Jane Austen among Women – by Deborah Kaplan
I found this book in an academic remainders bookshop the other day and, of course, as soon as I saw it was about Jane Austen I just had to buy it. I fell in love with Jane Austen when I was fifteen after a friend introduced me to Pride and Prejudice. The more I have learned about Jane the deeper that love has grown.
The premise of Jane Austen among Women is that there was a cultural duality in Jane Austen’s time where women carved out – sometimes subversively – a space for themselves within the existing social patriarchy.
Back then (1775 to 1817) women were meant to remain in the domestic sphere.their education was intended to prepare them to become wives. Beauty and the attainment of ‘accomplishments’ – playing the piano, singing, embroidery – made young women more appealing in the marriage market. Once they had been snared as somebody’s wife they were meant to oversee a happy home, produce babies, be the husband’s ornament at social events…
But within this patriarchal portrait of women’s lives there existed a network of women that encourage and supported each other, either through personal visits or extensive letter writing. There were two types of letter: those that might be read by husbands or brothers. In these letters women portrayed the dutiful wife and any subversive comment against men would have been heavily coded. The second type of letter was more openly critical of the patriarchy and supportive of women’s endeavours among close friends.
It is within this world that Deborah Kapan shows that Jane Austen maintained a network of friends and family that supported her writing.
Jane never married and remained firmly within the women’s culture, I suspect by choice. Had she married – and she did receive offers – it likely would have meant a significant curtailing, if not the end, of her writing.
I find this idea of a woman’s culture within the prevailing patriarchal society particularly appealing. It mirrors the support networks I see today for women writers and it provides and alternative view for understanding Jane Austen’s novels.
Have a fab Monday