Support of Male Dominance in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma
While there is no shortage of male opinions concerning the role of females, which usually approve of male dominance, there is a lack of women expressing views on their forced subservience to men. This past subordination is the very reason there were so few females who plainly spoke out against their position, and the search for females expressing the desire for independence necessarily extends to the few historical works by women that do exist. Jane Austen is a well-known female author, and it is natural that her novels would be studied in an attempt to find a covert feminist voice. However, though certain feminist elements may exist, one common theme found throughout the novels Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma, makes it impossible to label these works as completely supporting feminism. The idea that women should not be allowed to have power, should be controlled by men, and that males should use their power to the fullest extent is inescapable. This idea is raised repeatedly throughout these novels.
One aspect of this theme expresses the belief that women should not have power since it causes women to corrupt themselves and harm those around them. In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine are prime examples of why women should not be allowed to have control. Though she is not the head of the household, Mrs. Bennet does have control because her husband would rather watch than participate in the family. This is shown when Mrs. Bennet was embarrassing the family by her transparent attempt to give Jane and Mr. Bingley more time together after every one else had left the ball, and Mr. Bennet did not try to correct his wife's mistake, but stood aside in silence "enjoying the scene" (92). And though he often observes that his daughters are silly, he never makes any attempts to improve them (24). So, Mrs. Bennet takes control of the family, with the "business of her life" being to get her daughters married (3). This responsibility and her authority to make sure her daughters are married result in unscrupulous behavior that uses almost any means necessary to fulfil this duty (3). She forces Jane to ride in the rain to Netherfield so she will become ill and be forced to stay there with Mr. Bingley (26). She encourages Lydia to follow the regiment to Brighton despite the fact that this would cause her to become a "most determined flirt" (205). And she threatens Elizabeth that she will never see her again if she does not marry Mr. Collins, a man she does not love or respect (100). Because of her power, Mrs. Bennet practices many immoral and dishonest methods that cause emotional and physical harm to her daughters.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is much more powerful than Mrs. Bennet because she is wealthy and is a widow, and is therefore free to rule as she pleases. Her wealth is a form of power because money makes it possible to...