A general knowledge of the social and cultural setting in which a novel is written is important, for most novels mirror the customs and values of a particular society, often criticizing it. The Hertfordshire country town where the greater part of the novel is set is Longbourn, only a mile from the market town of Meryton and 24 miles from London. The neighborhood around the Bennets is large, for they dine with twenty-four different families, only three of which are named. The Bennet’s society is drawn largely from Meryton (which is the mother’s background) rather than from the country (which is the father’s), for she is more sociable than her husband. Mrs. Bennet, however, is without social ambition except for her desire to have her daughters marry rich men. Pride and Prejudice is, thus, set among the rural middle and upper classes who are landowners. None of the major characters works, for these moneyed classes live entirely on their income from rents and inheritances.
There are, however, petty distinctions among the landed classes, determined by the amount of wealth possessed by the members. For instance, Miss Bengali and her sister look down on the Bennets because they are not as wealthy. Class distinctions in Jane Austen’s time were in fact very rigid. The land-owning aristocracy belonged to the highest rung of the social ladder, and all power was in their hands. Next in rank came the gentry. The new, prosperous industrialists and traders (like Mr. Gardiner) were gradually rising as a class, but had still not won the right to vote. The lowest in English society were the workers and laborers. For the women of the time, life was largely restricted to the home and the family. For the poor and the lower-class women, there was ample work in the home and in the fields to keep them busy.
But for the ladies of the landed upper-classes, life was one big round of dances, dinners, cards, and visits to friends and relatives. They were not required to do any household work. “Ladies,” thus, lived a life of ease and leisure, mainly concerned with society, children, and marriage. By the nineteenth century, the upper classes no longer arranged marriages. Instead, a girl was introduced to society (and eligible bachelors) at a reception hosted by a married woman who had herself been presented. Generally, a girl “came out” only after her elder sister was married. (No wonder Lady Catherine is shocked when she hears that all of Elizabeth’s sisters have started dating before she is wed.) Women’s education in the nineteenth century was restricted to the daughters of a few families of the upper classes. In most cases, it was thought to be a waste of time to educate girls. Rich and noble families (like that of Lady Catherine de Bourgh) engaged governesses for educating their daughters or sent them away to boarding school, but most women were self-educated at home.
Traveling in Jane Austen’s time was accomplished in horse-drawn carriages, and a family’s social status was determined by its kind of carriage. Because carriages were slow, travel was limited. Communication of mail and news was also slow, and there were no daily newspapers. As a result, the outside world does not play a part in Austen’s novels. Instead, she turns her attention in entirety to the things she knew: family and values.
Essay on the connection between literature and society
Literature means something that is written for refreshing and inspiring the mind. It records the thoughts and feelings of great minds. It attracts in two ways—through its matter and through its manner. The matter must be such that those who read it are interested in some way. The manner must be such as will be pleasing to the reader and adds to his fund of knowledge.
We live in a society. That is, there are relations and interrelation between men who live in the society. We like to hear about our fellow men who live in society, their thoughts and feelings, their likes and dislikes.
Naturally, if we have the power of language to express the feelings, we are well on the way to creating literature. In other words, the subject matter of literature is society in some form or other. The poet expresses his feeling and we who read his poetry are interested and feel at one with him and ourselves. After all, society is this bond of fellowship between man and man through communication that the poet or writer seeks.
If literature expresses social sympathies, naturally it is bound to exercise some positive influence on our mind and attitude. Society reacts to literature in a living way. An inspiring poem creates general influence on society. It rouses our feelings and enthusiasm for welfare.
Shelley has called poets the unacknowledged legislators of mankind. The function of a legislator is to lay down the law, a settled course of action that men may follow. Poetry and literature generally do this in a quiet and unobtrusive way. Novels are known to have changed the direction of the human mind and set in motion movements that have altered our ways of life.
The influence of literature on society is felt directly or indirectly. Thus Miss Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was directly responsible for a movement against slavery in literature and life in USA of those days. The novels of Dickens had an indirect influence in creating in society a feeling for regulating and removing social wrongs, calling for necessary reforms.
Sarat Chandra’s novels have gone a long way in breaking conservatism as regards women in our society. It is, however, clear that if we are interested in literature, and its influence is bound to move us amply. Literature is made out of the lore of life. No doubt, the realistic artist brings to a focus the oddities and cruder aspects of life overmuch. But to know life fully, not only the bright side but also the seamy and dark side of life is to be known.
Thus, society creates literature. It may be described as the mirror of the society. But the quality and nature of the reflection depends upon the writer’s attitude of mind, whether he is progressive in his outlook or reactionary.
Naturally, conservative-minded writer will stress those aspects of social life, which put the traditional ways of life in the best possible way. For example, he will set a high value on reverence for age-old ideals, respect for religion, chastity of woman and so on. On the other hand, a progressive writer will tend to show how old ideals act as restraints on the natural freedom of the human mind, cripple the free movement of man and women in an unrestricted atmosphere, set for liberating new ideals and moving society that looks forward to newer ways of life.
Courtney from Study Moose
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