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Death and the Concept of Woman's Value in the Novels of Jane Austen

Description: Jane Austen sprinkles deaths throughout her novels as plot devices and character indicators, but she does not tackle death directly. Yet death pervades her novels, in a subtle yet brutal way, in the lives of her female characters. Austen reveals that death was the definition and the destiny of women; it was the driving force behind the social and economic constructs that ruled the eighteenth-century woman's life, manifested in language, literature, religion, art, and even in a woman's doubts about herself. In Northanger Abbey Catherine Morland discovers that women, like female characters in gothic texts, are written and rewritten by the men whose language dominates them. Catherine herself becomes an example of real gothic when she is silenced and her spirit murdered by Henry Tilney. Marianne Dashwood barely escapes the powerful male constructs of language and literature in Sense and Sensibility. Marianne finds that the literal, maternal, wordless language of women counts for nothing in the social world, where patriarchal,figurative language rules, and in her attempt to channel her literal language into the social language of sensibility, she is placed in a position of more deadly nothingness, cast by society as a scorned woman and expected to die. Fanny Price in Mansfield Park is sacrificed as Eve, but in her death-like existence and in her rise to success she echoes Christ, who is ultimately a maternal figure that encapsulates the knowledge of the goddess, the knowledge that from death will come life. Emma Woodhouse in Emma discovers that her perfection, sanctioned by artistic standards, is really a means by which society eases its fears about death by projecting death onto women as a beautiful ideal. In Persuasion, Anne Elliotfindsthat women endure death while men struggle against it, and this endurance requires more courage than most men possess or understand. Austen's ...
Date: December 1996
Creator: Moring, Meg Montgomery, 1961-
Partner: UNT Libraries