In the cases of
Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice and Emily Bronte’s Jane
Eyre, the ideals of romantic love are very much the same. In both
19th century novels, women’s wants and needs are rather simplified.
However, this could also be said for the roles and ideals of the male
characters. While it was obvious that this era was responsible for a
large amount of anti-female sexism in society and the economy, can it
also be said that male-female partnerships were simplified from the
In Jane Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice, it is widely agreed that the character of Jane
Bennet is, in all aspects, the perfect 19th century woman. She has
beauty, charm, manners, a little intelligence (but not too much), and
is very loving and supportive. All of these qualities are said to
show the men around her that she would make a good wife. As many
discussions about this story have already said, this shows a sexist
ideal of the time, that women are only good for wives. However, along
the same standards we find a character such as Charles Bingley, who
is thought to be the perfect gentlemen of the time. Bingley is
remarkably handsome, affable, rich, and extraordinarily mannerly. All
of these characteristics throw the Bennet house of women into a
frenzy over who will be fortunate enough to marry Bingley. While this
may show a certain dominance/subordinance relationship due to the
women clamoring for the hand of a “good man”, it also simplifies
a man’s place as to be rich, handsome, and strong. Thereby, all men
who are not these things are judged according to what they do have to
offer in terms of these three or so categories.
In the very
beginning of the novel, the Bennet girls’ mother says, when asked
if Bingley is married, “Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single
man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing
for our girls!” (p3, Austen). This shows a simplicity of role for a
female, but also an undermining of any personality a man may have.
Nothing is known about Bingley except that he is rich, yet Mrs.
Bennet is already prepared to allow him to marry any of her
daughters. Albeit she is being made fun of for this mindset, she
continues to focus solely on her daughters marrying the most
handsome, rich man they can find.
It can be said
that in a relationship such as this, that the woman is simply a pawn
in the game, trying to move up in social status. This is rather
sexist. However, at the same time men are presented as only being
good for bringing a woman up in social class and providing her with
wealth. Which role is worse for the individual is arguable, but it
can be assumed that either person would most likely be rather unhappy
in such an arranged marriage. The man, who had known nothing of the
woman except her looks and lineage, would most likely grow tired and
resentful of his wife. This can be seen in the character of Mr.
Bennet, who continuously throws sarcastic barbs toward his wife and
children, most of whom he believes are “silly and ignorant” (p2).
This possibly could have been prevented had the Bennets not followed
standard conventions of the time and married a woman he did not know
On the same
point, Mrs. Bennet can assuredly not be happy with her husband. The
only way someone can be happy while another person is actively
degrading him/her is to ignore it, which is not an effective way to
deal with the problem. This may also have been avoided had she not
followed standard conventions of marriage and courtship. However, to
judge the decisions of characters 150 years ago would be unfair. To a
certain extent, people are all free to choose whatever path they
want. However, some paths at certain points in history are more
difficult than others.
The ideas of who
is “agreeable” to the opposite sex are similar to the ideas of
who is not. Near the beginning of the story, Darcy is introduced with
Bingley. Darcy is also rich and handsome however his character seems
to be the polar opposite of Bingley’s warm demeanor. “Bingley was
sure of being liked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continuously
giving offense.” (p10) When considering his opinion of Jane, Darcy
thought she was “pretty, but she smiled too much” (p16). While
these thoughts would be expected from someone in today’s culture,
they were shockingly rude for that time. However, Darcy continued to
be a main character throughout the novel, and finally married
Elizabeth. Had Darcy been a poor man, how many people at the party
would have ever forgiven him for his personality, let alone married
him? This shows an obvious emphasis on wealth in society at the time,
but it also shows a simplistic sexist ideal of men being rich
providers in a male-female relationship.
Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre, sexism in the 19th century male-female
relationship takes on a more insidious tone. While in Pride and
Prejudice the ideals and roles were more innocently ingrained in the
characters, Jane Eyre shows a darker, more possessive side. When Jane
is with Rochester, there is a constant struggle between his
possessive tendencies and her optimistic “prophecies” of the
future. In Chapter 24, Rochester has pressured Jane for sexual
relations, and she has denied him by…
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