Of woman borne: male experience and feminine truth in Jane Austen's novels.
Alistair Duckworth, who has long and eloquently articulated the conservative case for Austen, offers as a safe generalization this distinction between the novelists who precede Austen and those who follow:
whereas the eighteenth century novelist...can accept society whole, as a given structure within whose terms the individual must act, the nineteenth century novelist tends to question the ethical constitution of society and to set against it a morality generated by the interaction of two people or a small group...From Fielding's comprehensive affirmation of society, the English novel, we may say, moves...to Dickens' circumscribed ethic in which a small enclave is purified through love amid a world of wickedness.(3)
Duckworth goes on to assert that "Jane Austen's affiliation is with Fielding rather than Dickens." However useful this schema might be, it unreasonably assumes that an emphasis upon the personal rather than upon the larger social order necessarily translates into a modern disillusionment with society. I align myself with feminist critics who find in Austen an emphasis upon the personal which springs rather from a distinctly feminine perspective; this study assumes, with Susan Morgan, that "Austen's 'social' concerns are with human relations, not society."(4) My interest here, however, is in the nature of Austen's feminism and in a possible explanation for the polarization of Austen studies within the feminist camp as well as across the whole body of criticism dealing with the novels. I approach these questions through a consideration of the use she makes of male characters.
Jane Austen has long been credited with being a keen observer of human nature and a creator of vital and convincing characters of both sexes. Critics, however, have down through the years regularly found fault with one group of characters in particular in her novels, the young men who appear as likely suitors for the heroines--the "heroes" and "villains." In many ways the ongoing complaint that certain of these male figures are inadequately characterized or crudely utilized merely manifested a masculine resistance to Austen's marginalization of male experience, but even recent feminist criticism exhibits a tendency to overemphasize the role of the "important" male characters, often in a misguided attempt to assert Austen's historical relevance and the profundity of her art.
Critics contemporary with Austen, of course, charged her with triviality of subject, and even her most earnest admirers have adopted a defensive stance. The attendant anxiety of her apologists has greatly affected the lines of developing argument to be found in the body of criticism dealing with the novels. In particular, the regrettable tendency in much Austen criticism to stress the role of individual characters as representatives of a particualr class or social orientation is born of the desire to make Austen's subject matter more significant and comprehensive. The practice, defended by David Monaghan, of reading the novels as "social allegories" is an approach that broadens the novels' scope with the added advantage of inflating the importance of male characters.(5) Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is no longer one man possessing the advantages and prejudices of a particular class: he becomes the quintessential great landowner with ties to the nobility, synonymous with an entire class and a distinct way of life. Similarly Captain Wentworth in Persuasion as a self-made man must signal Austen's endorsement of an enterprising middle class that displaces a decayed aristocracy. Suddenly we are more focused on sweeping societal forces, and the roles of the male characters gain greatly in significance. But because this emphasis is largely unjustified, the heroes and villains who figure importantly in the plot are that much more likely to appear too puny to support the thematic burden assigned them.
Critics, whether inclined to read Sense and Sensibility as Marianne's or as Elinor's story, have generally seen something lacking in the portrayal of Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon. Male critics in particular have revealed an alarming tendency to fall in love with Marianne, and readers of both sexes generally bemoan Austen's pairing of Marianne in the conclusion with staid, middle-aged Colonel Brandon in his flannel waistcoats. Marianne's admirers and Elinor's partisans alike admit that Edward, who because of his secret engagement must remain a distant and shadowy figure, is flat and uninteresting. But the male characters in Sense and Sensibility have not been singled out for such criticism. Mr. Knightley in Emma is seen as too stuffy for lively Emma, Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park as too much of a prig even for Fanny Price, and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice as stiff and unconvincing. The villains, it has often been observed, are never allowed close enough to the heroines to pose much of a threat. Katharine M. Rogers offers what might serve as a partial explanation for the seeming inadequacy of Austen's heroes and villains when she looks at the eighteenth-century feminine novel before Austen. She notes that "Both heroes and heroines were flattened by the conventions appropriated to women's novels"(6) and goes on to observe that "In general, the female novelists do better with less important male characters, who can reflect keen social observation without being distorted by the fantasy requirements bearing on the hero or villain."(7) However true this may be as a general observation, it does not seem a satisfactory explanation for the comparatively scanty portrayal of Austen's less-than-ideal lovers and not-so-threatening rakes.
Pointing to what he deemed a sign of Austen's emotional immaturity, Edmund Wilson long ago observed that "the experience behind the relationships imagined by her in her novels is always an experience of relationships of blood, of which that between sisters is certainly the most deeply felt."(8) Noting that other critics had seen "Marianne's love for Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility" as "the most passionate thing in Jane Austen," he went on to assert the greater significance of Elinor's love for Marianne:
but isn't it rather the emotion of Elinor as she witnesses her sister's disaster than Marianne's emotion over Willoughby of which the poignancy is communicated to the reader? The involvement with one another of the sisters is the real central theme of the book, just as the relation of Elizabeth to her sisters is so vital a part of Pride and Prejudice.(9)
Although a number of more recent critics have asserted the importance of relationships between women in the novels--Brown, for instance, argues that "relations between older and younger women are central to the generational structure of Austen's fiction"(10)--many still see as a flaw Austen's slighter characterization of key male figures.(11) Readers' assumptions often lead them to expect the relationship between the heroine and the hero to dwarf all others, and at least some of the enduring dissatisfaction with the portrayal of the heroes and anti-heroes stems from an unreasonable puzzlement that they are not featured more prominently.
Even some fine recent feminist criticism in some ways seems to be committing the errors of the past. Susan Morgan in "Why There's No Sex in Jane Austen's Fiction" offers an explanation for Austen's departure from what was standard practice in the eighteenth-century novel, the plot revolving around sex--specifically around threats to the heroin's virginity. Morgan describes Austen's break with the past as "a great achievement"(12) and "a literary innovation"(13) that paved the way for writers such as
Hardy and Eliot [who] were able to explore the evils of a woman being sexually defined by her culture in part because Austen had banished from fiction, and thus effectively revealed as a fiction, the fiction of a woman being sexually defined by nature.(14)
Morgan certainly does not minimize Austen's achievement: she credits her with both great originality and a tremendous influence upon the developing English novel. Yet her argument still seems to be predicated on the assumption that Jane Austen was forced to omit something significant from her art. Judith Wilt in "Jane Austen's Men: Inside/Outside 'the Mystery'" acknowledges that "Jane Austen's women are the glory of her fiction"(15) but goes on to detect something vital lacking in her novels because Austen as a woman--and particularly as a woman of her class and time--is inevitably "turned out from the Mysteries" (as, to be fair to Wilt, men are outside the "Mysteries" belonging to womanhood) and can only approach by indirection and guesswork the all-important initiation of the young male into the adult world of work and fixed identity.(16) We still so often read the novels as if the consciousness of the heroine is merely an aperture through which we get a glimpse of a more significant or interesting story than Austen was willing or able to relate.
In one obvious sense, of course, men are at the center of Jane Austen's novels. The novels are, at least superficially, love stories, ending with the marriage of the hero and heroine. In each of the novels, the narrative interest is concentrated in the central story of courtship--in whether or not the heroine gets her man--and the novel ends with their marriage, but this is not to say as much about the novels as we might think. Such a comment could be said with equal truth of Tom Jones or Great Expectations. (One might say of Melville's masterpiece that the narrative interest is concentrated in whether or not Moby-Dick gets his man.) In reading what is termed a "female" novel, we expect (with some justification) that the love interest will be paramount. But although the coming together of the heroine and hero is undeniably the point toward which the plots of her novels yearn, Austen exerts considerable artistry to keep the love relationships within bounds--as any number of admirers and detractors of the novels have noted in one way or another, from Charlotte Bronte, to D. H. Lawrence, to Marvin Mudrick, to Susan Morgan.(17) Austen deliberately glosses over what is distinctive about a passionate sexual relationship, I believe, because she is far more concerned with what such a relationship shares with other kinds of intimate relationships, whether between siblings, child and parent, or friends. And it is a mistake to demand equal time for the inner life of Austen's heroes and villains, for these characters are dramatized as convincingly as they need to be to fulfill their primary function, which is, as Margaret Lenta argues, to dramatize the female protagonists' experience of them.(18) Their stories (always kept clearly subordinate) echo or underscore the heroines' experience with others of both sexes.(19)
Men are of secondary importance in the novels, however useful they may be to the plot, and male experience becomes relevant only in so far as it confirms "feminine" truth. And by this I mean not a truth for women alone but what for Austen is a universal truth reflected more clearly in women's experience. Elizabeth A. Say agrees with Patricia Meyer Spacks in characterizing the feminine moral ideal offered in women's novels as one of "being" rather than "doing."(20) If, as Nancy Armstrong suggests, it is largely generated by the rise of a feminine domestic consciousness among the newly evolving middle class, it carries such great moral authority primarily because this feminine ideal embodies long-celebrated Christian values impossible to be reconciled with the classical masculine ethic of action that dominates western society. Society had long enjoined upon women a humility and meekness that in Christian terms paradoxically granted them a moral ascendancy, and the historical development charted by Armstrong similarly grants a new moral authority to traditional feminine (i.e., domestic, personal, unworldly) values.(21) It is thus not surprising that the values endorsed by Austen seem to some to hearken backward to a more stable, coherent order and to others to undermine the patriarchal order. Citing "Chodorow's conclusion that men's social orientation is positional while women's is personal," Carol Gilligan suggests that we ask "not why women have conflicts about competitive success, but why men show such readiness to adopt and celebrate a rather narrow [i.e., emphasizing prestige, wealth, victory in war, business, love, etc. over personal happiness! vision of success."(22) Austen implicitly raises this question as she posits a distinctly feminine view of social interaction. In the novels the emphasis is insistently and unapologetically upon the personal. Her art is feminine in its very assumption that personal relationships define one's being, and a traditional feminine vision of success informs her novels.
Like the "less equal" (MP, p. 468) punishment attending a man's adultery or fornication, the restrictions society places upon men are not as great as those under which women labor--and Austen everywhere implicitly recognizes this injustice--but her vision extends well beyond some feminist political agenda that envisions a world of different proportions to instead offer a balanced view of life's inherent limitations and the modest possibilities afforded individuals whose lives are necessarily bound to others. Men, in fact, are in this regard actually hampered by the illusion of freedom which their culture grants them. While acknowledging how many women novelists regard pain as "the human condition," Patricia Meyer Spacks nonetheless argues that a special kind of pain is to be found in novels by women that recount a young woman's coming of age: "Lacking a sense of their free will, of full participation in the human franchise, they learn to know that their suffering derives from gender rather than from common humanity."(23) Yet Spacks also acknowledges that "Social facts...provide no excuse for a woman, from Jane Austen's point of view" and that Austen "betrays no sense of grievance."(24) I find the explanation for these oddly conjoined ideas not as Spacks does in Austen's belief that the "role of wife and mother" will otherwise "[compensate] for all the hardships of girlhood"(25) but in the direct benefits of the enforced subservience: in the ability to place the subject in another and the object in oneself and in the acceptance of inescapable human dependency. Austen, perhaps unforgivably for some, is not particularly concerned with the struggle of woman to achieve subjectivity; she is far too aware of the need to step outside oneself. As Spacks herself observes in writing of George Eliot's Maggie Tulliver, "the feminine capacity for suffering need not be mere self-display or self-torment, but may provide a medium for moral insight."(26) This burden of consciousness carried by women inflicts its special torments, certainly, precisely because this awareness is not shared by the economically and politically dominant male sex, but it nonetheless affords--from one perspective, at least--a distinct advantage over the more limited vision of men. The very inequality of their condition, the constraints placed upon them, their dependence, the actual condition of being female helps Austen's heroines to a realization that the "female condition" more nearly reflects the essential truth of the human condition. The idea may be anathema to many a modern-day feminist, but for Austen it was an enduring moral truth.
If Austen is not alone among women novelists in her endorsement of such feminine values, she reaches beyond them in a number of respects. Patricia Meyer Spacks has shown how Ann Radcliffe's gothic novels had earlier depicted the clash between a masculine power ethic that celebrates force and a feminine ethic that meets and defeats that force through an effort of the will alone. In Radcliffe's novels, Spacks notes, the "danger of the masculine sublime, embodied in supernatural appearances, is finally illusory," though "Men's social power remains both real and dangerous."(27) But in Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Spacks finds an even "more pessimistic view than Radcliffe's":
Phallic power is hardly at issue here. Radcliffe debunks it, Austen barely acknowledges it. But men's social power, recognized though not dwelt on by Radcliffe, in this Austen novel appears as a central fact in female lives.(28)
Radcliffe, however, works to demonstrate what Austen's novels assume as a given. Austen's matter-of-fact detailing of male social power effectively demystifies phallic power at the onset. And if she seems more concerned to expose men's social power than Radcliffe, she does not rail against it. A more apt comparison for my purposes would perhaps be with Fanny Burney's realistic novels, and yet, there one detects an attraction to male power not to be found in Austen. In puzzling over the irreproachability of Charlotte Bronte's feminist credentials and Austen's dubious standing, Brown observes "how much colder to male authority Austen is than Bronte, how much less attracted to it, how disinclined to sentimentalize and make excuses for it."(29) Austen, in contrast to other women novelists, resists romanticizing the battle between the sexes. Rather than viewing society from a militant feminist perspective or sentimentalizing the victimization of women in a way that adds a certain lustre to male domination and reinforces the masculine mystique, she succeeds (where others do not) in making woman the normative center.
In portraying men, Austen focuses more on the ways in which men's lives are like women's. Why do we not see men without women in the pages of her novels? Why does Austen not follow Darcy or Mr. Knightley into a man's world of business from which women are excluded? It is not enough to counter with the usual argument--that the private, domestic sphere is ideally suited to her subject. In fact, the deliberate and consistent marginalizing of exclusively male experience is perhaps the only realistic technique that could so effectively establish the centrality of women's experience in Austen's fictional world. Critics bent on reasserting Austen's claims to greatness have accumulated considerable evidence from the novels themselves of Austen's awareness of the current political scene both at home and abroad and of social issues such as slavery and the reform novement within the Anglican Church, her knowledge of the military, and her acquaintance with contemporary radical thought. The puzzle has always been, Why such coyness? Why this art of indirection which merely glances sidelong at important issues, ideas and events as it concentrates directly on her "3 or 4 Families in a Country Village"?(30) I would argue that the framework provided by such subdued references actually underscores the significance of the central events in each novel. Precisely because Austen gives this larger world its due, her choice to focus rather upon the personal and domestic asserts in no uncertain terms the centrality of women's experience. Paradoxically perhaps, the message conveyed is that this alternative vision can hold its own: it does not depend upon its tangential relationship to the world of men for its significance.
What largely sets Austen apart from other women novelists is the conceptual ability to move beyond a preoccupation with male power and the technical skill to create the form her vision requires. Everything but the plot, it would seem, conspires to circumscribe carefully the roles of male characters in Austen's novels. Deborah Kaplan draws some striking parallels between familiar narrative strategies in Austen's novels and the stance frequently adopted by women letter-writers of Austen's class and time. In these private documents, Kaplan finds just such an inversion of the "value structure of the domestic ideology...rendering the greater importance of women's private over men's public experiences through point of view"(31) and "us[ing] irony to invest women's experience with more significance than men's"(32) [italics mine]. Austen makes use of the trappings of earlier novelists, but as has often been noted, she deliberately reduces, or flattens, such elements as the stock seduction-plot. The rather whimsical note Austen strikes in those famous concluding chapters and the narrator's sudden discreet withdrawal as we seem to be gearing up for a love-scene contribute to a pattern that deflates the love story in the interest of larger thematic concerns. Austen would appear to be deliberately sinking the lover in the man. Significantly, the heroes in Austen's novels are not presented as the professed lovers of the heroines. Rather the heroine spends the better part of the novel observing the hero's conduct in his relations with others, very often as he pays court to another woman--as do Edward Ferrars (SS), Edmund Bertram (MP), and Captain Wentworth (P). Elizabeth Bennet assumes Darcy is destined to marry his cousin (PP); and in Emma, not even the principals envision the possibility that Emma and Mr. Knightley could become more than "brother" and "sister."
Significantly, all of the heroines marry men whose station in life automatically involves them in inescapable and enduring ties to numerous individuals, as it affords them greater opportunity for self-expression and service to others beyond the immediate domestic circle. Elinor Dashwood (SS), Fanny Price (MP), and even Catherine Morland (NA) marry clergymen; Marianne Dashwood (SS), Elizabeth Bennet (PP), and Emma Woodhouse (E) marry men with large estates; and Anne Elliot (P) joins a close-knit community of navy men and their wives which fosters the sharing of both domestic duties and hazards at sea. Marriage is only one tie among many. And Austen can so confidently predict her heroines' happiness at the end of the novels because their happiness depends upon so much more than the character, disposition, or continued affection of their husbands.
Although Austen's novels reflect an awareness of social injustice and sexual stereotyping, these are not of the same significance to Austen that they are to a late twentieth-century sensibility. It is not merely that Austen lacks our rather naive faith in political machinery. More importantly, Austen's work is predicated on the conviction that for men as well as for women the domestic circle of family, friends, and neighbors among whom one spends life's most private moments is of paramount importance. It is here that Austen would judge the success or failure of an individual life. The fantasy embodied in many female novels shows the well-heeled hero in his disinterested choice of a marriage partner embracing this "feminine" truth--that despite the other avenues open to him, domestic life and emotional bonds to parents, siblings, wife and child, and family intimates contribute more to happiness and fulfillment than success measured according to traditional male values.
Austen does not flinch as she avers that in many respects marriage is as significant an act for a man as for a woman.(33) Conventional wisdom tells us that a man who makes a disastrous marriage and finds himself unhappy in his personal life can escape the environs of home in a way not possible for an unhappily married women. Men may, after all, without apology retreat behind newspapers or bury themselves in business; become avid sportsmen like Willoughby and Sir John Middleton (SS) or, like Mr. Hurst, "[live] only to eat, drink, and play at cards" (PP, p. 35); seclude themselves in the library, as does Mr. Bennet (PP); or indulge in authoritarian posturing, as do General Tilney (NA) and Sir Thomas Bertram (MP). Certainly the ease with which men are able to escape domestic responsibility and avoid intimacy is fully dramatized in Austen's novels, but so is the price they pay for their emotional withdrawal, and Austen takes the moral measure of her characters largely by the degree and nature of their participation in this domestic world. Men are in this respect rather pitiable creatures, too prone to leading a partial existence. For all the exclamations over Lady Bertram's vacuousness and Mrs. Bennet's vulgarity, a look at the male washouts in the novels should suggest that men are more liable than women to disengage emotionally. Sir Thomas' cold-blooded approach to parenting may finally be worse than Lady Bertram's passivity--certainly many have puzzled over the narrator's failure to chastise Lady Bertram. Even Mrs. Bennet has a kind of integrity not possessed by Mr. Bennet whose sardonic stance rather than preserving his dignity only makes him a more ridiculous figure than many another sensible man with a silly wife. Mrs. Bennet can at least be said to be in earnest as she determinedly goes about what she considers the serious business of her life. In this moral universe, it is a feminine ethic that predominates and men rather than women who are in greatest danger of remaining on the fringes of meaningful experience.
Perhaps the truth is that men are not as important in the novels of Jane Austen as many critics would like to have them and that the function of the love story at the heart of each novel is roughly analogous to the function of the love story to be found in many a novel with a male protagonist--it is important as a sign or indicator and rounds out a comic conclusion, but it is not where the real story lies. The real story is the value of those human links that in some ways appear so fragile but in reality remain indestructible. Austen's "flawed" heroines--Marianne Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, and Emma Woodhouse--discover this truth. Her more circumspect heroines--Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price, and Anne Elliot--consciously strive to maintain their connectedness to others.
Historically feminism embraces two conflicting impulses: the impulse to condemn stereotypical and limiting roles for women, with the rather paradoxical goal of achieving full participation and equality for women on a maledominated society's terms; and the impulse to validate and elevate traditional women's roles and concerns, placing these in opposition to entrenched patriarchal values. Elaine Showalter identifies two corresponding strains in feminist criticism. The first, which she terms the "feminist critique," is "maleoriented," focusing primarily on "stereotypes of women, the sexism of male critics, and the limited roles women play in literary history."(34) By contrast, what she terms "Gynocritics begins at the point when we free ourselves from the linear absolutes of male literary history, stop trying to fit women between the lines of the male tradition, and focus instead on the newly visible world of female culture."(35) As a feminist Austen falls into the second camp. Her novels assert the primacy of feminine experience by reducing the characterization of men in the novels to their roles in the private domestic circle and by confining their movement to a restricted social scene as viewed from a distinctly feminine perspective. Men count first according to the impact they have upon the lives of their wives, daughters, sisters, lovers, and casual female acquaintance: they are potential husbands with uncertain dispositions or habits "dangerous to a wife's happiness" (MP, p. 363), clumsy dance partners, unreliable guardians and protectors, charming companions, and incomes of so many thousand pounds a year. But male experience in so far as it is significant in the novels underscores the universality of the "feminine" truth the novels embody. Showalter complains that "The radical demand that would yoke women writers to feminist revolution and deny them the freedom to explore new subjects would obviously not provide a healthy direction for the female tradition to take. But the denigration of female experience, the insistence that woman deal with 'the real business of the world,' is also destructive."(36) Austen is so difficult to label because her art succeeds in presenting a truly feminine vision. Her novels are not directed at men: she does not envy them.
(1)Jane Austen, The Novels, 5 vols., 3rd ed., ed. R. W. Chapman (London: Oxford, 1932-34). Parenthetical references are to this edition and employ the following short form of the titles: NA (Northanger Abbey), SS (Sense and Sensibility), PP (Pride and Prejudice), MP (Mansfield Park), E (Emma), and P (Persuasion).
(2)Julia Prewitt Brown, "A Feminist Depreciation of Austen: A Polemical Reading," Novel 23 (1990): 304.
(3)Alistair Duckworth, The Improvement of the Estate: A Study of Jane Austen's Novels (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1971), p. 27.
(4)Susan Morgan, "Intelligence in Pride and Prejudice," Modern Philology 73 (1975): 55.
(5)David Monaghan, "The Decline of the Gentry: A Study of Jane Austen's Attitude to Formality in Persuasion," Studies in the Novel 7 (1975): 73.
(6)Katherine M. Rogers, "Dreams and Nightmares: Male Characters in the Feminine Novel of the Eighteenth Century" in Men by Women, ed. Janet Todd (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1981), p. 13.
(7)Ibid., p. 20
(8)Edmund Wilson, "A Long Talk About Jane Austen" in Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Ian Watt (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1963), p. 39.
(9)Ibid., p. 39.
(10)Brown, Jane Austen's Novels: Social Change and Literary Form (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1979), p. 159.
(11)Terming Wilson's essay "a classic of sexist literary criticism," Brown goes on to draw a comparison between Austen's portrayal of friendships between women and the "many novels with male protagonists" in which "the hero's relationship with other boys or men is an obvious and instrumental element in his growth" (Jane Austen's Novels, p. 159). In a more recent book, Jane Austen Among Women (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1992), Deborah Kaplan takes a biographical approach, exploring the significance for Austen's artistic development of the network of female friends and relations among whom Austen lived and with whom she shared her work.
(12)Morgan, "Why There's No Sex in Jane Austen's Fiction," Studies in the Novel 19 (1987): 351.
(13)Ibid., p. 355.
(14)Ibid., p. 354.
(15)Judith Wilt, "Jane Austen's Men: Inside/Outside 'the Mystery'" in Men by Women, ed. Janet Todd (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1981), p. 59.
(16)Ibid., p. 67.
(17)Charlotte Bronte's complaint that "the Passions are perfectly unknown to her" [Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage, ed. B. C. Southam (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968), p. 128! and Lawrence's intense dislike of what he termed her "sharp knowing in apartness" are well known ["A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover" in Sex, Literature, and Censorship (New York: Viking, 1953), p. 109!. Mudrick contends that Austen was distinctly uncomfortable dealing with the topic of sex and could only approach the subject indirectly and ironically [Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1952)!.
(18)Margaret Lenta, "Jane Austen's Feminism: An Original Response to Convention," Critical Quarterly 23:3 (1981): 30.
(19)Note the degree of agreement--despite the different assumptions underlying their critical judgments--between Lenta and earlier critics who found fault with the very things that Lenta praises. W. A. Craik (Jane Austen: The Six Novels; London: Methuen, 1965), for example, complained that "When Edward Ferrars appears, he is what he should be, but we do not see enough of him for him to seem Elinor's equal in importance" (p. 42) and "it is one of [Edmund Bertram's] deficiencies that he, like Edward Ferrars, appears more through what effect he has on the heroine than through what he is in himself" (p. 112).
(20)Elizabeth A. Say, Evidence on her Own Behalf: Women's Narrative as Theological Voice (Savage, Maryland: Rowman, 1990), pp. 71-72.
(21)In Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987), Nancy Armstrong charts the historical shift in attitude regarding the traditional feminine virtues of "modesty, humility, and honesty": whereas seventeenth-and eighteenth-century conduct books view these as "inherently female qualities" to be "cultivate[d]," Armstrong notes that "In earlier writing, these conspicuously passive virtues were considered the antidote to natural deficiencies that had been the female's heritage ever since the Fall of Man" (p. 66).
(22)Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982), p. 16.
(23)Patricia Meyer Spacks, The Female Imagination (New York: Knopf, 1975), p. 158.
(24)Ibid., p. 134.
(25)Ibid., p. 110.
(26)Ibid., p. 57.
(27)Spacks, Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novels (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990), p. 160.
(28)Ibid., p. 206.
(29)Brown, "Feminist," p. 305.
(30)Austen, Letters to Her Sister Cassandra and Others, 2nd ed., ed. R. W. Chapman (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1952), p. 401.
(31)Deborah Kaplan, Jane Austen Among Women (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1992), p. 74.
(32)Ibid., p. 75.
(33)Feminist critics rightly point out that in choosing a mate a heroine is making a choice of life, and this argument has often been made to justify women novelists' preoccupation with courtship and marriage. In A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists From Bronte to Lessing (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1977), Elaine Showalter observes that as early as 1909 in Marriage as a Trade, Cicely Hamilton had
explored the theory that women writers viewed "romance" from an economic perspective, so that their love stories were not frivolous fantasies, but accounts of female survival: "To a woman, a woman in love is not only a woman swayed by emotion, but a human being engaged in carving for herself a career or securing for herself a means of livelihood. Her interest in a love story is, therefore, much more complex than a man's interest therein, and the appreciation which she brings to it is of a very different quality." (p. 225)
Brown, however, reminds us of the inadequacy of this argument when it stands alone:
True to the paradox that ends Shakespeare's comedies, the novels end in a beginning--that is, a marriage--which in Austen as in Shakespeare is conceived of as a charm against the passage of seasons, against aging, and (in her last, most personal novel) against the sense of oncoming death. To complain that the novels "all end in marriage," therefore, is to remain deaf to the lyricism of her later work ... and blind to the darker regions of comedy; to impose, in effect, a narrow ideology on an imagination that extends far beyond such boundaries. ("Feminist," p. 307)
(34)Elaine Showalter, "Toward a Feminist Poetics" in The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory, ed. Elaine Showalter (New York: Pantheon, 1985), p. 130.
(35)Ibid., p. 131.
(36)Showalter, Literature, p. 318.
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|Author:||Morrison, Sarah R.|
|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1994|
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