““It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
-Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice, Volume I, Chapter I
Literature can be seen as a reflection of social evolution. It is in the literary works that we find live accounts of the progressive appearance of individuality in history. It portrays the growth of social equality and ideas on ruling ideologies through the author’s eyes. Patriarchy is one such ideology which is discussed through the works of Victorian female author Jane Austen. Patriarchy is a socially constructed belief in which men are considered to be the heads and superiors to women. The ideology of patriarchy is founded on a system of power relations where men are seen as the dominant sex and in control of women’s reproduction, production and sexuality. Patriarchy evokes gendered role stereotypes which serve to strengthen the inequality between men and women. Sylvia Walby in Theorizing Patriarchy describes patriarchy as “a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women” (Walby, 1990). Ideals on masculinity, femininity and sexuality in the Regency and Victorian periods, were based on a fixed social structure. The conventional role of women at the time was one of inferiority, their roles in society were primarily domestic and they were forced to remain in the private sphere of the public. Contrastingly, men were seen as superior and ruled in all aspects, even through over half a century of Queens, the women lived the life of the inferior sex. Judith Butler in her book Gender Troubles asserts that gender is a construction of an individual’s society and upbringing, believing that the concept of female and male identity is not inherent to the individual but is rather a product of society. Butler also spoke on the idea of gender as a performance or gender performativity where she asserts that individuals within society are in a sense forced to operate or create the illusion of specific roles associated with masculinity and femininity. These ideas on patriarchy and stereotypical roles that are performed by individuals in society are seen through the text as the female characters are seen as completely dependent on their male counterparts and without ownership. Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice (1813) serves to realistically reproduce the socio-economic circumstances of this Victorian era and we see various issues relating to masculinity, femininity and the restrictions placed on females and their sexuality at the time.
Gender role expectations and stereotypes both controlled and restricted the lives of the people who lived by them, particularly the females of the Victorian period. These women lived in the shadow of men and were without any form of power. Men were expected to be financially secure through means of their employment or through wealth inherited from family. Gender issues are quite...