The Role of Women

A Comparison of Jane Austen’s 'Pride and Prejudice' and Helen Fielding’s 'Bridget Jones’s Diary'

Term Paper 2009 16 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Feminist Theory

3. Comparison of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary
3.1 Education, Skills and Career…
3.2 Finding a Husband& Marriage
3.3 Appearance

4. Conclusion

5. Literature
5.1 Internet Sources

1. Introduction

“[…] no one can be really esteemed accomplished, who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.” (Austen Ch. 8)

This passage from one of Jane Austen’s most popular novels Pride and Prejudice leads us immediately to the central topic of this term paper. Pride and Prejudice as well as Helen Fielding’s successful novel Bridget Jones’s Diary deal with the role of women in their contemporary societies and the skills the “accomplished woman” should have. One might think that the concept of the “accomplished woman” is only relevant in the 19th century but Fielding’s funny revised edition of the Pride and Prejudice subject has shown that this idea is still present nowadays.

Since Austen’s novel was published in 1813 almost two centuries have passed, the role of women in society has changed through the years because of the feminist movements beginning in the 1960s. Nowadays women are able to depend completely on their own. They are not longer inferior to men, they gained the right to vote in the early 20th century and are able to have successful careers. Nevertheless the concept of the “accomplished woman” seems to be still significant at the present time. Fielding manages to move the concept of the “accomplished woman” into the future and it seems to be more popular than ever. Bridget Jones embodies a woman of the 1990s that struggles with her role in society in a similar way Elizabeth Bennet did almost 200 years ago.

However this term paper, in which I will compare Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, will show that the skills women should have are still relevant in our society today. To confirm my ideas I will first discuss feminist theory, and then I will deal with the following topics which are included in both novels: education, skills, career; finding a husband and marriage; and the appearance of women. I want to contrast several female characters of Pride and Prejudice with Bridget Jones. In addition, this term paper will describe the pressure that young single women have to face in the 19th and 20th century.

2. Feminist Theory

The feminist literary criticism nowadays appears to be the result of the “women’s movement” in the 1960s but this movement started far earlier (Barry 121). The feminist theory has its beginning in the 19th century and provides “an image of woman as a rational, responsible agent; one who is able, if given a chance, to take care of herself, to further her own possibilities” (Donavan 47). Feminist writers like Mary Wollstonecraft and Sarah Grimke had an enormous impact on society and helped to improve the status of women (Donovan 47). Significant works, which can be considered to have lead to the 1960´s feminist’s movement, are for instance: A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft, Olive Schreiner´s Women and Labour (1911) and Virginia Woolf´s A Room of Ones Ow n from 1929 (Barry 121).

On significant desire of the beginning feminist’s movement in the 19th was the establishment of voting rights for women. They wanted that women were allowed to go into the public sphere to improve the political world ruled by men (Donovan 48). In addition, Donovan mentions Fuller, who has studied German romantic writers as well as English ones. Fuller describes women as completely different from men: “Were they free, were they wise fully to develop the strength and beauty of woman; they would never wish to be men, or manlike” (50). Fuller also declares, similar to Wollstonecraft and Grimke, that women must extend “self-reliance” to find their individual power: “What Woman needs is not as a woman to act or rule, but a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as a soul to live freely and unimpeded to unfold [her] powers” (Donovan 49). Fuller also argues that they have to disregard norms to find out on their own how unique they are:

“Women must leave off asking [men] and being influenced by them, but retire within themselves, and explore the groundwork of life till they find their peculiar secret. Then, when they come forth again, renovated and baptized, they will know how to turn all dross to gold.” (Donovan 50)

Jane Austen herself had to face a patriarchal society, where men were the superior sex and women considered weak and highly depending on men. For this reason the central topic of Pride and Prejudice seems to be marriage. Indeed, most female characters in the novel tremendously focus on finding a sustainable man (Barry 112). Austen wants to show the difference between both sexes with showing how women had to suffer in the patriarchal society of the 19th century. Kubitschek declares that: “Middle-class women were socially destined to be dependent on men for financial support” and with her novel Pride and Prejudice Austen gives us a portrayal of women of that time (1). It was Austen’s secret ambition to make the society of her time aware of the equality of both sexes. She demanded the same rights for men and women; both sexes should have the same opportunities to reach their goals and to gain self-knowledge by changing the way of education:

“Jane Austen differed from other writers on education by insisting for men as well as for women, the goal of education must be self-knowledge. Men and women are equally worthy of respect to the extent that they achieve this goal. Since neither sex is intrinsically better in achieving this goal than the other, neither sex is intrinsically superior to the other.” (Horwitz 62)

Additionally Helen Fielding’s successful novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, published in the 1990s, has shown that there is still a kind of a patriarchal society existing nowadays that women have to suffer from. Furthermore Fielding is criticizing the media for showing a false ideal of beauty which suggests that women have to be perfect to gain success. Bridget Jones, the heroine of the novel, has to suffer from her lack of intelligence as well as from her lack of beauty the whole time.

3. Comparison of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary

3.1 Education, Skills and Career

In Austen’s novel Pride & Prejudice the reader constantly gets to know how important it is for an 19th woman to be well-educated. We gain an understanding of how an accomplished woman of that time should be. Furthermore we learn about having a presentable family to be respected by the society.

The education of the Bennet sisters appears to be improper and is disapproved by members of higher social classes like Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Elizabeth and her sisters were raised without a governess as we get to know from her conversation with Lady Catherine. Being brought up only by their own mother seems to be really unusual and inappropriate for that time. Lady Catherine’s reaction to this information speaks volumes:

“No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without a governess! – I never heard such a thing. Your mother must have been quite a slave to your education. […] I always say that nothing is to be done in education without steady and regular instruction, and nobody but a governess can give it.” (Austen Ch. 29).

Besides the important aspect of education, the skills, an accomplished woman must have, are significant parts of Pride& Prejudice. In chapter 8 we learn a lot of the “place and function of young ladies” (Marsh² 132). While Elizabeth is at Netherfield to nurse her ill sister Jane, she has a conversation with Mr. Bingley, his sister Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy. Miss Bingley tells her about her opinion of an accomplished woman to make Elizabeth aware of her lack of education. Miss Bingley, who is obviously attracted by Mr. Darcy, sees a possible rival in Elizabeth and tries to vilify her in front of him. The following paragraph includes the stereotypes of feminine qualities which were on the agenda at Austen’s time.

“[…] no one can be really esteemed accomplished, who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.” (Austen Ch. 8)



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Austen Pride Prejudice Fielding Bridget Jones Diary Elizabethan Time



Title: The Role of Women