Patrice Hannon: Jakki, thank you for hosting the first section of this Touring Thursday conversation! (I really will find the time to start my own blog one of these days.) Janeites will find the second and third sections on the blogs of Anna Elliott (linked below) and Tracy Kiely.
For our part in the Austenesque Extravaganza, Anna, Tracy, and I will consider this question: What does Jane Austen's portrayal of women show about her views on the role(s) of women in society and in novels? We'll start by introducing ourselves.
I'm the author of Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine's Guide to Life and Love, which contains Dear-Abby-style letters to Jane Austen from modern-day heroines-in-training seeking advice, to which Austen replies with advice based on examples from her novels and her life, all the while performing in a drama of her own. I've also written 101 Things YouDidn't Know About Jane Austen. ( )
Tracy Kiely: Like my fellow bloggers, I am a huge Jane Austen fan. I'm the author of the Elizabeth Parker mysteries series, which are modern day cozies, each focusing on the character traits and themes of a different Austen novel. The series includes Murder at Longbourn, Murder on the Bride's Side, Murder Most Persuasive, and Murder Most Austen. (www.tracykielymysteries.com)
Like Jane, I'm looking forward to sharing the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation!
Anna Elliott: I'm (of course) a huge Jane Austen lover, and even chose my pen name, Anna Elliott, in honor of my favorite Austen heroine, Anne Elliott. I'm the author of the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles series, which includes Georgiana Darcy's Diary, Pemberley to Waterloo, and the forthcoming Kitty Bennet's Diary. (www.annaelliottbooks.com)
Looking forward to chatting soon!
Looking forward to chatting soon!
Patrice Hannon: Tracy, it's interesting that you refer to Anne Elliot's reply to Mr. Elliot when he says Lady Dalrymple and her daughter are themselves good company and collect good company around them. The rich women in Jane Austen's novels are almost invariably very bad company. From the despotism of Lady Catherine de Bourgh (and, offstage, Mrs. Churchill in Emma) to the insipidity of Lady Bertram and Lady Middleton (Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility), it's clear Austen didn't find that wealth and grandeur had much to do with fostering cleverness or conversation. She saw plenty of both (wealth and grandeur, that is) at Godmersham, her brother Edward's grand estate in Kent, and while she no doubt appreciated the luxury of the place, her letters show she didn't always find good company there.
Anna Elliott: That's so interesting, the point you raise about Jane Austen's depictions of rich women. I hadn't considered that before, but you're absolutely right. Except for Georgiana Darcy (and she's still a young girl, though obviously wealthy) I can't think of any sympathetically drawn wealthy female characters. Well, perhaps there is Lady Russell, from Persuasion? She is obviously a flawed character, but does come off better than Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Tracy Kiely: I agree. Jane (yes, she and I are on a first name basis) certainly took great pleasure in skewering snobby upper class women. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice, I was struck by the irony of Caroline Bingley and her sister constantly remarking on Elizabeth's supposed lack of elegant manners when they themselves were horribly rude and ungracious. Of, course we see this hypocrisy in some of her male characters too, but I think she had special fun poking at the female hypocrisy that she probably encountered at every party and ball. I always imagined that it would be great fun to sit next to her at a dinner party.
Patrice Hannon: At least Lady Middleton has good manners! Speaking of manners, it's interesting that Mrs. Weston, the former governess, is described (by Emma to be sure) as having manners that would be a model for any young woman.
Anna Elliott: Emma has a good deal to say, it seems to me, about Jane Austen's opinions on class prejudice, especially in regards to marital arrangements. It's clear she regards Mrs. Weston as completely worthy to have married Mr. Weston, even though by society's standards he would have been somewhat above her station. Likewise, Emma is portrayed as obviously in the wrong for not wanting Harriet to marry Mr. Martin the tenant farmer, simply because of his lower status.
Tracy Kiely: I think that Jane obviously was frustrated by society's "rules" regarding women and marriage. To have it impressed upon you from day one that your duty was not only to marry but marry well, had to be maddening. And with the snobbery of the day reducing a woman's value to her breeding and wealth, a woman of limited means and average background was at a huge disadvantage. I think that's why she had such fun creating characters like Caroline Bingley. On the surface, Caroline has every advantage over Elizabeth Bennet. She is wealthy, connected, educated, and attractive. She is also - dare I say it? - a huge bitch. Caroline's purpose in the book is to illustrate that wealth and prestige do not necessarily guarantee an accomplished lady.