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 impulse and speaks spontaneously, she never defies social decorum. The contrast between Jane and Elizabeth and the rest of the family is blatant. The elder sisters are well-mannered and dignified and earn the esteem of others, while their mother and younger sisters behave foolishly and frivolously. It is ironic that Mrs. Bennet, who wants to get her daughters married to wealthy and polished gentlemen, is a major deterrent to their suitors.
In addition, Austen appears to encourage stimulating conversation among women by creating intelligent women characters who yearn for interesting conversation and who are not afraid to disagree with what men have to say. “She paused, and saw with no slight indignation that he was listening with an air which proved him wholly unmoved by any feeling of remorse,” (Austen 168). . It is ironic that Darcy’s proposal is the second one that Elizabeth has received, and it is condescending rather that romantic in nature. Both men have felt that it was Elizabeth’s privilege to marry them; also, both were certain that Elizabeth would accept their proposal. Her refusal surprises both men. If Darcy had worded his proposal in a romantic way, emphasizing his love, Elizabeth would have reacted differently. As it stands, Elizabeth can only attack him. She accuses Darcy of ruining her sister’s chances with Bingley and of upsetting Wickham. Darcy does not understand what Elizabeth means and finds himself at a loss of words. When Elizabeth accuses him of ungentlemanly conduct, Darcy has heard enough, for he greatly prides himself on "his stately bearing," What stands in the way of Darcy and Elizabeth getting together at this point in the novel is "." Darcy’s pride makes him act in a superior way when he proposes; he indicates that he makes the offer in spite of her inferior social position and her vulgar family. Elizabeth’s previously established prejudice against Darcy is intensified; she does not even contemplate marrying such an arrogant man. In an ironic inversion, Darcy accuses Elizabeth of being too proud, while Elizabeth accuses him of being prejudiced. She tells Darcy that he has a propensity to hate people and has shown his prejudice against Wickham and Jane. Whatever her intent may have been, conversation makes up an essential part in Jane Austen’s novels. The type of conversation generally found among women raises awareness, amongst feminist scholars at least, of women’s general ignorance during the time in which her novels were written and of the dire need for intelligent conversation among them.
However, not everyone agreed with the view of womanhood presented the works of Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen. 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. Just a few decades earlier, Mary Wollstonecraft posited in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) that women were politically incompetent because they had not been educated like men (Wollstonecraft Chapter 12). Wollstonecraft felt that education was the key to a better society. She felt that educated women were better wives and mothers. She believed that by educating men and women together they would better understand each other and therefore make a better society. She also wanted women to be educated so that if tragedy should strike they are able to care for themselves and their children. They wouldn’t have to rely on the charity of relatives. “I have actually heard this barbarous aversion to innovation carried still further, and a sensible woman stigmatized as an unnatural mother, who has thus been wisely solicitous to preserve the health of her children, when in the midst of her care she has lost one by some of the casualties of infancy, which no prudence can ward off,” (Wollstonecraft Chapter 12). Wollstonecraft states that men as well as other see education for women as a neglecting a woman’s responsibilities of raising a family and caring for her husband. In addition, she felt that by educating women the petty behavior between women that she saw would be eradicated. Today we educate men and women together but we don’t seem to understand each other better or behave better. Societies still put a premium on looks. In some parts of society what a person wears and who a persons associates with is still more important than intellectual achievements.
Wollstonecraft believes that as individuals, people are good at different things, but are dependent on gender. And because of this, education should be tailored to the individual and not a collective. Of course to a certain extent public education has to be tailored to the collective. A school should tailor after each of the individual, not after the perceived idea of what the individual needs due to his or her gender.
Due to Mary Wollstonecraft’s radical views, she thought marriage was should be based on common affection and respect, which was not possible unless husbands and wives were equals, both rational and educated. She believes that love would fade over times, and that only relationships based on friendships would remain tolerable into old age. Wollstonecraft is absolutely against traditional marriages based on convenience, or sentiment, where the husband patronizingly views his wife as a doll or toy for his enjoyment. “The mind must be strong that resolutely forms its own principles; for a kind of intellectual cowardice prevails which makes many men shrink from the task, or only do it by halves,” (Wollstonecraft Chapter 1). Here Wollstonecraft is criticizing men for not following personal thoughts and judgments. She believes men refuse the instinct to form a moral judgment when told to do so.
Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft both share the idea that education is important to the nature of women. Both authors believe that education is absolutely essential for the complete development of any individual. All male and females have the same innate ability for reason. On the contrary, Mary Wollstonecraft feels marriage should solely rely on the nature of friendship between men and women while Jane Austen believes it should rely on love. The relationship between both authors is that Mary Wollstonecraft, even though written several decades before, have a more radical perspective on the societal and marital status of women than Jane Austen’s more moderate views.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. New York: Modern Library, 2000. Print.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Printed at Boston, by
Peter Edes for Thomas and Andrews, Faust’s statue, no. 45, Newbury-street, MDCCXCII. ; Bartleby.com, 1999. .