Femininity in Eighteenth-Century England

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Concepts of femininity in eighteenth-century England guided many young women, forging their paths for a supposed happy future. However, these set concepts and resulting ideas of happiness were not universal and did not pertain to every English woman, as seen in Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. The novel follows the Bennet sisters on their quest for marriage, with much of it focusing on the two oldest sisters, Jane and Elizabeth. By the end, three women – Jane, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s friend, Charlotte Lucas – are married. However, these three women differ greatly in their following of feminine concepts, as well as their attitude towards marriage. Austen foils Jane, Charlotte, and Elizabeth’s personas and their pursuits of love, demonstrating that both submission and deviance from the rigid eighteenth-century concepts of femininity can lead to their own individualized happiness. Jane Bennet most exemplifies the traits and fits the mould of an ideal eighteenth-century Englishwoman, by which she ultimately finds her happiness. Amiable women of this time possessed “improved understanding and gentle manners…[and a] good sense”. Vapidity and moroseness were “deadweights [of] every kind…” on the social scene, and should be replaced with joy and sprightly conversation as “female conversation in its best form” was charming and alluring (Fordyce 396-397). Other than being the “most beautiful creature [Mr. Bingley] ever beheld”, Jane is kind and good-natured (Austen 50). She desires to see the best in others, shown when she stays neutral about Wickham and Mr. Darcy’s feud and suggesting that it must have been a misunderstanding with neither one being at fault. Upon meeting Mr. Bingley, Jane holds his attention throu... ... middle of paper ... ...dern thinking, self-preservation, even feminism. The guides may have existed, but females should still take part in determining their own happiness rather, even if it meant new age thinking and breaking a rule or two. Works Cited Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Robert Irvine. Peterborough: Broadview Press Ltd, 2002. Fordyce, James. "Sermons to Young Women." Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Robert Irvine. Peterborough: Broadview Press Ltd, 2002. 392-402. Gregory, Dr. John. "A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters." Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Robert Irvine. Peterborough: Broadview Press Ltd, 2002. 402-412. Kanner, Barbara, ed. The Women of England: From Anglo Saxon Times to the Present. Hamden: The Shoe String Press, 1979. Tague, Ingrid H. Women of Quality: Accepting and Contesting Ideals of Femininity in England, 1690-1760. Rochester: Boydell Press, 2002.
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