A wonderfully insightful piece on Austen’s heroines and whether they would measure up to what constituted an “ideal woman” in Regency England,
by Jenni Waugh of The Jane Austen Centre:
I recently replied to an email enquiry from a student who was looking for an opinion on the question “To what extent does Jane Austen present her heroines as ideal women within their social contexts?” My reply ended up being fairly lengthy and is below. Let me know what you think!
Personally, I’d say that very few, if any, of her heroines are presented as ideal women within their social contexts. They all have their own unique flaws.
Elizabeth Bennet is outspoken and opinionated; just think of her responses to Lady Catherine’s enquires about her age, and her dismissal of Mr Collins, and then later of Mr Darcy. Were Lizzy an ideal woman in society she would have accepted Collins in order to secure her family’s home as per her mother’s wishes, or Darcy when he asked her in order to secure an even better future for herself and her family.
After all, this summer will mark the 200th anniversary of the great author’s death, and thus the perfect time to celebrate her life. Here’s an idea that sounds to us like Jane Austen heaven: 200 Years of Persuasion: The Jane Austen Summer Program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, from June 15-18, 2017. You don’t have to be a scholar or even a student in order to attend; all are welcome. According to the program’s site, it is open to “anyone with a passion for all things Austen.”
Every year, The Jane Austen Summer Program at UNC Chapel Hill focuses on one of the author’s works. This year, it explores Austen’s last finished novel, Persuasion (which happens to be my personal favorite, though I can discuss the various merits of each of the author’s precious novels with fellow enthusiasts for hours, months, and years and never get bored).
Here is one of my favorite testimonials from past participants of The Jane Austen Summer Program: “All the professors I met were so friendly and welcoming, so I never felt intimidated talking with such impressive scholars. It was a totally comfortable environment for all!” Read some more of the glowing testimonials yourself, and you’ll be filling out that registration form before you can say “You pierce my soul.”