Femininity In Eighteenth Century England Essay

1749 words - 7 pages

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 through the duration of the ball not only with her looks, but her “open, cheerful, and engaging” manner and conversation (Austen 217). One of the most important traits a woman could have was modesty, as it was also a symbol of her chastity. Tague states that nothing could be so graceful and becoming as modesty in women, that it was their “brightest and most valuble ornament” (Tague 34). A model eighteenth-century Englishwoman would have a “modest reserve, that retiring delicacy, which avoids the public eye…”(Gregory 405). Once again, Jane acts accordingly. Though she is known as the fairest of the Bennet sisters, Jane does not flaunt her beauty or throw herself into the public eye for attention like her flirtatious younger sister, Lydia. For Jane, abiding by the concepts of femininity is part of her identity. Her actions and words are sincere and honest, as if being a proper lady was just being her natural self. Therefore, her happiness would be also fulfilled if she achieved happiness by society’s standards. For being such a soft-spoken, lovely woman, Jane Bennet follows the concepts of eighteenth-century femininity and is most like the ideal eighteenth-century English woman.
Not only does her character follow rules,...

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