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Jane Austen

Jane Austen

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Published by: christine_salvemini on Nov 19, 2012
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10/02/2013

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2013-04 ENG-393-OLOne Writer's Vision: Jane AustenFinal Paper
The Theme of Friendship in Jane Austen’s Novels
 Nearly anyone who has been to the movies in the past few years has probably seen a filmadapted from one of the novels of Jane Austen, who is having one of those revivals of interestthat is sometimes inflicted upon artists from pre-mass media eras. And the most enduring scenefrom each of these movies is the last one, in which everyone of any importance is happilymarried off. And yet despite the nearly deafening clangor of marriage bells in Austen's works,and despite the amount of mental anguish that her characters devote to matchmaking and beingmatched, the theme of friendship is just as important as that of romantic love, although rarelyacknowledged to be so. If Austen's pages are full of endless dialogue about the importance of love and marriage, it is important to note that all of this dialogue is going on between friends.After a brief summary of Austen's work, this paper looks at the importance of friendship andhow the theme of friendship relates both to the importance of marriage and to the charactersrelationship to the larger society.Austen (1775-1817) has become known not simply as one of the major female Englishnovelists - a position that she held for several decades last century - but simply one of the bestEnglish novelists because of her brilliantly witty, elegantly structured satirical fiction. Born nearBasingstoke, in the parish of Steventon, of which her father was rector, she was educated athome and never lived apart from her family, in which she was the seventh of eight children.Austen began as a child to write novels for her family, and these all reflected the life of a countryfamily in which money was never quite plentiful enough. This lack of substantial riches is an
 
explicit element of Austen's novels, for a family's wealth had a direct impact on a youngwoman's ability to marry well (or even marry at all), and while Austen may satirize the morals of her time, she does seem to believe in the idea that a woman should marry for love. (Ash andHigton, 1995, p. 14). However, money does not have nearly as much to do with friendship as itdoes with marriage, and this is one of the reasons that the theme of friendship between andamong women is of such importance in Austen's novels - added to the fact that the world inwhich Austen lived was in many ways segregated by sex, ensuring that people would draw mostof their friends from their own sex. Finally, it seems clear that Austen's emphasis on theimportance of female friends (including sisters and other female relatives as friends) probablystems at least in part from her own experiences as a spinster from a large family (Ash andHigton, 1995, p. 15)The importance of friendship in improving the lives of individuals but of not disruptingthe overall social order is an important aspect of the author's popularity. We see throughoutAusten's work a certain democratic tendency in the nature of friendship, for women are far morelikely to have friends (often many of them) who have more or less money than themselves thanthey are likely to have suitors who are so economically different from themselves. Friendshipmay indeed go where lines of inheritance cannot. The women of Jane Austen take friends whoare outside the fine level of economic distinction that they inhabit, but not entirely outside theirclass. Someone like Harriet Smith is as far as an Austen heroine will ever go in friendship.Women below them can receive charity (honest and sincere charity) but never friendship(Johnson, 1995, p. 78).Austen may have sensed that this was a potentially radical notion, that women couldflourish in the company of other women not as a poor substitute for the company of their
 
husbands and not as something to do simply until a man happened to come along and propose,but as an end in itself. And yet, it is also true that friendship does quite often supplant marriage,and Austen's novels (as is life itself) are full of women who are content to fill their time withfemale companionship. While Austen's brothers, Francis and Charles, as Admirals of the BritishNavy, battled Napoleon, Jane "brought to the page the only kind of combat a woman wasallowed: the conquest of hearts and the overturning of domestic arrangements" (Shields, 45).By cloaking so many of the friendships in her novels as examples of fictive kinship
 – 
 
Lady Russell as a surrogate mother, Emma Woodhouse as a surrogate sister and Bingley’s sister 
as an in-law - Austen seems to suggest that women's friendships, even when independentlyarrived at, are in fact supported by a web of familial and therefore male-based family links(Johnson, 1995, p. 126). Some of these women are spinsters by choice, some not, some tooyoung to be spinsters, but all of them thrive on friendship. As a result of friendships, EmmaWoodhouse is admonished for her arrogant matchmaking when her protégée, Harriet Smith--whohas under Emma's tutelage become too uppity to accept the marriage proposal of Robert Martin,a respectable farmer--sets her cap at none other than Mr. Knightley, leading Emma to realize,perhaps too late, that "Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!" (Austen, 408). Anne Elliotsuffers for her weakness in allowing Lady Russell, a surrogate mother-figure, to persuade her torefuse the proposals of Captain Wentworth. "Jane Austen, the stern moralist" (Shields, 175),displays a judicial sense of reform for wicked bounders, such as Willoughby, Wickham, andeven Mr. Elton, who find their due in their marriages to Miss Grey, Lydia Bennet, and AugustaHawkins respectively.Friendship for Austen's characters is the glue of daily life, providing a world of interest,emotional support and busyness that is otherwise denied to those who are kept removed from

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