Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jane Austen’s limited world

Jane Austen’s Word: a reading of Jane Austen’s novels shows that her materials are extremely limited in themselves. Her subject matter is limited to the manners of a small section of country-gentry who apparently never have been worried about death or sex, hunger or war, guilt or God. Jane Austen herself referred to her work as “Two inches of ivory.” In a letter to her niece, Jane Austen wrote, “Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on.” Those three or four families are the mind we knew intimately – the landed gentry, the upper classes, the lower classes, not only the industrial masses, but also the agricultural laborers.

Narrow setting: P&P like her other novels has a narrow physical setting. The story revolves around Netherfield, Longbourn, Hunsford Parsonage, Meryton and Pemberley. There is no reference to nature itself. It is a literary irony that at a time when writers like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelly, Byron and Keats were discovering external nature. Jane Austen imprisoned her characters indoors. Her settings are the drawing rooms, ball rooms, parks and gardens of a civilized leisure class. She allows nothing terrible to happen, sometimes, elopements are introduced. Another limitation of her novels is the feminization of her novels. Men do not appear except in the company of women. Women play a dominant role in her novels. These limitations have occasioned some scathing criticisms on her works. H.W. Garrod complains of the monotonous uniformity of her materials. He says, “A drab scenery, the worse for use, a thin plot, unfashionable cut and a dozen or so stock a characters.”
Limited Range and theme: She is a novelist of a very limited range, but still her art is perfect. David Cecil tells us that Jane Austen’s limitations stemmed from her choice of themes. He further said, “This nature of her talent, imposed a third limitation on her, it made her unable to express impulsive emotions directly.” She doesn’t express emotions directly. The world of P&P is a limited world of Netherfield, Longbourn, Hunsford and Pemberley and it is entirely placid with no instance of violence and bitterness. There are no frightful or pathetic scenes of death. Even the elopement is settled down before it can cause agitation. However, if these instances are stretched to mean that Jane Austen lacks emotions as Charlotte Bronte says, “she ruffles her readers by nothing vehement, disturbs him by noting profound … her business is not half so much with the human heart  as with the human eye, mouth, hand and feet”, this will be injustice to her works. Wordsworth admitted that her novels were a copy of life, but the light of imagination was totally absent so they hardly interested him. Villard and Marvin conclude that she doesn’t have any moral concern.
Emotions socially controlled in a framework: Jane Austen’s themes in all her novels are love, marriage and courtship. It is impossible that emotions can be kept out of such topics. Jane-Bingley and Elizabeth-Darcy relationships are all examples of passions and emotions. The passions do appear in her novels; they must be controlled and concealed in Jane Austen’s world. It is a test of character that he is overwhelmed with emotions, but he doesn’t distress other people by a display of feelings. Norman Sherry says that she deals with emotions which are experienced in a social framework. Jane Austen believed in the organic unity of the society and therefore, the individual must not display his passions but subordinate it to the larger purpose of society. The characters in her novels thus experience emotion and strong feelings but they are brought under the control of reason. Periods of solitude and contemplation are the habitual reactions of her heroines to moments of stress. The alternative is exercise or occupation.
Psychological delineation of characters: Her novels are profound in the psychological delineation of characters. She is able to capture superbly the subtlety of thoughts and reflexes of her characters. The refusal of the dance and the elopement of Lydia are all examples of psychology of characters. There are other emotions, not of course wild and uncontrollable. Jane Austen successfully gives emotions such as envy, jealousy, cunning, hypocrisy, pride, vanity and conceit.
Virginia Woolf’s remarks: Jane Austen is the mistress of a much deeper emotion than appears on the surface. Thus, in her limited world, she proves to be the widest and most meaningful with lots of abundance of emotions and passions.  

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