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In Pride and Prejudice, Austen presents to the reader an eclectic array of characters which demonstrate varying attitudes towards women in addition to their wildly differing degrees of conformity to the traditional, and ‘prejudiced’, view of women. These fluctuating attitudes are particularly pertinent when contextualised into the upper-class societies in which Austen’s characters moved in, which directly championed the submissive and feminine role of not just a woman, but a ‘lady’ in society. This view would implicate women as both the fragile and the dependent sex, reliant on men to provide them a “chance of happiness” through marriage, thereby “securing” a comfortable living situation.
These stereotyped views of women were echoed by other nineteenth century writers, illustrated by Edward Hardy and the views portrayed in his literature; “sweetness to women what sugar is to fruit”, accompanied with the definitive stereotype of domesticity and subservience being second nature to a woman through the characterisation that “it is first her business to be happy”. (Hardy). Through characters like Elizabeth, or Lizzie, Austen subverts and challenges traditional expectations of women through portrayals of Lizzie exerting her freedoms to exert dominance over the traditionally masculine character of Mr Darcy. However, Austen also creates a disparity to the contemporary Elizabeth through the medium of her younger sister Lydia. Austen seemingly created the character of Lydia to be the ultimate contrast to her heroine, overly exaggerating her naivety and pronouncing other characters’ views of her as “quite the silliest girl in the country”.
Austen could be argued to create female characters which both challenge and subvert traditional expectations of women, as evidenced through her capitalisation on the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth. Lizzie’s blatant rejection of both Mr Collins and Mr Darcy’s proposals demonstrate her exertion of her “power of refusal” (Austen), and her domination over a mans alleged “advantage of choice” over a wife. Thusly earning respect as a feminist heroine and illustrating her control over the societal constraints to which women could be considered to be held ransom to during the 19th Century.
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