Jane Austen: Gender and morality
Professor Kathryn Sutherland considers Jane Austen’s portrayal of female characters and her harshly moralistic outlook. Filmed at Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton.
We think of Jane Austen as a woman's novelist, looking at the world from a woman's point of view and that's pretty much true. Her heroines are witty, they're attractive, they're intelligent, they're articulate – but we have to remember too, that she's a fairly harsh moralist. They may be witty and independent in certain ways, but she doesn't allow them to pursue individual courses of behaviour and she doesn't encourage passion and she doesn't encourage rebellion. I think that may seem harsh to us because we live in a world with so many more freedoms. So, you can sometimes come away from her novels with the sense that, you know, the best a woman can hope for is marriage to a companionate man who knows how to handle her and many of her novels do include sections in which the heroine is educated by the hero. Sometimes too, the hero is rather older and in some senses, wiser than the witty heroine who, to some extent, has to be tamed.
The realities of Jane Austen's society, are that women have much less freedom for experimentation than men. They didn't have careers, they didn't have a chance to go to university, their male contemporaries had both – young men had the equivalent of a gap year. They went for the grand tour, often before they went to university, which was an opportunity for experiment with all aspects of life. Women had no chance to experiment. The rules were very strict for women of this class – remember we're talking about the middle classes and the gentry – that they must be virgins when they marry and they must remain loyal to her husband, however foolish and indeed, however corrupt he might be.
Professor Kathryn Sutherland considers the depiction of public and private spaces in Jane Austen’s novels. Filmed at Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton. - video
Professor Kathryn Sutherland discusses Jane Austen’s ground-breaking use of social realism and her focus on the mundanity of everyday life. Filmed at Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton. - video
Professor Kathryn Sutherland explores Jane Austen manuscripts, discussing the significance of her dense handwriting and lack of punctuation. Filmed at the British Library. - video
Professor Kathryn Sutherland discusses the importance of marriage and its relationship to financial security and social status for women in Jane Austen’s novels. Filmed at Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton. - video
Jane Austen’s characters are continually watching, judging and gossiping about others and, in turn, are watched, judged and gossiped about. Professor Kathryn Sutherland explores the ways in which behaviour and etiquette are closely monitored in the novels, and how characters must learn to be skilful readers of those around them.
Professor John Mullan explores the romantic, social and economic considerations that precede marriage in the novels of Jane Austen.
The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw fierce debates about the nature and purpose of women’s education. Professor Kathryn Sutherland assesses these debates and describes the education and reading practices of Jane Austen and her female characters.
Questions of status and class are a major preoccupation of Jane Austen’s characters, and of the novels themselves. Professor John Mullan considers both the importance of social status and its satirical potential.