The Feminist Critique and Five Styles of Women's Roles in Pride and Prejudice
Feminism in Jane Austen’s novels is inseparable from education, although of course the former term was hardly in her vocabulary. Nonetheless, in the introduction to the landmark Jane Austen and the Discourses of Feminism, Devoney Looser argues that, in a male-dominated society, Austen’s own difficulties in securing publication and in not claiming authorship while creating independent, strong-willed heroines like Elizabeth Bennet identify her as a feminist. Moreover, Looser asserts, “A focus on gender politics is the strength all feminist work on Austen exemplifies—and it’s a strength that one also finds in Austen’s own writings” (6, 8). The anonymously published Pride and Prejudice well exemplifies all these issues because Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters represent five distinct roles for women in the changing, revolution-rattled world of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in which Jane Austen wrote and set her novel, where education becomes the ticket to a better life. Austen lived and wrote in terms of gender politics, and a family of five young women including one who is fiercely self-reliant is illustrative of the difficulties and vexations posed for girls and women at this time. Hence discussing this novel in these terms is inevitably a feminist issue.