is actually usually done by an unsympathetic character (such as Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey or Mrs. Elton in Emma), and is not meant to be taken seriously. In Pride and Prejudice the main example is Caroline Bingley's statement to Darcy that "Eliza Bennet is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own, and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art." Here Caroline Bingley is "undervaluing" Elizabeth, and Darcy sees through her easily. Conversely, Henry Tilney's teasing remarks on the subject of women during the walk from Bath to Beechen Cliff in Northanger Abbey are not really meant to invalidate his character.
On the other hand, however, Jane Austen presents a rather cool and objective view of the limited options open to women (in Pride and Prejudice this is done through the character Charlotte Lucas).
And it has been pointed out that Jane Austen makes an implicit statement by simply disregarding certain strictures of her era that may not be obvious to modern readers. For example most of Jane Austen's heroines (Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, Anne Elliot in Persuasion, and even Emma Woodhouse in Emma) don't have anyone whom they can confide in, or whose advice they can rely on, about certain delicate matters. Thus they must make their own decisions more or less independently (for example, Elizabeth Bennet doesn't reveal to Jane, her sister and closest confidante, her changed feelings about Darcy until he has actually proposed again, and she has accepted). Similarly, in a letter of November 30th 1814 to her niece Fanny Knight, discussing whether Fanny should engage herself to one Mr. Plumtre, Jane Austen wrote: "...you must not let anything depend on my own opinion. Your own feelings & none but your own, should determine such an important point".
Such moral autonomy on the part of young women would by no means have been universally approved of in Jane Austen's day, as can be seen from Sir Thomas's diatribes in Mansfield Park, when Fanny Price is resisting his advice to marry Henry Crawford. Thus another novel writer, (Fanny Burney) had her heroine Evelina write the following non-Austenian sentiments to her adoptive father: "I know not what to wish: think for me, therefore, my dearest Sir, and suffer my doubting mind, that knows not what way to direct its hopes, to be guided by your wisdom and counsel". In her Plan of a Novel, Jane Austen makes fun of the novel-heroine who "receives repeated offers of Marriage -- which she refers wholly to her Father, exceedingly angry that he should not be first applied to".
Jane Austen also makes a positive statement by having Elizabeth Bennet insist on being treated as a "rational creature", rather than as an "elegant female", when trying to make her "No" be understood as "No" to Mr. Collins.
It is interesting that the most explicit feminist protests by Jane Austen in her six novels all have to do with literature. In Persuasion, Anne Elliot debates Captain Harville on who loves longest, women or men:
"But history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in... I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men so good-for-nothing, and hardly any women at all -- it is very tiresome."Here the last sentence is as succinct a summary as one could wish of the objections of feminist historiography, social history, and/or the Annales school to the traditional "Great Man" theory of history. (See also Jane Austen's own farcical History of England.)
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