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What Do We Learn About Women’s Lives in the Late Eighteenth Century? Essay Sample

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What Do We Learn About Women’s Lives in the Late Eighteenth Century? Essay Sample

In Jane Austen’s short stories, Love and Friendship, we see an amusing, satirical insight into the lives of women in the Eighteenth Century England. We can learn a lot about women’s lives at this time from reading those stories in which marriage was a central focus throughout.

One of the first things that become very clear from reading her short stories is that marriage was very important for young women. It was most often done for social status and money, here Mrs Stanhope, ‘The Three Sisters’ is determined to have her daughter settled; “for I am determined not to let such an opportunity escape of setting one of my Daughters so advantageously” It was practically impossible for a single woman to live a free and independent life as it was difficult to inherit wealth and no professions were open to women at the time. Alternatives to marriage were such as to stay living at home your family; however you would be considered as an ‘old maid’ and be pitied and considered odd, as being a wife and a mother were perceived to be the pinnacle of the female condition. Another alternative was to be a governess to a wealthy family. It was considered as a desperate and horrible alternative, as you were basically a servant and therefore treated little better than such.

We also learn that marriage had nothing to do with love or romance, Mary Stanhope in ‘The Three Sisters’ proves this well when she says the following “He has a large fortune & will make great Settlements on me; but then he is very healthy” Juxtaposition is used here to create humour and make a point how it was just about the money and social status. Another good example is a quote from Lady Lesley about her husband after being recently married – “Neither Men nor Woman can think Sir George tolerable”. This shows that she obviously didn’t marry him for love or romance, not his personality. For young women in the Eighteenth Century it was probably found a very fortunate bonus if you were to marry someone you happened to find attractive or be in love with them.

In the Late Eighteenth Century the most common reason for marriage was money and possessions – they were everything. Jane Austen uses hyperbole well to show this in ‘The Three Sisters’ – Before agreeing to marry Mr Watts, Mary Stanhope barters the money and property, giving an incredibly long list of such things she were to expect upon marriage; “and I shall expect a new saddle horse, a suit of fine lace, and an infinite number of the most valuable Jewels…” This use of exaggeration and emphasis by listing achieves a very comical and amusing effect for the reader.

From her short stories, Love and Friendship, we see different relationships between the women featured in them. In many of the friendships in these stories seems false and insensitive. This can be shown in this quote by Margaret Lesley from Lesley Castle, “How often have I wished that I possessed as little personal Beauty as you do” shows her being very arrogant and insensitive.

Furthermore, relationships between sisters were competitive; the main cause was due to marriage. A great deal of rivalry was involved as you can see “I would refuse him at once if I were certain that neither of my Sisters would accept him…”; here Mary Stanhope would rather marry Mr Watts when she apparently ‘hates him more than any body else in the world.’ than let either of her younger sisters to marry before her. So from Jane Austen’s stories we can learn that sibling rivalry, between sisters, was common in women’s lives back then (if they had any).

Women were not educated as education for women was thought unnecessary at the time. However instead there were ‘accomplishments’ which included things like embroidery, singing, drawing and playing the piano. Although cooking was strictly for servants, Charlotte Lutterrell in Lesley Castle had been educated as such to “understand the art of cutting a slice of cold Beef so well” which gives the assumption she is of quite a low class. Though throughout her short stories Jane Austen hardly mentioned anything about poor women and a particularly important topic she didn’t mention as well was the Napoleonic war which was going on at the time. She only wrote about her ‘own world’ and ignored most of society at large. The only acknowledgement of the war Jane Austen wrote about was the presence of soldiers in parts of her novel (and film), ‘Pride & Prejudice’.

Austen portrays the lack of education this with many of her characters who are indecisive, shallow and vain. An example is Mary Stanhope when she states she will spend each of the four seasons in a different venue, “and if we are at home the rest of the year you must do nothing but give Balls & Masquerades.” From that quote we can see she is not that sharp, giving off a rather silly impression. Perhaps women’s behaviour at this time would be less narrow minded if they had been educated or exposed to the real world more.

Something else we learn from her short stories is that married women did not have any rights back in the Eighteenth Century. When married, which of course most were, women had more freedom than their unmarried sisters. One such example of gained freedom can be found by Mary Stanhope in ‘The Three Sisters’, “I hope you will let me chaprone you; I shall certainly take Sophy & Georgiana.” This shows that when a woman is married she could chaperone people whereas she would not be able to if not and for unmarried women you could not go shopping alone without one. However married women had no rights or even property; all money, land and decision-making power was passed to the husband. The husband was in control; therefore women had limited social activities.

In conclusion, Jane Austen uses epistolary; the chatty nature of letters and direct speech to portray women’s lives in the Eighteenth Century very interestingly and humorously – especially with the irony and satire used throughout the stories. The reason why it was done in such a chatty letter form and featured a lot of direct speech was because these stories were originally meant to be read aloud just for entertainment purposes. From a reading of her short stories we learn a lot about these particular areas of women’s lives which were common to them; such as marriage, female friendships, money, family, education and social class and economic status.

For example we learn that your social class and economic status affected as to whom they could marry like Louise but it was said she had “a good chance of pleasing some young Man who might afford to marry a Girl without a shilling.”, who they socialise with and how other people threat them. Women in the Eighteenth Century acted and behaved the way they did due to one main reason being how marriage was viewed back then; however in our modern society today I think that women’s opinion have changed and are much more realist.

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