The Enduring Feminine Influence of Jane Austen
Jane Austen is one of the most influential authors, perhaps of all time. I am always amazed how she can invent a fictional character who is so relatable, especially to young women in her own age as well as ours. Her female personas represent independence, romance, and an endless yearning for their passions, which is exactly what a woman should stand for today. Her books were witty and cynical which was unusual for her time.
A literary critic and professor at Yale University says that he “believes that Austin’s acerbic comic vision has been so influential that it has helped determine who we are both as readers and as human beings”.
One of the first things that struck me when reading her romantic novels was the women and their overpowering independent personalities. Austin says, “Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one that she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody”. Yes, her books are about romance and men, but she sets the example to teens and women today that our future doesn’t rely on just romance and men.
Women can be bold and self-sufficient; we don’t necessarily need a man to make it in the world. I don't mean this in feminist way. This is exactly what we need to believe in while living in a generation of misfit women who depend on their looks to get them through life with all its struggles. Our education and our relationship with the world is what stabilizes us, not the men on whom we throw ourselves. They are usually a mere distraction.
Jane Austen has had it right this whole time, and we are just now realizing that women are more than just beautiful creatures to look at, more than just physical appearance? They are self-sufficient and fearless and there mustn’t always be this need for a man to hold them up. Of course Jane Austen definitely does not ban women from men. She does quite the opposite, even stating that “a lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment”.
This is why women need to be stabilized and understand the world that they are throwing themselves into. With men we quickly rush to conclusions which is why Jane Austen’s characters are so influential and respectable.
My favorite character of Austen’s is Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. When I think of a confident, witty young woman, I immediately think of Elizabeth. She is bold and daring, but has just the right amount of romance to fall in love with the staunch and noble Mr. Darcy. I believe that out of all Jane Austen’s characters, Elizabeth is the most like the author herself. Although Austen was said to be more on the reserved side, she expressed her personality and wit through her characters. The boldness of Elizabeth is so forward and expressive of women’s rights, it may be that Austen was expressing her feelings and thoughts through this character instead of in a social manner.
Jane Austen portrays an important lesson through this award winning novel: Pride and Prejudice—young women should marry for love and not for “social standing or money”. In Persuasion, she goes so far as to suggest that happiness lies in a woman’s independence and courage to act upon her passion. Back to Pride and Prejudice, we see Lizzy who married a man who was high on the social scale and quite wealthy, but that was not the reason she fell for him. Her relationship with Mr. Darcy was complicated, passionate and always heated. It was full of sarcasm and there was never a dull moment for them or the readers involved in this fictional relationship.
In fact, I cannot think of a dull moment in any of Austen’s romantic novels. They are all exciting and real! She takes every character and digs deep down into a new personality and anyone can relate to almost every character she portrays. She uses her psychology to change us by the time we reach the end her books.
She is an awesome role model for women in our age, teaching us to approach love wisely and not to be foolish (even though we all can be when it comes to love).
When one reads Jane Austen’s novels, particularly a young woman, she seems to grow with the characters. She goes from being an adolescent girl to blossoming into a young woman. Before the female characters in Jane Austen’s novels find a man, they are simply young girls. When romance is found and attaches them to the man of their life, we notice a sort of growth, a prosperity in the woman. This goes for men too of course, as the saying goes “behind every man is a great woman”.
It gets complicated sometimes trying to decide if this love is true love. Foolish Lydia from Pride and Prejudice was swept up by Mr. Wickham. He thought he might as well bring a young “girl” along with him on his travels. Poor Lydia is still a girl when she gets married; she is not yet a woman and she couldn’t approach this title until later on in her marriage when she realizes the mistake she made by marrying someone she did not truly love.
This is part of the beauty of Jane Austen’s writing. She compares and contrasts these sisters, allowing you to see a young compassionate relationship full of love involving a man and a woman, not a boy and a girl. Jane Austen relays to readers a simple yet powerful point through her characters: "a woman is well worth remembering and a girl, by contrast, is eminently forgettable.” When women become remembered they will no longer be known as the second sex, for the second is always forgotten.
I must mention also that women must not find a guy, but a man. “We are not children, reaching willfully for the thing that looks the sweetest.” If it takes you 26 years to find the perfect man, not the satisfying boy, then let it take that long.
Jane Austen’s perfect example of a “guy” is Mr. Frank Churchill. He is charming and handsome, everything a girl is attracted to, yet he promises this and promises that but he never keeps his word. A man that does not keep his word is not privileged enough to be called a man. As Jane Austen states so perfectly, “meet a man, don’t fall for one.” None of Jane Austen’s heroines fall in love.
Elizabeth Bennet dislikes Mr. Darcy very much in the beginning of the book; Emma from Emma looks at Mr. Knightly Maloney as a family member to her, and in contrast, Lydia will never make a man out of her Mr. Wickham...she married a guy, not a man. Don’t be foolish! Meet a man!
For those women reading this who are scared or don’t want to get married—don’t be foolish! Marriage is a beautiful thing, not a curse. Our modern world may influence us not to get married but marriage is a beautiful execution of the true and living love between a man and a woman. Elizabeth Bennet denied a proposal twice in Pride and Prejudice. Denying proposals, especially from a sophisticated and rich man like Mr. Darcy was unheard of back then.
Even Jane Austen herself was engaged for a day, only to return the ring the next day, realizing it was not her vocation in life to marry. If you are called not to get married then follow that calling, for it is surely coming only from God. But if you are of the appropriate age and have found the right man, and are refusing marriage out of fear— ignore it. Offer your matrimony to God and you will find happiness in your marriage. Jane Austen would wish for nothing else.
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Austen herself that may help any young lady who may be troubled in this big, intimidating world, ”Know your own happiness. Want for nothing but patience—or give it a more fascinating name: call it Hope.”