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The Women of Jane Austen Jane Austen has attracted a great deal of critical attention in recent years Many have spoken out about the strengths and weaknesses of her characters particularly her heroines Austen has been cast as both a friend and foe to the rights of women According to Morrison most feminist studies have represented Austen as a conscious or unconscious subversive voicing a womans frustration at the rigid and sexist social order which enforces subservience and dependence 337 Others feel that her marriage plots are representative of her allegiance to the social quid pro quo of her time Marriage almost inevitably the narrative event that constitutes a happy ending represents in their view a submission to a masculine narrative imperative that has traditionally allotted women love and men the world Newman 693 In reality Austen can not accurately be evaluated as an author or feminist subversive without first examining the eighteenth century English society in which she lived and placed her heroines Watt says that Austens characters cannot be seen clearly until we make allowances for the social order in which they were rooted 41 Austen lived in a society where women were expected to be accomplished as Darcy states in Pride and Prejudice but not well educated Notes Women of the late eighteenth-century could not attend educational institutions like Oxford or Cambridge It was not considered necessary for a woman to have knowledge of either Greek or Latin If a woman received training it was usually religious or domestically practical The expected accomplishments of a woman at the time included the ability to draw singing speaking modern languages such as Italian or French and playing a musical instrument usually the piano These accomplishments were required to attract the right rich kind of husband A womans financial status was very important and yet there was little she could do to improve it Women of some social standing could not
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