The Ethics of Jane Austen's Heroines
Jane Austen's novels at first glance tell a story of romance set primarily within the landowning society amidst country estates, and their cultivation of tea parties, social outings, and extravagant balls; ladies sashaying in flowing gowns through precisely decorated rooms, and men deliberating over their game of whist. The storybook romance usually unfolds in these familiar settings, and inevitably involves the conflict of two lovers separated by differences in social class, and the resulting influence of the diverse societies they revolve in. Although these superficial aspects of Austen's stories are protruding at the seams, underneath the skin of these well-clothed dramas lie serious moral issues afflicting the culture of England during Austen's life.
Jane Austen seems to have been disheartened by the decay of England's aristocratic society. The exploration of the innocent protagonist of each novel further into her core ethics, and the relation of these to the imposing culture of her immediate family and surrounding social class gives the reader a fresh taste of the prominence of class distinction and the apparent emptiness of the aristocratic society that in reality existed in Austen's own life. A close examination of the evolution of Austen's ideals through her novels will reveal the essence of the protagonist's relationship to her family, and its direct relationship to the family's moral stance, as well as conclusive evidence regarding Austen's own values.
Austen's first completed novel, and most popular novel to date, Pride and Prejudice, tells th...
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...ense of moral integrity, she discovers that her high society family is inferior in every vital aspect. The concluding statement of this journey reads:
Anne, satisfied at a very early period of Lady Russell's meaning to love Captain Wentworth as she ought, had no other alloy to the happiness of her prospects than what arose from the consciousness of having no relations to bestow on him which a man of sense could value. There she felt her inferiority keenly.
The parallel of Anne's growth as a compassionate woman, to Austen's growth as a compassionate writer is felt immensely by the reader. To value virtue over vanity, cultural and class diversity over conformity is to be free from the narrow confines of the ignorant mind. This is ultimately Austen's powerful message.
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