Literature 11: Junior Thesis
29 January 2008
Prior the 19th Century, men dominated the literary writings of the day, while women published few influential works. However, in the 19th Century, women began to publish their works more freely, even if anonymously, and included some real masterpieces, such as Francis Burney’s Evelina and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While some at the time may have considered such books to be just another frivolous read, in reality, these works actually proved to be an enlightening window of the era. They portray the life, the society, and the common expectations of a lady living in the Middle Class in the 1800’s, a gateway literary century for women. In Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, is the second of five daughter of a gentleman. Burney’s Evelina is the only daughter of Sir Belmont, but raised by a Reverend Villars. Her true connection is not revealed to the general reader until the middle of the Evelina. Even though Elizabeth and Evelina are in the same social status, they are hardly equal, as there are varying levels of the middle class. Elizabeth Bennet, being a legitimate daughter, is one tier in the social ladder above Evelina. In addition, Austen and Burney use of humor and conclusion in the novels to subtly change the notion of what constitutes a lady without being preachy or cliché. Austen and Burney dramatize the differences between the traditional ideal of the lady and the non-traditional lady that their protagonists exhibit. To picture the “new lady”, the authors use the protagonists’ interaction with their family members, friends, towns people and lovers.
In Pride and Prejudice the social interactions between Elizabeth, her neighbors, and acquaintances are centered on the formality and civility of receiving and addressing one another. The setting chiefly occurs in the countryside, though some of the characters do make an excursion to London. Formality and civility adhere to both settings. Daniel Cottom expresses his opinion in this matter. He states, “The formal signs which seem to provide the security of society also lead to the insecurity of individuals within that society” (Cottom 161). With this being presented, it shows the firm structure of Austen’s time. The rigidity of the time wound around manners, appearances, and formalities are interwoven into a translucent yet confining web. The arrangement of the formality chiefly represents the tensions that society creates between the different social classes, but also in the same social classes. The wealthy aristocracy, for instance the Bingley sisters, exemplifies formality though, “Not deficient in good-humour when they were pleased, nor pleased in the power of being where they chose it; but proud and conceited” (Austen 17). Mr. Long hosted a ball out of the generous goodness to introduce Mr. Bingley and his party to Netherfield. If he invites persons of the same social standing, the invitation would be viewed upon with extreme graciousness. However, if he invites persons of a higher social standing, the invitation would be viewed with polite impertinence. Here the Bingley sisters, representing the aristocracy, behave as to be expected, but also it is a reflection of the times changing. Austen is witnessing the transition, so it comes across in her books. Mr. Cottom defense for this is, “The aristocracy is supposed to guarantee the order of taste, decorum, and truth, but it fails to do so; and the order of the middle class values, especially middle-class sentimentality, is as yet unable to take its place” (Cottom 158). Mr. Cottom tries to convey the importance of the upper class in the time period. This is exhibited perfectly in the manner in which the Bingley sisters are...
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