October 8, 2014
A Woman of Romanticism
The Romantic Era was a period of time that began in the late eighteenth century, originating in England. There are aspects which are true of this time period, some being the emphasis on moving oneself from society toward the outside, the significance of nature, and the experiences of common life. These characteristics are exemplified in the literature that came from this era. The literature of this time also included relationships among characters which showed the specific gender roles of this era. From the Romantic Period on, gender roles, and specifically the role of women have been explored through many pieces of work. Jane Austen’s Persuasion was published in 1817, when Romanticism was prevalent. The characters in this novel, as well as their relationships, can be analyzed regarding their gender relations as well as the role of women during this specific movement. Austen captures the essence of the era and allows her readers to grasp the specificities of what it means to be a woman during the Romantic Period along with their relationship among others. From the very beginning of the novel, many female characters are introduced. Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary are the daughters of Sir Walter Elliot. Because he has all daughters, Sir Elliot’s belongings will go to a distant male cousin rather than one of the girls. With their mother being deceased, Lady Russell, another crucial female, is a widow who is introduced as the family’s friend and financial advisor. “That Lady Russell, of steady age and character, and extremely well provided for, should have no thought of a second marriage, needs no apology to the public, which is rather apt to be unreasonably discontented when a woman does marry again, than when she does not; but Sir Walter's continuing in singleness requires explanation” (1.9). During this time period, a woman depended on a man for financial support; however, because Lady Russell was already stable, she no longer needed a husband. The oldest daughter, Elizabeth, resembles her father’s attitude with concern for social class and appearance. She is easily Sir Elliot’s favorite. Although she is vain, she is still unmarried, something that expected of young women of this time. For Elizabeth to “see no marriage follow but that of a youngest sister, made the book an evil; and more than once, when her father had left it open on the table near her, had she closed it, with averted eyes, and pushed it away”(1.13). Although she is stuck-up, she is clearly bothered that she is still unmarried in a society which places emphasis on young women finding a husband. Anne, the protagonist of the novel, had once been engaged to a Frederick Wentworth; however Lady Russell had persuaded her to end her engagement to him. During this era, it was expected that a woman marry an appropriate man who with a certain social class, and Frederick did not make the cut. Lady Russell was able to influence Anne without her resistance because it would not be appropriate to go against her family and their advice to her. Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to numerous different marriages which help understand the gender roles of the time. Austen thoroughly examines marriages in Persuasion. The reader is introduced to several various couples as well as the description of their home lives. Mary, the youngest of the daughters, is married to Charles Musgrove. This marriage was deemed as appropriate, being that the Musgrove’s are second in rank, only behind the Elliot’s. However, inside the home, the reader can see that this marriage is less than perfect. During this time period, a woman was the primary caretaker of her children, something that Mary was uninterested in. When her child is ill, she explains, “So you and I are to be left to shift by ourselves, with this poor sick child; and not a creature coming near us all the evening! I knew how it would be. This is always my luck. If there is anything disagreeable going on men are always sure to get out of it, and Charles is as bad as any of them.” Anne replies to her that, “Nursing does not belong to a man; it is not his province. A sick child is always the mother's property: her own feelings generally make it so” (7.10). This conversation exemplifies the gender roles of the time, where the woman was supposed to care for her children. Mary is portrayed as a bad mother for complaining about having to do so. Another marriage which is crucial to the novel is that of the Croft’s. The relationship between Admiral and Mrs. Croft is seem as an admirable one, and can be described as a “happy home”. Perhaps a reason this marriage is so successful is due to the fact that it is not an ideal relationship of the time period. Austen introduces a few different aspects of the novel which characterize gender roles which could be controversial because they are breaking free of normality for this era. The partnership between Admiral and Mrs. Croft is just that, a partnership. They share tasks and duties, something unique for the time when there were strict gender roles. At the end of chapter ten, we see the couple driving and “by coolly giving the reins a better direction herself [Mrs. Croft], they happily passed the danger; and by once afterwards judiciously putting out her hand, they neither fell into a rut, nor ran foul of a dung-cart” (68). Their driving technique symbolizes their marriage as a whole. The Croft’s are able to equally share responsibilities to avoid a bump in the road, or a bump in their marriage. This idea was one which was breaking away from the typical relationship of this time and progressing to a new era. Near the end of the novel, Anne starts to exhibit behavior which follow this same path, rather than sticking to the typical role of a young woman. She begins to make decisions on her own rather than her family making them for her like they have done in the past. Rather than go to an important dinner party, Anne pays a visit to an old school friend, a decision which is not popular among Anne’s family. When Lady Russell tries to push her towards Mr. Elliot as a prospective husband, Anne stands up for herself and continues to try to pursue Captain Wentworth. This new attitude of Anne’s exemplifies the role of a woman of the new era, much like the relationship of the Croft’s does. The women in Persuasion, and their relationships with others allows the reader to grasp what it may be like in the Romantic Period regarding gender roles. Austen was able to show the roles of women in relation to others in a few different ways. She introduced characters and relationships which characterized the era, as well as those who were starting to move forward in time. The characters were able to capture both the existing ideals from the Romantic Period, as well as the ways that the era was progressing. Between Anne, Elizabeth, Mary, Lady Russell, and several other female characters, we are able to see how women’s rights and gender roles play a part in the Romantic Period and on.
Austen, Jane. Persuasion. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.