Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Threadbare Morality and the New World in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Threadbare Morality and the New World in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Article excerpt

Introduction

Though often regarded a secular author due to the absence of religion from her novels, "Austen's novels critique the faults of the human personality and the flaws of human institutions including marriage, society, and the church. ... as she sees [them] reflected in the human relationships (Griffin, 2002). As such, "Jane Austen was able to combine the stuff of the novel . . . with the matter of the sermon" in a very seamless manner (Giuffre, 1980:17). Essentially a Georgian (1714-1830), Jane Austen's vision is also Georgian, a time when the state and the church still co-existed in an organic unity (Giffin, 2002). However, her world view or her concept of order for that matter is a living, dynamic order, not static imposed by the society and the church (Jackson, 2000).According to Rodham:

Austen's novels critique the faults of the human personality and the flaws of human institutions including marriage, society, and the church. She conducts this critique as a devout believer within the established church who accepts mainstream Anglican "truth" as she sees it reflected in the human relationships (Rodham, 2013).

This paper contends that Austen's world and ours, though three centuries apart, offer similarities in the dynamics of society and reactions of the people living then and now regarding their attitude to morality. There are still some who prefer to adhere to the old social order and wom-out beliefs, thinking that the new social order is based on corrupt thinking. They find a sort of shield in religion posing to be more righteous than others and deliberately turning a blind eye to the challenges of the new world. They fail to realize that this will create problems of compatibility and understanding with the rest of the world because observance of religious practices does not mean that the person is morally elevated. Austen reveals the shallow beliefs of such people through her characters and the way they are ignored by the others because their shallowness is obvious to the others. Their tragedy is that they fail to see their own self and hence remain unconscious of their own weaknesses. As a result they end up alienating themselves from others. Such characters live like lonely souls within the world and have no friends. In their efforts to pose distinct and be morally superior to others they openly criticize the others and marginalize them for their mistakes.

Threadbare Morality in Pride and Prejudice

In Austen's Pride and Prejudice2 we are first introduced to the phrase "threadbare morality" (56) through a description of Mary's fixation with the texts of writers who love to moralize without practising that which they teach. This inculcates in her a habit of philosophizing things unnecessarily.3 Though Jane Austen comments on Mary's preoccupation with "deep study of thorough bass and human nature", yet she is not judgmental in her remarks. Mary Bennet lives in an almost isolated cocoon, life couched comfortably in her moral philosophy, while her sisters involve themselves in active participation in the events around them. They enjoy their social life and gossip about the affairs of the "regiment" and the activities of their neighbours. Mary's occasional moral pronouncements are not taken seriously by the Bennets while she is seemingly self-satisfied in her own limited world, occasionally showing her resentment and bittemess towards the others. Disregarding the others she gravely disapproves of their manners, yet, all her objections are mere hollow words, not taken seriously by her family members. This makes her almost a stranger in her own household.

Though Mr. Collins and Mary are quite similar in their ethical views and pedantic disposition yet not even once do we hear a conversation between them. Mary holds him in great reverence but she considers him "by no means so clever as herself", still she thinks that he can be improved to become "a very agreeable partner" (119) which reveals their vanity. …

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