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Jane Austens Writing: Main features

Source: Adapted from workshop given at ESSARP

Jane Austens Times:
Educated single women:
Their options were:
.The stage: Actresses were not very well seen, and there was an enormous risk
in travelling
.Women were seen as objects
.Financial dependence on their male relatives
.A private income was very unusual
.A married woman enjoyed a social status which a single woman didnt have
.The possibility of becoming a nun was very unusual, since England was an
Anglican country
.Women inherited through entailment if there werent any men in the line.
They inherited only if their husbands died.
-Notice Jane Austens humorous attitude towards marriage:
.Women were considered intellectually inferior:
This was due to the self-satisfaction men felt (mens complacency)
Intellectual education for girls was neglected
It was a way to keep women under control so that they would bear children
.Marriage implied that women:
a.Needed charm to attract men
b.Had to show they could provide physical and moral welfare for the family:
compensation for not being given any financial benefit (a dubious benefit)
c.became the guardians of the family (Christian model)
Henry Tilneys views on marriage: Chapter 10

You will allow, that in both (marriage and dancing), man has the advantage
of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement
between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when
once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its
In marriage, the man is supposed to provide for the support of the woman,
the woman to make the home agreeable to the man; he is to purvey, and she
is to smile.
.Proper employment for women: matrimony + children
Genre of Jane Austens works:
-Novel/comedy of manners: comic genre satirizing the behavior, fashions and
mores of a given social class (in her case the landed gentry, the class to which
she belonged)
What men and Women should read:
All literary genres had been created
Each genre had a set of rules
Certain types of literature were read by one gender and not the other:
Men read poetry and tragedy. Poetry and tragedy were seen as the cultivated
genres, the classics
Women read novels, which were looked down on and considered inferior
In Northanger Abbey Jane Austen makes her heroe, Henry Tilney read novels
.Women were taught to read and write for a very utilitarian reason: the printing
press was a good business to attract people, especially women.
Since women did not usually have careers as such, and were not "citizens" in
the sense of being directly involved in politics, there was little generallyperceived need for such higher education for them, and most writers on the
subject of "female education" preferred that women receive a practical (and
religious) training for their domestic role -- thus Byron once spouted off the
remark that women should "read neither poetry nor politics -- nothing but
books of piety and cookery"
Content of the novels:

.The social exchanges of three or four families in a country village (proximity to

urban areas)
.A microcosm that allows her to portray human nature
.No servants: Jane Austen had a feeling that they had a different lifestyle and
language which she couldnt reproduce
.No male protagonists
.High middle-class, the landed gentry
.J Austen gives voice to some characters, the ones she can write about because
she knows them from her own personal experience
The Characters:
-J Austen uses 2 methods of characterization:
A)Through description: expositorily
.Not such an important character
.Predigestion of character by the reader
B)Through action: Dramatically
The reader has to make up his/her mind about them
Types of characters:
Prime Antagonist: (Villain, necessarily bad in gothic novels)
.Frustrates heroines growth
.Stands in the way of the heroines destiny
.Is not necessarily hostile to the heroine
.Is dark and confusing to the reader (but clues are also provided!)
Technical names for characters who allow for comparison and contrast. By
analyzing them we get to know more about the important characters.
Example: Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
.They deeply influence the heroine and she cant make them out at first

.They are open to misjudgment due to:

a) complexity of character
b) confusing circumstances: girls never meet them alone, since they are always
surrounded by people there are things left unsaid.
.They are presented as a mystery to the girls
.They are presented under unusual constraints, social and educational in Mr
Darcys case
Caricatures (Pathetic):
.Extremely numerous
.Offer little difficulty to the reader because their characters arent fully
.Marked characteristics of a single kind
.No unexpected traits
.Often more hostile to the reader than the prime antagonist (but nuisance
rather than a danger)
.Serve as foil to central character
Minor characters:
.Shade off from the caricatures
.Remain in the background
.Have enough life but not too much
.Character develops through:
b)Fruition of innate virtues (endurance and generosity)
.Very neoclassical trait (being able to cope with trouble without bothering
.The good of the community comes before her own interests

c)Discovery of misjudgments
.Usually suffer from material disadvantage and parents neglect
.Often have unsatisfactory parents
Good exercise: Trace the frequency of verbs connected with thinking and
mental processes throughout the novel (Notice how they increase)
Construction of the Novels:
.J Austens novels always proceed in two phases:
1)Heroine in her original circumstances (unchallenged life) with her family and
2) Appearance of the prime antagonist:
Beginning of their growth
The Role of Society:
.Society is a constraint, it makes you choose the superficial
.Opportunities to escape: Its within the heroines ability to find their way out
without clashing.
.But they dont come to open confrontation because they lose
.Heroines stretch the limits without confrontation
.Society marks the limits of etiquette
.Society limits communication: IRONIC
.Provides outstanding occasions, for example balls, where people meet and
things happen
(Link this with Austens narrative techniques)
.Notice that balls bring about some sort of crisis:
They are placed strategically throughout the novels
.Social occasions lead to a crisis because misunderstandings take place
Point of View:
.J Austen is a precursor of stream of consciousness
.In J Austen we see a combination of:

a) 3rd person limited point of view

b) 3rd person omniscient
c)Intrusive narrator: Victorian tool for the writers to include their thoughts
.Opportunity to use the propia persona I
.OMNISCIENT: bare report, no modality; neutrality, no judgment
.No mannerism that might belong to a character
Irony means: reading the other way around. If the narrator says one thing, she
means the opposite.
.Neoclassical, though chronologically a Romantic
Typical in Austen:
.Anticlimax: The reader creates serious expectations which are then destroyed
(We get a silly comment) . Used for its humour, its effect
.Parallelism: has to do with order and creates balance
.Irony and satire
.Lack of local colour, i.e, the novel could happen anywhere
.Lack of passion
.Notice: In the use of irony by the narrator the character is not aware of it,
therefore, the reader is directly connected to the narrator.
Theme: abstract idea manifested in the literary work
.Love as a moving force
.Class or lack of social mobility
.Family as a determining factor and containing group
.Women and marriage

.Individual and society: how to strike balance

In general, in Austens novels there are no symbols
In Northanger Abbey, the abbey itself may be considered a symbol
Definition: Recurrent structure that supports a theme
.Examples: Courtship, Journeys, Social occasions: balls
.Definition: reflection of the author about the process of writing itself
.Linked with intrusive narrator
Exercise: Find example(s) of metanarration in Northanger Abbey