CRITICAL: Both Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen are concerned with the way women lead their lives. Do you think there is any difference between what Austen and Wollstonecraft propose about how women should spend their time?
As I said in my previous blog, Wollstonecraft explicitly advocates for women’s right to an education in ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’. Austen on the other hand, implicitly does this by creating characters like Emma and Harriet who don’t recognise their self-worth of capability. Considering that women were not granted the right to an education in the Romantic period, one can see why Emma spent most of her time thinking that match making was what she was destined to do, instead of pursuing an actual profession: “I planned the match from that hour; and when such success has blessed me in this instance, dear papa, you cannot think that I shall leave off match-making”. This statement shows how she occupies most of her time trying to accomplish meaningless tasks, and the word choice of “success” conveys Emma’s warped view of what success means to her.
Harriet is presented with a low sense of self worth as she obsesses over unrequited feelings from Mr Elton. One of the many reasons for this is because women in the Romantic period were told to focus on pleasing men: “And so then, in my nonsense, I could not help making a treasure of it—so I put it by never to be used, and looked at it now and then as a great treat”. The fact that Harriet treasured meaningless things left by Mr Elton emphasises the desperation Harriet feels to marry, highlighting another socio-cultural issue where young people were pressured to marry, and by reading Emma, one can see that some couples would marry in order to gain wealth or status, as opposed to marrying based on true love.
Therefore, both Wollstonecraft and Austen share the same beliefs that women should spend their time being educated and pursuing a professional career, instead of being objectified in society.
Austen, Jane, and George Justice. Emma. 4th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2001. Print.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”. Lynch, Deidre Shauna, and Jack Stillinger. Volume D: The Romantic Period. 9th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012. Print.