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Pride And Prejudice Essay

1813 words - 8 pages

It is a characteristic of Jane Austen's work that its extraordinarily amusing, entertaining quality is fused intimately with moral seriousness (which rarely lapses into moralizing), and that she has the manner of assuming the same seriousness in her readers. It has, strangely, been possible for readers and critics in the past to overlook this quality, and to discuss her work as if it offered no more than delicately entertaining studies of the surface of elite society and its trivial doings amidst the costumes and architecture of advertisers' Regency. "One of the more fatuous of several misunderstandings is the complaint that she shows no interest in the great social events of her time - by ...view middle of the document...

The abolition of slavery echoes in a form that reveals exquisitely in the readjusted social attitudes it produced, when Mrs. Elton (whose brother-in-law Mr. Suckling has his fortune from Bristol) shows her over-sensitiveness on the subject by seeing a reference where none was made and replying '"¦if you mean a fling at the slave trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition' (Persuasion 50). And a pervasive influence in Mansfield Park, mentioned explicitly only once (in Mary Crawford's sneer), is the challenge of Methodism to the serious people among the clergy of the Established Church.Yet these direct references to contemporary conditions and events are a small part of Jane Austen's claim to a fundamentally serious concern with society. "More important is her constant preoccupation with the moral basis of social relations, and the implicit judgement she passes on the social context of the experiences she shaped into entertainment" (Bergonzi 370.) Despite her manner of expecting from her readers a moral outlook and social good taste to match her own, she was far from feeling herself comfortably embedded in a society whose standards were acceptable to her. It is true that her novels were highly successful (and enjoyed by the Prince Regent among others) and that she lived an affectionate life with her family. But her work reveals, sometimes explicitly, sometimes more subtly, how little she supposed the greater part if her social world to live up to her standards of moral taste and cultivated intelligence. The possibility of holding a low opinion of people to whom one is bound by affection is stated in Pride and Prejudice as if it were commonplace - in one of those scarcely noticed sentences of devastating implication which Jane Austen camouflages amidst more ordinarily acceptable or light hearted remarks. Elizabeth is talking, half-heartedly but with fundamental seriousness, to her sister Jane, who tries to think well of everybody: "Do not be afraid of my running into any excess, of my encroaching on your privilege of universal goodwill. You need not. There are a few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well" (Pride 20). A conflict of interests between the heroine and her close associates, a conflict muted and generally known only to the heroine herself, is an intrinsic part of most of the novels, and because the heroine is also attached with genuine affection to those around her the tension is an inner one.Romantic love gave Jane Austen a focus where individual values could achieve high definition, usually in conflict with the social code that condoned marriages for money and social standing. Such marriages were not just romantically distasteful; they were morally repugnant to Jane Austen. "Persuasion, in some ways the most gravely reflective of the novels, deliberately states the obligation to treat love as the only allowable basis for marriage" (Halperin 66). The...

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