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By Sydni Williams, VI Form
The Evolution of Jane Austen
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”1Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, upplaga (ex pbk ed.). ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 2009).
This opening line from Jane Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, is a summation of the time period in which Austen lived and wrote. The quote proves that, in eighteenth century England, an economically stable, unmarried man should pursue an agreeable, unmarried woman to acquire as a wife. After courtship, proposals, and financial negotiations with the woman’s father, a man and woman would be married through a process devoid of love. From the perspective of an eighteenth-century woman, Pride and Prejudice’s opening line demonstrates that a woman’s marital status decided her economic security and quality of life. Women had little to no opportunity to advance in society, beyond the man they married. Therefore, proposals, marriage negotiations, and weddings were an important landmark in the lives of many women; the landmark that decided their future.
Jane Austen, living among the eighteenth-century gentry, witnessed these events in her everyday life and wrote novels about this world: about marriage, love, hate, family, relationships, and humanity. Unlike many women of her time, Austen never married and spent her life dedicated to a writing career. Austen’s stories have transcended centuries, influenced the film industry, and remained on bookshelves and in classrooms. Although Austen’s “universally acknowledged truth” may no longer be true after the women’s rights movement, Austen and her novels have somehow remained relevant.
There is not much information existing on Austen’s personal life. Historians, biographers, and writers have theorized about her sexuality, gender identity, political views, and career goals. For almost a century after her death, Austen’s family members rewrote her life in biographies, profiting off of her successes. When remembering Jane, they manipulated her image to fit into society’s standards of a spinster, creating “Aunt Jane,” a caricature of Austen since used in many accounts and biographies. As a result of this image, Austen was an ideal conservative icon used in support of marriage.(more…)