In Jane Austen, Fairy Tales Meet Biting Feminist Critiques

By Morrison, Robert; Professor of English Language and Literature et al. | The Canadian Press, October 12, 2018 | Go to article overview

In Jane Austen, Fairy Tales Meet Biting Feminist Critiques


Morrison, Robert, Professor of English Language and Literature, University, Queen's, Ontario, The Canadian Press


In Jane Austen, fairy tales meet biting feminist critiques

--

This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

___

Author: Robert Morrison, Professor of English Language and Literature, Queen's University, Ontario

Jane Austen is not an obvious ally of today's feminist movement. All six of her novels are now more than two centuries old. All six centre on a tale of provincial domesticity and romantic courtship. And all six are full of twists and witty turns that move inexorably toward a gratifyingly happy ending.

Yet below their glittering surfaces and rose-coloured tales of well-matched couples falling deeply in love, Austen's novels vigorously critique the patriarchal structures of her day. They bristle with anger and a deep sense of injustice. Many of her plots and sub-plots about men and power -- and women's resilience in the face of that power -- sound like stories we are hearing today.

Austen wrote in the early 1800s, when life for most women involved submerging their individual identities in their responsibilities as daughters, wives and mothers. Women were considered politically, economically, socially and artistically subordinate to men. It was a life that condemned many women to half-lives of humiliation, loneliness and abuse.

The novelist and short story writer Carol Shields has concisely summarized the complicated nature of Austen's artistry and appeal. Austen, declares Shields, exploits "an arch, incontrovertible amiability" to conceal "a ferocious and persistent moral anger."

Fairy tales meet social critique

Mr. Darcy's first marriage proposal to Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice" (1813) is the most famous moment in Austen's most famous novel. It is also the most telling example of Austen's remarkable ability to combine wish fulfilment with social realism, and fairy-tale romance with biting cultural critique.

On one level, the scene between the two would-be lovers is a world removed from harrowing accounts of sexual harassment and assault. Darcy is proposing marriage to Elizabeth, not sex, and in his eyes at least, it is a very romantic offer.

He knows that her social standing is far below his own, and that in asking for her hand he is going against the wishes of his family and his own better judgment. But, as he patiently and politely explains, his love for her has overpowered him, and he wants her to become his wife.

On a more fundamental level, though, the exchange between the two is full of irony and dark anxieties.

Darcy is a wealthy and well-connected man who enjoys great freedom, and who moves assertively through a world of elegance and opportunity. Elizabeth is a younger and much more vulnerable woman who can already see poverty and spinsterhood out of the corner of her eye, and who can only obtain a place in the higher echelons of society through marriage to a man like Darcy.

Asserting strength and independence

The stark power imbalance between them fills Darcy with certainty that Elizabeth will be delighted to learn that she has been singled out by a man of his influence and social standing, and that she will eagerly consent to the match. To be sure, as he outlines his plans for their future, he expresses his "hope" that she will accept him. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

In Jane Austen, Fairy Tales Meet Biting Feminist Critiques
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.