Rachel's blog

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.

02 The Society

Filed under: Sin categoría — Raquel Sanchez Sogorb at 4:21 am on jueves, mayo 23, 2013

Between these three books, we have two time periods: the Georgian era and the Victorian era.

The first one, is the a period of the British history that equates with the time spent on the throne of the ruling dynasty of the Electorate of Hanover (1692-1837), with George I and then followed by Georges II, III and IV.

The period was culturally vibrant, with the appearing of famous writes including Henry Fielding, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen, as well as the Romantic poets like Lord Byron, Robert Burns, William Blake, John Keats, and others.

The Georgian period was also a time of social reform, that encompassed three generations of royalty in England, and was torn by wars and rebellions in Britain and abroad.

The second one, begins in 1837 (the year Victoria became Queen) and ends in 1901 (the year of her death). The common perception of the period is the Victorians are “prudish, hypocritical, stuffy and narrow-minded”. This description applies to some large segments of Victorian English society, particularly amongst the middle class, which at the time was increasing both in number and power. Many members of this middle class aspired to join the ranks of the nobles, and felt that acting properly, according to the conventions and values of the time, was an important step in that direction. That is what we can see in North and South, with Mr. Thornton’s sister, in Jane Eyre, in the character of the Mr. Rochester’s first wife, and also in Pride and Prejudice, in many characters as George Wickham or Miss Bingley.

After having a general vision of the society in real life, we are going to see this society but inside the novels, to begin with Pride and Prejudice.

Let us take an excerpt from Pride and Prejudice that show how different the  word was and to give some idea of approaching a reading of Austen’s works intruding on an understanding of what she was doing.

Sir William and Lady Lucas were speedily applied to for their consent; and it was bestowed with a most joyful alacrity. Mr. Collins’s present circumstances made it a most eligible match for their daughter, to whom they could give little fortune; and his prospects of future wealth were exceedingly fair. Lady Lucas began directly to calculate with more interest than the matter had ever excited before, how many years longer Mr. Bennet was likely to live; and Sir William gave it as his decided opinion, that whenever Mr. Collins should be in possession of the Longbourn estate, it would be highly expedient that both he and his wife should make their appearance at St James’s. The whole family in short were properly overjoyed on the occasion. The younger girls formed hopes of coming out a year or two sooner than they might otherwise have done; and the boys were relieved from their apprehension of Charlotte’s dying an old maid. Charlotte herself was tolerably composed. She had gained her point, and had time to consider of it. Her reflections were in general satisfactory. Mr Collins to be sure was neither sensible no agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband. Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. (Pride and Prejudice, I, 22, p.106)


Pride and Prejudice upholds reasonably conservative views on class. Darcy’s character arc is to become the ultimate gentleman, he starts out wealthy, aristocratic, and good-hearted, and learns to add good manners and sociability to the mix. Conversely, although Wickham seems to have the outer polish of an aristocrat, he is proven to be thoroughly ungentlemanly. It is the same with the female characters, whose behavior and decorum immediately marks them as either upper or lower class. Although both Jane and Elizabeth cross class lines to get married, the general idea is that they are almost aristocratic already.

Jane Austen uses irony and satire to criticize aspects of the society. Jane Austen uses her satire to marvelously bring out the ridiculous characters. These characters symbolize her criticism on the society. Through her use of characters, she reveals her concerns towards the law, government, and each one’s own social value in the society.
Social status is an important part of the 19th century English society and the Bennet family is no different from any other family in their attempt to improve their social status or to give the impression that they have a high social status. So Austen criticizes this hierarchical structure that divided social groups into classes, and social class is obviously significant in the novel as both the theme and Austen’s criticism on the society.

Now, we are going to see society reflected in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre:

The prose fiction novel «Jane Eyre» by Charlotte Bronte published in 1847 is representative of the struggle between the individual and society, as it presents a narration from the female protagonist’s point of view about the gender roles and autonomy of women, the domestic economy, the social class structures and also the basis of love in marriage generally subverting the dominant ideals of the century. Through the characterization of Jane Eyre, the unconventional heroine, and her individualistic actions, the struggle for the freedom of the individual is vividly portrayed as she proclaims that «she resisted all the way» to the pressures of conformity from her society. In opposition to the defined roles of women in the nineteenth century, Jane attempts to attain her own individual identity rather than being reliant on the identity of her male counterpart.

Jane Eyre looks down its nose in disgust at the existing Victorian class hierarchy. The characters who are most interested in the trappings of wealth and status are hypocritical or morally misguided, but characters who take poverty on themselves to demonstrate their great moral nature are also mocked. Instead of the normal class structures, Jane Eyre implies that poverty can be thoroughly respectable, as long as it’s accompanied by an earnest desire to better oneself  or at least earn one’s keep. Of course, it’s easy to value poverty and hard work when, in the end, all the right people get the money.

In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, who expresses strong sympathy for the working class and the poor, forcefully condemns both upper-class exploitation and arrogance. Jane’s own struggle makes clear the integral relationship between wealth and survival, though her experience is actually less precarious than other characters in the novel.


And the society from North and South from Gaskell:

This novel examines the nature of social authority and obedience and provides an insightful description of the role of middle class women in nineteenth century society. Through the story of Margaret Hale, a southerner who moves to the northern industrial town of Milton, Gaskell skillfully explores issues of class and gender, as Margaret’s sympathy for the town mill workers conflicts with her growing attraction to the mill owner, John Thornton. Gaskell, not only talks about a love story, but also about the Industrial Revolution and the poor conditions the workers had, and the understanding between the masters and the workers.

The injustices of this working life weren’t chronicled to this time by Elizabeth Gaskell. Gaskell’s sympathies were with the poor, North and South‘s central concept is the gradual realization of haughty, scornful southerner Margaret Hale that there is a beauty to the «vulgarity of shop people». There is also a clever balance to North and South, a certain acknowledgment of the middle-class manufacturers who raise themselves «into the power and position of a master by their own exertions».

Gaskell uses the form of the typical Victorian romance novel to bring to the fore certain important social issues, such as industry, the role of women, and the differences between our internal and external behaviors in different settings. It is in how she strays from the traditional superficiality of the style, that much of the interest in her novels lies. She sets these novels in a socially acceptable way to the audience of her day, but deliberately turns the work round so that it is by no means a simple romance. Her ability and willingness to do this is a credit to her writing skills, and should not be used to denigrate her work.

Dickens was apparently infuriated by its lack of focus, only for Gaskell to respond by cunningly reintroducing edited chapters later. So, it is not exactly original, either there is more than a doff of the cap to Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley, and suggestions that it is an industrial Pride and Prejudice certainly hold some water. Dickens himself found with Hard Times, marrying social concerns with enjoyable storytelling is far from straightforward, but Gaskell succeeds

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