Quote Jane

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

dinsdag 25 juni 2013

Georgian society in Jane Austen's novels. Part I.

Georgian society in Jane Austen's novels is the ever-present background of her work, the world in which all her characters are set. Entirely situated during the reign of George III, the novels of Jane Austen describe their everyday lives, their joys and sorrows, as well as their loves, and provide in the process an irreplaceable insight into the period.
Jane Austen's novels deal with such varied subjects as the historical context, the social hierarchies of the time, the role and status of the clergy, gender roles, marriage, or the pastimes of well-off families. Without even the reader noticing, many details are broached, whether of daily life, of forgotten legal aspects, or of surprising customs, thus bringing life and authenticity to the English society of this period.


Nevertheless, the point of view from which Jane Austen describes England is that of a woman of the English gentry (albeit from its lower fringes), belonging to a reasonably well-off family, well connected and remarkably well educated for the time, and living in a very small village of rural England around the late 1790s or early 19th century. Thus, some essential aspects of the Georgian era are virtually absent from her novels, such as the American Revolutionary War and the loss of the Thirteen Colonies, the French Revolution, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the British Empire. Indeed, rather than a depiction of the history of English society at large, Jane Austen's novels provide an understanding of everyday life in rural England at the turn of the 19th century. wiki/Georgian_society_in_Jane_Austen's_novels

All of Jane Austen's novels are set against the background of daily life in English Georgian society at the turn of the 19th century. As the name indicates, the Georgian period covers the successive reigns of kings George I, George II, George III, and George IV.[1] That of William IV is also sometimes included. This was a period of considerable progress, and was the precursor to the Victorian era which followed. During Jane Austen’s own life, Britain suffered first the loss of its American colonies, then anxiety about the French Revolution, after which it confronted and finally overcame the Napoleonic Empire, and finally laid the foundations of the British Empire. From the social point of view, a new social order emerged at this time with the beginnings of industrialisation. This was followed in the early years of the 19th century by serious social unrest (such as the revolt of the Luddites) caused by the economic changes it gave rise to and the anxieties that accompanied it.[2]
The Arts also flourished at this time, with tremendous output in all fields. In architecture Robert Adam, John Nash and James Wyatt were active, and the neo-gothic style emerged. In painting Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds were the great names, and new painters such as J. M. W. Turner and John Constable were gaining recognition. In literature too there were a host of famous writers such as Samuel Johnson and Samuel Richardson, and poets such as Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and Lord Byron. It was a time of progress in education for women, leading to the proliferation of novels written and read by women, women writers who included Jane Austen herself, and also predecessors such as Fanny Burney, Ann Radcliffe and Maria Edgeworth.[3] Finally, the Georgian period was a time of moral questioning and debate. The beginnings of feminism appeared at this time with Mary Wollstonecraft and her groundbreaking work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Growing concern about slavery was another major development, which soon led to the abolition of the slave trade (1807), and ultimately to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833.

Jane Austen's purpose never was to write historical or social novels, nor to provide a balanced and objective picture of late 18th century England. Her stories—considered as "comic", because of their happy endings—[4] all take place in the society she knew, that of a small rural gentry family, rather well-off though without fortune, around the 19th century. As she wrote in one of her letters to niece Anna Austen: "three or four families in a Country Village [is] the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work".[5] Consequently, some aspects of Georgian society, despite their importance, are ignored, or, at most, hinted at, in Austen's novels: thus, the loss of the Thirteen Colonies, as the Declaration of Independence took place when she was barely one year old, as well as the war with the former colonies itself and the ensuing Treaty of Paris in 1783, when she was eight, do not have any part in her novels.

Similarly, the French Revolution does not find its way into her work, except as regards her cousin Eliza and her French husband, guillotined in 1794. Even the birth of the British Empire is largely absent from her world. However, the owners of Mansfield Park have a plantation in the Caribbean, and the Austens had a connection with India, since that is where Eliza and her mother, Philadelphia Hancock, had arrived from around 1786. Indeed, the Austens were warm supporters of Warren Hastings, Philadelphia's long time friend (and possibly Eliza's father),[N 1] when he was sued for serious misdemeanour in India[6] before being cleared in April 1795. Though the Industrial Revolution had started in England as early as the 1750s, it is not apparent in the way she lived as well as in her novels.[N 2] Life in the small rural village of Steventon, Hampshire, where the family rectory was, kept her quite far from this new world. Besides, she belonged to the local gentry, in a reasonably well-off family whose head was the village parson, nurtured by the reading of Samuel Johnson's works;[7] as such, a Tory at heart, she lived in unison with her position in society.[8] But her point of view was that of a woman of her times: clever and perceptive, very well read, she lived however in a society organized by men for men; this meant for a woman considerable difficulties to become financially independent through her own trade, and the fact that social status as well as economic security had to be expected from marriage;[9] these themes are consequently

Photograph: The 12th century Steventon church, which was that of George Austen, Jane Austen's father.

Austen werd geboren in Hampshire. Haar vader was een geestelijke. Het grootste deel van haar leven bleef zij in haar geboortestreek. Austen had zes broers en een oudere zuster, Cassandra, met wie zij zeer hecht was. Het enige onbetwiste portret van Jane Austen is een gekleurde schets die door Cassandra werd gemaakt en nu in de National Portrait Gallery in Londen hangt. In 1801 verhuisde de familie naar Bath. In 1802 werd Austen ten huwelijk gevraagd door de rijke Harris Bigg-Wither en zij stemde toe; de volgende dag deelde ze echter mee dat zij haar woord niet kon houden en trok haar instemming in. De reden hiervoor is niet bekend, maar Austen is nooit getrouwd. Na de dood van haar vader in 1805 woonden Jane, haar zuster en haar moeder daar nog verscheidene jaren tot zij in 1809 naar Chawton verhuisden. Hier had haar rijke broer Edward een landgoed met een plattelandshuisje, dat hij aan zijn moeder en zusters schonk (dit huis is tegenwoordig open voor het publiek). Zelfs nadat zij naam gemaakt had als romanschrijfster bleef zij in relatieve stilte leven, maar haar gezondheid ging sterk achteruit. Er wordt nu aangenomen dat zij de ziekte van Addison had, waarvan toen de oorzaak nog onbekend was. Ze reisde naar Winchester om behandeling te zoeken, maar stierf daar en werd begraven in de kathedraal.
Tot Austens beroemdste werk behoort de roman Emma. Het boek wordt vaak aangehaald vanwege de perfectie van vorm. Moderne critici blijven ook nieuwe perspectieven ontdekken op het scherpe commentaar van Austen betreffende de klasse van jonge, ongehuwde, aristocratische Engelse vrouwen in de vroege 19e eeuw.


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