“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”, Jane Austen indicated at the beginning of her very novel. And I just can’t help thinking about why Austen would focus that much on women married life in what she wrote and how the social background at her time reflected on her writings.
Born into a well-off family in 1770s in Hampshire, Jane Austen had been exposed to a literary environment that aroused her talent for writing. Through her words, we were, as if confronted with a picture of a beautiful, harmonious and quiet country that the sun walks through the clouds, the wind blows from the Atlantic Ocean, mixed with chill, and the angiospermous wood mildly covered with fresh, brilliant green after the rain’s washing. Nevertheless, due to the era in which Austen lived and her gender, it is inevitable that the endless balls and feasts in her writings have resulted in the lack of her works’ breadth.
When it comes to feminine literature,we can hardly find a master work made by women before Chaucer’s time. At the beginning of nineteenth century, when Elisabeth Ⅰ came to power, and the literary efflorescence also emerged, women still had no rights to be educated or to be employed so that they could not achieve economic independence and obtain autonomyof their own marriage. This might suggest that even though somehow women may excel men as for their writing gift, what stories women could tell are limited——we call that “women in the sitting-room”. To take Tolstoy for example, suppose Tolstoy were a woman who had to sit in the house serving her husband and his guests, could there be a magnificent masterpiece that includes each corner of the society and the situation of the world, say, war or peace? Mostly not, I believe. By the end of the eighteenth century, capitalist market economy had been developing quickly so that the rural industry progressed and at that time loads of landed gentry and upstarts generated. Everyone was chasing after material enjoyment and out to upgrade their social status. The main part of women life,especially young girls’, is love and marriage. So we can see that Elizabeth’s sisters are fairly rude and shallow, most of whom spared no effort to pursue fame and fortune by marrying a rich guy.
Also, under the control ofpatriarchy, the law and customs were strongly influenced by malechauvinism. Women were bound by men in the sitting-room, which greatly restricted their thinking capacity and imagination. Austen might not able to write something epic and diachronic in that era.
Today we advocate feminism, not to ask for rights that go beyond the man’s, but to ask for rights that reach a level of equality for both women and men. Women spiritual space should be wide and deep as men can be without any restriction. As what Virginia Woolf had said, “Women must have one room, one salary of her own, in order to have the freedom of creation”.