Did Austen espouse feminist values?

Now that Now that Jane Austen has her place on the British bank note we can ask: did she espouse feminist values? Previously I had assumed not. Yet,  it is an interesting universal truth if you like,  once you start looking for something you do invariably find it. Such was the case when reading and re reading the Austen Six. Many examples were found. One example of Austen’s remarkably modern critique of the power structures of the world in which the Austen Six is set is in Persuasion.

Captain Harville talks with Virtuous-but-Undervalued Anne about the fickleness of females. The fiance of his now deceased sister has found love again too quickly for his liking. He wants to believe that women are not constant; that they are fickle. He states, “Songs and proverbs, all talk of women’s fickleness. But, perhaps, you will say, these were all written by men.” He has exactly predicted Anne’s answer and she replies: “Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please no references to examples in books. Men have every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.” Jane Austen beautifully ponders on the inequality of male and female’s experience of education; it is not laboured, it is not a lecture; but it ever so subtly calls into question the educational status quo, that excluded women from higher education and then criticised them for being poorly educated.

Jane Austen does indeed espouse feminist values and there are many such gems littered though her novels. And sure there is indeed criticism that she is safe and bland but a re reading and re appraisal just might show that she was more than she seemed.

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