Published in 1792, twenty-one years before Pride and Prejudice, Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women is a radical argument for women's equality.

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Roma Gandhi

AP Literature and Composition

Period 2

October 17, 2011

Class and Status of Women

        Central to any study of 18th century society is social class. At the top were the independently rich, next came the professionals, then the working class. At the bottom of the heap was and “underclass”. It is commonly believed that all the wives were kept by husbands until the mid-20th century. It is true that women married to wealthy or professional men were usually supported by him, a symbol of status to which the ‘upper’ working class also aspired.  Both Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft have resembling thoughts in the status of women in the eighteenth century. Both authors believed women were not equal to men and believed education is an important factor in that. One of the central themes in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is the role of class in early nineteenth-century England. Austen is interested in how social class shapes individual experience as well as the interactions among people of different classes. 

To Jane Austen it is important to satirically acknowledge the social status of women so the gender differences are clear. While some feminist scholars openly blame society for women keeping quiet when men speak, Austen never challenges patriarchy for rendering women silent. However, from her novels we can infer that she lived in a society which rendered women ignorant and which expected them to be passive when conversing with men. While reading Pride and Prejudice, Austen was critiquing the same aspects of society that Wollstonecraft found so repugnant. Austen shows an awareness of the fact that many women in her time were uninformed about subjects beyond their domestic sphere, such as politics and current affairs.  

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It would seem possible that women’s ignorance led, partly at least, to empty conversation among them.  Austen vividly illustrates the type of conversation generally found among women, and there is some evidence to suggest that she is critical of empty women-talk. “Everybody was surprised…Mrs. Bennet, who fancied she had gained a complete victory over him, continued in triumph…” (Austen 37). Mrs. Bennet is clearly seen at her preposterous worst. Every time she opens her mouth, she makes a fool of herself. Elizabeth is totally embarrassed at her mothers lack of tact and social correctness. Although Elizabeth is a woman of ...

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