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Jane Austen's Effect on Women and Feminism
The first time I heard Jane Austen’s name, I was 6 years old. My brother and I were spending the night with my father’s mother, a woman I had known little of at the time. Like most grandmother’s, she got us to sleep quickly on the couches in her small apartment. She’s always liked to watch a movie before going to sleep, a ritual she still keeps 10 years later. A woman behind the times, she put her favorite tape in her damaged VHS and played a film that still affects her granddaughter to this day.
After my brother had gone to sleep, she turned on the Keira Knightley’s adaptation of Pride & Prejudice under the assumption that I had also gone to sleep. I still don’t know how she managed to get a movie released in 2005 on tape or how my 13 month old brother slept through the entirety of the 2 hour feature film. I do know that I watched that film intently with an open young mind. After years of Disney Princess movies, Elizabeth Bennett’s was the story that stuck. I wouldn’t understand all of the complexities lying within the film for a lot more years, but this was only the beginning. Jane Austen’s effect on me and other women is unmeasurable.
Austen’s effect has been done through her work during the Romanticism period. Romanticism was during a time of change, a time of influence. Works such as Austen’s incited both of these things. Although the National Woman Suffrage Association wouldn’t be established until 1869, the Romanticism period was during a time where women were starting to demand a voice and continued to be put down. Jane Austen’s part in the literary period wasn’t a miniscule footnote, if anything it was entire chapters.
Female authors during the romantic period don’t even reach the double digits. The women who dared to put pen to paper were as daring as the talented should be, especially for their time. The romantic period was during a time where women writing, especially writing the way Austen did, was entirely new and questionable. Her romantic novels showed heroines who wished for love, not money like most women of her time. This would lead to the idea that women didn’t even have to marry in the first place; it just so happens that Austen never did.
Female writers of the Romantic period dared to do what they were told to never do. That is a feat in itself. Jane Austen sits along with poets and writers such as Emily Dickinson, Mary Shelley, and Amelia Opie. These are fine people to sit with but one could only wish that there were more to be acknowledged. Austen inspired women to keep writing through the Romantic period and indirectly brought us so much of the literature today’s society highly regards.
Many creatives give Austen credit for their inspiration. These works vary from books, film, and everything in between. Her work still inspires modern creatives, and it’s surprising how many of our cultures trademarks were inspired by this one woman in the Romantic period. Movies inspired by Austen’s novel include: Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001) in which the heroine even ends up with her own Mr. Darcy, and Clueless (1995) based off of Austen’s Emma with Alicia Silverstone’s Cher and Paul Rudd’s Josh interpreting characters Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley. The links between Austen’s novels and these modern films usually go over people’s heads, but many others like me have been catching on for a while.
Many people have even continued the lives of Austen’s characters, feeling like they didn’t get enough time with the Pride and Prejudice characters they loved. An author of the name Linda Berdoll thrived off of this idea, writing titles such as, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife and Darcy and Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberly. Amanda Grange even published a book in 2007 titled, Mr. Darcy’s Diary which follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice in the beloved Mr. Darcy’s point of view.
Jane Austen’s lasting effect on the creative world is countless. Her effect on women, however, is somehow even deeper than her effect on creatives. Many believe that the reason Austen stuck with women was because of her ability to relate with women 200 years after her death. She was simply a woman born in the wrong century, and I think she was well aware. Her father dealt with her editor’s for her and she only received insult from other authors of the time. It isn’t a shock that she didn’t receive recognition until long after her death (Stylist, Jane Austen: An Influential Woman).
Jane Austen’s writings have given many stories to many women. Persuasion comforted a woman in Maryland when her husband was deployed. A Texas mother read Emma to her preteen daughter and could see her eyes lighting up (Rosa Inocencio Smith, The Atlantic, Let’s Talk About Jane Austen). In plenty of communities money is still valued over love in marriages, and it isn’t uncommon for young girls in rich communities to be engaged off to successful, bored men for the sake of a reputation or career. It’s surreal to imagine the women who might’ve reexamined their marriage after reading Pride and Prejudice.
I can imagine my father’s mother in 1990, her husband having just left her and her daughter on the way. The first nine months of that year she read all six of Jane Austen’s novels while raising an older overworking son and a younger rule-breaking son. Austen’s novels gave her balance as her family was thrown for a loop. She got married when she was 21 and never got to finish her degree, and refuses to let me do the same. When I was younger, my cousin and I used to ask why she never married again, and she always said it was because she didn’t find anyone new to love. When I interviewed her for this paper, she told me that her parents had urged her to remarry for her children’s sake. She told me that Jane Austen’s novels urged her to refuse, and she’s never regretted that.
Truth is, Jane Austen never got to know that her writing meant something. That’s every writer’s nightmare and the infamous Jane Austen lived it. It wasn’t until 52 years after her death when her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, published her biography that she started to get acknowledgement. That’s how it is with many of the greats, such as Edgar Allen Poe, John Keats, and even Franz Kafka.
A woman’s perspective is always valuable, but it was practically priceless in Jane Austen’s time. In 2017, it isn’t difficult to find an empowering female author. In the Romantic period, it was difficult to find a female author, period. Austen’s work came during a time where it was needed, right as women were starting to realize that they could have a voice. Her writings were a revelation, and helped women learn that.
I can only hope that both women and creatives continue to aspire to be like Austen. She never could’ve known the influence her writing would have, and even if she did she never could’ve known it’d be this broad. Austen was an innovator of her time, and that is all someone can aim to be. Jane Austen did a lot with her life, and as she said in Sense and Sensibility, “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”
British Library, Collection Items, A Memoir of Jane Austen, Website, October 27, 2017
Emma Mason, History Extra, The Real Reason Jane Austen Never Married, October 17, 2017, Website, October 26, 2017
Encyclopedia Britannica, National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), Website, October 25, 2017
GoodReads, Amanda Grange, Website, October 26, 2017
Rosa Inocencio Smith, The Atlantic, Let’s Talk About Jane Austen, July 17, 2017, Website, October 27, 2017
Stylist, Jane Austen: An Influential Woman, Website, October 27, 2017
The Official Website: Linda Berdoll, Website, October 26, 2017