Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction by Margaret Kirkham

By Margaret Kirkham

A vintage account of Jane Austen within the context of eighteenth century feminist principles and modern suggestion.

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The mother of the Founding is Miss Allworthy-as-was, before her error in entangling with Tom's father and the worse error of marrying Captain Blifel. Some of the 'bad' women, like Jenny Jones and Molly Seagrim, are treated sympathetically, and the heroine, Sophia, although chaste, is given a certain amount of courage, warm affections and a hot temper. Her chastity is guarded by the hero's extreme scrupulousness about virgins and is mocked by the antics of her comic maid, 'Honour', and her own carelessness-cum-obsessiveattachment to her 'muff.

Women had, in orthodox moral discourse, been commonly consigned to a special consideration with slaves, the unlet- Introduction 5 tered and lunatics. The Enlightenment feminists were what Virginia Woolf called 'the daughters of gentlemen' but, even though they might restrict their claims to women of the middle class, it did not escape their opponents that the arguments they used had equal validity for the labouring classes in England, and for the unhappy Africans enslaved in America whose plight, by the end of the century, had smitten the conscience of almost everyone who had a conscience.

Elizabeth Elstob became the friend of some of the literary ladies of Richardson's and Johnson's circle, Mrs Chapone and Mrs Delaney among them. It was Elizabeth Elstob who gave 8 Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction George Ballard an account of Mary Astell's life and work, for his Memoirs of several Ladies of Great Britain who have been celebrated for their writings, or skill in the learned languages or art and sciences (Oxford, 1752). Thus Astell's influence continued into the mid-century, and perhaps beyond.

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