Austen: Feminist and Revolutionist
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Jane Austen portrays her novel heroines as outliers in the patriarchal society of Regency Britain. For example, in Pride and Prejudice (1813), Elizabeth Bennet chose to marry for love and not merely in pursuit of economic security, which is a flagrant violation of the standards expected of women. Due to strict inheritance laws, women are not able to inherit their family’s properties and so, must turn towards marriage for dependency (or as some critics argue, independency) and capital guarantee in their future. Families often see this as an opportunity to quickly accumulate wealth and push their daughters to marry a man of fine wealth, shaping the “universally acknowledged truth” that marriage is a critical step for women to survive and succeed unbeknownst of their inner desires for marriage shaped by true love and passion. Anyone who deviates from this norm is considered a radical and the voices of these activists are suppressed by the government. Jane Austen was one of the few critics who openly disagrees with the patriarchal expectation of an ideal woman who is to serve the man. She acquires the views of Mary Wollstonecraft’s version of an accomplished woman – one who is seen to be of a rational equal of men and able to make her own independent decisions. In this annotated bibliography, I will explore the arguments of six different critics of Jane Austen’s works, illustrating the main principles that they believe Austen was trying to push through the portrayal and personality of her characters. Some arguments will overlap and I will point out the similar and contrasting understandings between critics to develop a more comprehensive picture of Jane Austen’s liberal feminist ideas of marriage in the novels’ social environments and the thorough examination of the heroines will show that they represent rather unconventional views of marriage.