My tide has a double source in Jane Austen’s writings. It derives, in part, from the description of Mrs Bennet as a woman whose business in life ‘was to get her daughters married’ (P & amp;P, p. 5), and from a letter to Fanny Knight in which the novelist advises her niece on the advantages of marriage in later rather than earlier womanhood: ‘by not beginning the business of Mothering quite so early in life’, she writes consolingly, ‘you will be young in Constitution, spirits, figure & countenance, while Mrs Wm Hammond is growing old by confinements & nursing’ (Letters, p. 483). My objective is to clarify the precise implications of marriage and motherhood in both her correspondence and her fiction, especially in so far as those views contribute to an understanding of Austen’s perception of women and society as a whole. Clearly our times have heightened the significance of such views, although they have always attracted critical attention in the study of the novels. Indeed in a certain historical perspective few of our current approaches to Austen’s women are essentially new, notwithstanding the suspicion that many of them have been motivated in one way or the other by an academic ‘fallout’ of sorts from the contemporary women’s movements.
KeywordsSingle Woman Childless Woman Sexual Double Standard Maternal Role Happy Ending
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