“Ideological Contradictions and the Consolations of Form: The Case of Jane Austen”

from The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen, by Mary Poovey; see pp. 21-58, Modern Critical Views: Jane Austen, Edited and with an Introduction by Harold Bloom.

Part of series of quote posts to connect some dots…

In keeping with this class affiliation, Jane Austen’s fundamental ideological position was conservative; her political sympathies were generally Tory, and her religion was officially Anglican; overall, she was a “conservative Christian moralist,” supportive of Evangelical ethical rigor even before she explicitly admitted admiring the Evangelicals themselves.

But neither external evidence of Austen’s social position nor the internal evidence of her novels supports so strict a delineation of her sympathies…

…the role played by Austen’s class in the rise of capitalism was particularly complicated; for the agricultural improvements that preceded and paved the way for early industrial capitalism were financed and initiated in many cases by the landowning gentry, yet the legal provisions of strict settlement and entail were expressly designed to prohibit land from becoming a commodity susceptible to promiscuous transfer or easy liquidation. Despite the fact that the landowning gentry participated in the expansion of agrarian capitalism, their role was passive, not active; as a consequence, their values and life-style were not extensively altered until the more radical and rapid expansion of industrial capitalism began in the first decades of the nineteenth century. When that occurred, the gentry were suddenly awakened to the implications of the changes to which their patterns of expenditure had contributed. From the more vulnerable position of the lower levels of the gentry, Jane Austen was able to see with particular clarity the marked differences between the two components of the middle class: the landed gentry and the new capitalist class. The division of sympathies that occurs in her novels when middle-class daughters get rewarded with the sons of landed families emanates at least partly from Austen’s being both involved in and detached from these two middle-class groups at a moment when they were implicitly competing with each other.



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